5 Outdated Leadership Practices in Today’s Office (Why 8-4 Doesn’t Work Anymore)

If you sense that things are changing rather profoundly in the workplace, you’re correct.

What’s strange is that so many of the rules at work that made sense a decade ago just don’t anymore. What seemed normal at work for several generations is suddenly seeming as outdated as driving to Blockbuster to pick up a movie. Knowledge workers are the most impacted by what’s happening.

Technology, mobility and the rise of a generation of digital-native graduates are shifting things more quickly than you think.

The change is so deep and intense it’s left a lot of senior leaders, managers, and employers wondering what’s going on.

Young leaders intuitively understand the change better, and many of them love the freedom of flexible work. But many leaders simply don’t.

Many white-collar organizations, businesses and non-profits operate as though the internet never happened. And increasingly, it’s going to cost them the best and brightest young leaders who will go elsewhere or simply start their own venture.

I’ve led in-person teams for two decades, and more recently I’ve led a virtual company with team members scattered across Canada, the US and elsewhere with multiple timezones, connected only through our devices and our mission, vision and values.

As a result, I’ve had a sudden immersion into the emerging workplace. The changes seem far more threatening than they are. Surprisingly, I’ve found the changes to be liberating and exciting, not just for the team, but for me. While there’s a learning curve and at times things can get wobbly, the upside greatly outweighs the downside.

So how do you get a handle on all this?

And what exactly is outdated?

Well, for starters, these five practices. I’ll also include some insights on how to address them.

Many white-collar organizations, businesses and non-profits operate as though the internet never happened. Click To Tweet

1. Insisting People Come to the Office

One of the reasons the office as we knew it made sense for almost a century is because the tools for work were housed at the office.

Pick a decade: until very recently, your company held the typewriters, meeting spaces, computers, paper, pens, phones, copiers, fax machines and all the things people didn’t own or need personally. As a result, there was a clear demarcation between work life and home life. The office was something you went to because you couldn’t really do that much work outside of it.

Around 2012, all of that changed.

First, high-speed internet combined with widespread access to wifi became normal.

Second, by 2012 cell phone companies made LTE and 4G networks standard. So wherever you went you had access to data quite reliably.

Third, cloud-based computing emerged out of its experimental stage and became robust, secure and normal. Everything from VPNs to Google Docs to Microsoft Office became cloud-based, not desktop based.

Finally, mobile-first computing emerged as the new standard. What you used to need a desktop for you could now access on your phone, tablet or laptop effortlessly.

As a result, if you’re a knowledge worker, there’s a very good chance you’re holding almost everything you need to do your job in your hand.

Which means that thanks to technology, you no longer go to work, work goes to you.

Thanks to technology, you no longer go to work; work goes to you. Click To Tweet

Even meetings have become much more distributed. Between coffee shops, co-working spaces and home offices, the need for company office space has plummeted. And services like Zoom have become a staple of more organizations (Especially since the pandemic started.)

Sure…there are common meetings and moments where everyone needs to be physically present at the same time. But the idea that everyone has to work at the same place at the same time 40 hours a week becomes more outdated by the month.

An office isn’t nearly as necessary as it used to be.

An office isn't nearly as necessary as it used to be. Click To Tweet

2. Enforcing 8-4 Hours

In light of that, 8-4 doesn’t make nearly as much sense as it used to simply because there’s not as much rationale behind it.

Don’t believe me? Ask most leaders under 40 what they think about having to come in for set hours when they would much rather flex their hours and do at least some work remotely.

Set hours make total sense if all the tools you needed to do work stayed at the office. They also make sense if you have a car assembly plant (or a coffee shop, or a retail store). Then you need workers to show up exactly on time for a shift. Similarly, having reception, shipping or cleaning staff at the office for set hours also makes sense.

And of course, for meetings or highly collaborative work, it makes sense to be in the office, but the rationale breaks down pretty quickly after that.

Common, set hours are not nearly as necessary as they used to be.

Yet far too many leaders are stuck in the mindset that people have to be in the building at set hours no matter what.

