Christopher Gang was hired in April 2020 as a software engineer at a medical startup called Cured. Since college, he does his best work late at night. In his new position, completely remote, with no commute, he accepted this fact for the first time in his professional life.
“My strongest point is 2 or 3 a.m., but when I put myself in a state of turmoil, I just let myself go until 6 or 7 a.m.,” says this 24-year-old woman from Dallas. But he kept his sleep to himself for about three months.
“Even if I was working late, I wouldn’t just talk about it,” he says. He believes that going to bed late is a stigma that can affect their employment status. “But once I gained the trust of my manager, I was allowed to be more flexible,” he says. Now he openly burns the night oil and doesn’t worry if his colleagues know.
In the age of telecommuting, many jobs have never been so tied to the 9-to-5 paradigm. And many night owls who do their best work during the day are doing well.
But it’s not really 24/7. Many recently laid-off slackers, like Mr. Gang, have to balance their habits with those of their bosses and colleagues who have a more traditional daily schedule. They are also trying to avoid burnout.
Being a night owl is not just a personal preference. People have different chronotypes, or tendencies to be more awake at certain times of the day, depending on their body’s circadian rhythm. A 2020 study of 8,395 Chinese found that about 17% had an “evening” chronotype and 11% had a “morning” chronotype. Other studies in the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic show a similar picture, with more night owls than morning owls in a given population.
Last year, pandemic-related accommodation bookings and lock-ins around the world created “a real-life experience that is amazing to see,” says Elise Facer-Childs, a sleep researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “What we usually notice is that when you give people more flexibility, they change their schedule a little bit later,” she says.
She says a big part of her job is to make people aware of the differences in chronotypes that traditional office hours can sometimes be hostile to.
Many workers who have suffered in the past say the past year has been a relief for them.
Megan Ingram, a digital strategist in Washington, D.C., and a night owl, says last summer’s nightly strategy sessions gave her the courage to start her own consulting firm in September.
Megan Ingram says the nightly strategy sessions helped her start her own consulting firm in September.
Image by Breezy
“The days can be hectic with meetings, so I do a lot of creative work in the evenings,” she says. “After I spent a few nights developing a business plan, the dominoes fell from there.
Among the other night owls emerging from the pandemic, there are many parents, especially with young children, who appreciate the opportunity to work late in the day and reduce childcare costs.
“I had a daughter just before the pandemic began, so my penchant for staying overnight proved useful in relieving my partner,” says Jeffrey Baker, an actor and presenter from Kennesaw, Georgia, who began working remotely in March.
Jeffrey Baker takes care of a young child during the day, so he usually does his animation work late at night.
Hollywood Headshots, Buckhead, J.A.
He says he has been honest with his supervisors at the casino company where he works as a facilitator about both his time preferences and his daytime responsibilities for the children. “They know I usually do my work at night,” he says. His peak hours are from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
According to Andrea Valeria, a career specialist for telecommuters in Mexico City, transparency is important for nightclub workers around the world. “You have to be very open about your hours,” she says. (She usually starts her workday at 2 p.m.).
Telecommuting expert Andrea Valeria explains the importance of communicating your team’s scheduling preferences.
J. Elisabeth Photography
Mr. Gang from Dallas adds that being a good night worker involves a learning curve and the importance of keeping up with your peers.
“For some morning meetings, I may wake up a few minutes earlier after working all night and still have that ‘sleep haze’ on my face during our video meetings,” he admits. “Now I know that if I have my first meeting at 11 or 12, I get up an hour earlier and give myself time to freshen up and have a coffee.
For night owls whose meetings usually start earlier than noon, adding a full list of daytime meetings with colleagues’ preferred evenings and constant slack messages can result in longer workdays than ever before. Ingram avoids sending emails late at night, so clients don’t expect her to be available at all times.
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Some stragglers will face the opposite problem when they return to the traditional offices of the post-vaccine world. It is not impossible for them to reset their biological clocks,” says sleep researcher Dr. Fasser-Childes. She helped in the 2019 study of 22 night owls and managed to change their sleep cycle by about two hours in three weeks.
His team found that several lifestyle changes, including eating breakfast shortly after waking up, not drinking caffeine after 3 p.m. and exposing to outdoor light as much as possible in the morning, helped participants wake up earlier. She cautions night owls who want to make similar changes to give them time to adjust.
According to Dr. Feisser-Childs, most subjects found the first week the most difficult. As an incorrigible night owl who completed my project for this column around 11 p.m., I will keep that in mind.
Working smarter at night
Experienced work and sleep specialists and night watchmen offer some good practices for those who want to continue with as little noise as possible until the end of 2021 :
Schedule email: use applications and features such as Boomerang for Gmail or Delayed Messages in Outlook to send emails hours or days after you write them.
Make your preferences known: tell your boss and colleagues that you tend to work late so they don’t have to worry about you creating another spreadsheet at midnight.
Set boundaries: If you work when others sleep, you may need time off during the day. Ms. Ingram tends to schedule two “no call” days a week with no morning meeting to start really late rather than always working late.
Moving forward: establishing a preferred schedule can be a well-earned privilege, even in the age of telecommuting. So consider your role, accomplishments and work history before asking for concessions, such as fewer morning meetings.
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