The 12-hour workday culture that has permeated Silicon Valley has been upended by the global health crisis. In its stead, a new culture is forming that values “output” over “hours” – and this new culture may be here to stay.
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The past decade was perhaps the most economically productive in world history: the digital revolution enveloped every aspect of human life, nearly everything became more convenient, and several companies even surpassed $1 trillion+ valuations.
Hard work, late nights, early mornings, and copious amounts of caffeine have been the hallmarks of the great entrepreneurs of this generation. All-night coding sessions are glorified, and several billionaires, like Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk, are even able to run two companies at once.
A 12-hour workday culture has permeated Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley has set the tone for the rest of the world. This culture has been self-perpetuating, for when one team member works longer hours, they set the bar higher for their colleagues.
Then, at the pinnacle of the highest stock market in history, the pandemic struck.
A mass exodus
Offices closed. People began working from home. And many of the engineers, entrepreneurs and product designers who defined this burnout culture packed their bags and left Silicon Valley. Lake Tahoe, Texas, and Montana have been among their destinations, and for New Yorkers, the Hamptons and rural Connecticut have gained considerable appeal.
As offices are swapped for country homes, people’s attitudes toward work have shifted with them.
With no colleagues to compete with and no co-workers to share a common culture with, long hours have been replaced by focused productivity. With nobody around, work is really just… work. People do it because it is necessary, and then move on with their day.
The midnight oil burns out
While there may have been something fun about being in an office with others, knowing full well you are creating something of tremendous value, when you’re working alone, from home, there’s little glory in staring at your laptop for longer than necessary.
While few are ready to admit this, the truth is, the vast majority of people are not “working” the same hours that they used to, and a large portion are surely not working as many hours. In spite of that — or perhaps because of that — 76 percent of companies have reported that remote work has either helped or had no effect on employee productivity.
In less than four months, a culture that defined our society and economy has been upended. And it appears the economy is no worse off. While many companies are suffering right now, few seem to be complaining about widespread lack of employee productivity.
Right now, a new work-life balance is developing — and it will outlast this epidemic. Offices will re-open, full-time remote work won’t last forever, and human connection will once again be an important part of the fabric of any corporation. But, one lasting effect of this tragic crisis may very well be a newfound realization that output, not hours, is what counts in business.
Perhaps, ultimately, technology exists to enable us to spend more time with loved ones, more time pursuing happiness, more time developing our passions. Maybe it took this pandemic to realize that possibility.