As a result, too many people show up at 8 and leave at 4 for no particular reason and grow disengaged in the process.

This mindset can also create a clock-watching culture (Is it 4:00 yet? Do I get paid for lunch???) when you make your team show up and stay somewhere for no discernible reason.

If you can work from anywhere, anytime, why insist people show up at set times every time?

If you can work from anywhere, anytime, why insist people show up at set times every time? Click To Tweet

3. Giving Out Points for Showing Up

In the old 8-4 culture, people got paid to show up on time and were paid to stay until the day was over.

If you were late and arrived at 8:05, you might get a warning or docked pay.

The question is, why?

Does sitting at your desk, or making coffee in the company kitchen qualify for a paycheck?

The old economy too often paid people to show up whether they did anything or not.

All the freedom technology provides raises a bigger question: are you paying your team to show up or are you paying your team to produce, to contribute to the mission?

But if you’re paying your team to produce, outside of fixed meetings and shared team time, why not let them choose how to be the most productive and effective they can be?

If your best team members want to start work at 7 a.m. from home, work in a coffee shop at 3 p.m. or take most of the morning off and work until 11 p.m.—and they overdeliver on what you’ve asked them to do—why fight that?

In the new economy, nobody gets points for showing up. Unless that’s how you want to reward people.

In the new economy, nobody gets points for showing up. Unless that's how you want to reward people. Click To Tweet

4. Only Giving Yourself Freedom

Guess what happens to a lot of leaders when they become the boss?

They give themselves freedom they never enjoyed before. Many come a little earlier and slip out early to watch their kids game.  And there’s really nothing wrong with that if you’re leading with all diligence when you’re working and the mission is moving forward.

And sure, you’re still hustling and putting in more than your share of hours. You’re just flexing how you do things.

But here’s a question: Why would you give yourself freedom but deny it to everyone else?

Here’s what’s true: The future workplace is a flexible workplace.

Leaders, why would you give yourself freedom but deny it to everyone else? Click To Tweet

You know what many workers would love more than anything? Freedom and autonomy.

Talk to most workers under 40 (and a few over 40) and what they deeply desire is freedom.

Freedom from 8-4.

Freedom from rules that no longer make sense.

The autonomy to set their own work hours and locations (coffee shop, home, the back porch, a beach).

The desire to be evaluated not on the process (did you stay till 5?) but on the outcome (did you crush that project?).

It’s almost 2020. You can give that kind of freedom in a way leaders maybe couldn’t a decade or two ago.

There’s a delightful surprise in store as well: When you give great leaders freedom, most will give you back far more than you expected in return.

Control them, and not only do you stifle them, they eventually just leave or start their own thing.

When you give great leaders freedom, most will give you back far more than you expected in return. Click To Tweet

5. Managing Process, Not Outcomes

For decades, leaders managed process. Show up and leave on time, follow the rules, don’t mess it up and we’ll pay you. (The Office showed us what kind of results that approach often produces.)

Question. In the new digital economy, with flexible hours, flexible workplaces and remote work and more freedom and autonomy than ever, how do you manage and lead people?

Answer. By managing to outcomes, not process. By holding team members accountable for results, not hours worked. Outcomes are the new timesheet.

Hold team members accountable for results, not hours worked. Outcomes are the new timesheet. Click To Tweet

The way to do that is to create real accountability on what your team is supposed to do, but give them freedom on how to do it.

You can sum that up with two simple principles:

If it doesn’t matter, don’t pretend it does.

If it does matter, don’t pretend it doesn’t.

Being there at 8 and making sure you take 30 minutes at lunch may not be nearly as critical as it used to be.

But other things really do matter:

Results matter

Deadlines matter

Objectives matter

Key metrics matter

Managing to outcomes actually makes you a better manager. Process can hide a lot of things. (Guess what I did at work today? Not much.)

Too many leaders manage process because it’s easier than managing outcomes. But outcomes are what move the mission forward.

