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Consulting: The Case Against the 40-Hour Work Week, Part 1

By Ken Chen

One of the services we provide are our people, or consultants you can hire to help lead and manage projects. Often, the automatic impulse for clients is to want to hire our people to work a standard 40-hour work week, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., five days a week.

In some cases, it makes sense because the person needs to be in the office at the same time as the team they are working with. But most of the time, it may not be a good idea. Here’s why:

1. Outside-In vs. Inside-Out Thinking.

One of the primary benefits you get from hiring a consultant is their ability to not succumb to “group think” or be influenced by “drinking the Kool-Aid.” They can have more objective opinions and simply see problems from the Outside-In vs. the Inside-Out.

When you have a consultant work in the office space 40 hours a week, believe it or not, they might start thinking like all the other people in the office. We even encourage our consultants to work for two or more clients at one time because learning is accelerated and perspective is challenged.

2. The Modern Office Is a Bad Place to Get Stuff Done.

Modern workplace rules were created decades ago often in places where manual labor was being done and live, in-person collaboration was necessary. Today, most white collar jobs can be done remotely, especially with all the great online meeting and collaboration tools we have in our disposal. If you need to hear more reasons why work isn’t getting done, watch this video:

3. Humans Are Not Robots.

Most of us aren’t the most efficient for eight straight hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Research has shown that the optimal way to work is in 90 minute chunks of time, with healthy breaks in between to refresh your brain and body. I find a lot of people are most productive early in the morning (6 a.m. to 8 a.m.) or even late at night (8 p.m. – 11 p.m.), so why not take advantage of those super productive times?

4. Most Projects Don’t Require 40 Hours.

In our experience, projects often don’t need 40 hours of work per week. Most require more or less, so it’s better to set a range and bill the client for the exact amount that is required to finish the job.

5. Commuting Is Stressful and Wastes Time.

It’s amazing that even though rush hour, drive-time commutes are universally hated, the majority of people still try to get to the work at the same time and leave at the same time. We tell our consultants that if they have to go into the office for meetings, try to go when traffic is not as heavy. Obviously, this reduces unnecessary non-billable time and maybe even more importantly, the stress that comes from fighting traffic.

6. It Sure Does Sound Like An Employee.

Employment laws are different in each state, but most make it pretty clear that the distinction between an employee and a consultant or contractor is in the way work is done. In other words, who has control over how work is done? If you are telling a person that they must be in the office 40 hours a week, sitting in a cubicle every day from nine to five, then they aren’t controlling how their projects are being done. It’s best not to blur the lines between employee and consultant.

When I talk to new clients, I tell them consultants have an unfair advantage in the workplace today. The good consultants leverage how they work so they can provide outside-in thinking, work in ideal environments, work at times when they are most efficient and not waste time in the dreaded drive-time commute.

Ken Chen

About Ken Chen

Ken Chen is San Francisco-based online marketing consultant and owner of EM Marketing. EM Marketing specializes in marketing strategy, product launches, customer acquisition, and mobile & social marketing.

5 thoughts on “Consulting: The Case Against the 40-Hour Work Week, Part 1”

  1. Having been on both sides, sometimes with the same company, I can tell you that there’s a big difference in how people perceive a consultant and an employee. As this article mentions, the advice of an external consultant is respected more – being an outside perspective. I remember the day I changed from a consultant to full-time employee at one company – both my attitude and my clients’ changes immediately, and my ability to influence for needed changes was immediately diminished.

    If you need an employee, hire an employee! Outside expertise is only valuable as long as it is truly outside expertise.

  2. Great article. And so true. I often find that I am able to be more honest in my review of projects, campaigns etc. I am not at risk of saying the right thing so i can climb the corporate ladder. I see my goal to help the client be as successful as possible. Sometimes that means thinking outside the box, changing the course and being honest.

    This is just one of the many benefits of work as a consultant!

  3. What a breath of fresh air. Even though EM Marketing clearly benefits when a client wants to hire a consultant for 40 hours a week, they’re still willing to stand up for what’s right…not necessarily what’s more profitable. This shows that they honestly have the client and consultant’s best interests at heart. That’s rare and commendable.

  4. Great article! As a working professional at a large company, this article resonates with me, especially the fact that Humans are Not Robots. I have found through personal experience and from colleagues, that work is far more effective by responding to one’s body and mood. For example, there is no use in writing reports or performing data analysis when the mind needs to relax after hours of continuous focus. Having a flexible schedule can allow the same results to be delivered more effectively when the body and brain are in sync with the work.

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