Leaders, if it doesn’t matter, don’t pretend it does. If it does matter, don’t pretend it doesn’t. Click To Tweet

What Do You See?

Those are some big shifts I see in the workplace.

What do you see? Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Outdated Leadership Practices in Today’s Office (Why 8-4 Doesn’t Work Anymore)


  1. Ernest Budgell on April 23, 2021 at 9:22 am

    Hey Carey:
    Ministry is very hard to measure. It is especially hard to measure in declining churches. Measuring outcomes can be very demoralizing in such settings. Have you written on or do you have measurable tools for staff involved in ministry?

  2. Cathy L Culver on April 21, 2021 at 8:22 am

    In this scenario how do you avoid developing “silos”? Also, isn’t there some intrinsic value in fellowship aspect of working together in the same place as a team?

  3. Chris Dowling on April 19, 2021 at 11:03 am

    Speaking from a Scottish or UK context, I agree that felxability is desired by staff but… so is routine. Most of our staff who had to work from home this last year have hated it. Hate is a strong word but it best describes how people have felt about it. Personally, it was the first time in my working life that I had worked from home & while I agree with some of the benefits listed above but they were out weighed but the lack of routine. I found myself doing less work every day & combined with a some work every day. That may say more about me than wider society but having worked 8 -5 since I was a teenager, I struggled to adapt. What I love about the 8-5 life is come 5pm or 4pm on a Friday I’m done! Those hours also mirror my kids schools hours (they are in school less than I’m at work) so for my family it’s the best hours I could ask for & most of our 90 odd staff agree.

    I think the industry you are in also impacts your ability to offer more flexabile hours. I work in construction & the entire industry works very traditional hours so the office staff for example also need to mirror when building sites are open & when people will let us in their homes which is not in an evening.

    I don’t believe we will ever loose the traditional working week in the UK. Yes there will be more flexability but the love of routine is here to stay…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 19, 2021 at 2:11 pm

      Hey Chris, I totally agree that this heavily depends on what industry and role someone is in. Yours sound pretty difficult to pull off remote!

  4. Alex Pushkoff on April 17, 2021 at 9:40 pm

    The word “Question.” in the post has to be read in Dwight Schrute’s voice. (Pretty sure that was the intent all along, but I just gotta say that 🙂 )

  5. tim on April 17, 2021 at 5:36 pm

    “…members want to start work at 7 a.m. from home, work in a coffee shop at 3 p.m.”
    Unless, of course, your team members are assigned to OPERATE the coffee shop. I doubt the coffee shop manager would want a relaxed work schedule for his staff.”

  6. Mary Spradlin on April 17, 2021 at 11:57 am

    I would love a follow-up article on how to build team synergy (especially between those who focus on ministry programs and have more flexible jobs and those who focus on administration and are more tied to the office) when the staff doesn’t see each other regularly. One of the downsides of allowing all of the “freedoms” listed above is that staff only engage on work-related issues (i.e. collaborate over the cloud on projects, send emails to outline administrative needs). The “water cooler” moments disappear, personal relationships atrophy, and camaraderie and synergy dissipate.

    • Jeremy on April 17, 2021 at 1:50 pm

      100% agree. How to you maintain the conversational moments while implementing a system such as this. It is one thing we miss for sure.

  7. Joyce Martin on April 17, 2021 at 11:42 am

    You must have read my husband’s “book”! Trying to get upper management to see the light has been a struggle for him for 40 years!

  8. Tim Phillips on April 17, 2021 at 11:01 am

    The problem with concentrating on outcomes is 80% of bad outcomes are due to bad processes.

    • Chris on April 17, 2021 at 11:26 am

      How about focus on both? A healthy focus on process is good, but outcomes need to be elevated. Otherwise you have a well-oiled machine that very well may not be doing anything helpful.

    • Robert Leyland on April 17, 2021 at 1:28 pm

      When I read it I took it as micro managing. I have worked with people that have insisted I do it just like them. Others allowed for the freedom of accomplishing the task in a manner of your choice. Yes sometimes processes are important but in those times it is not…let it go and trust your staff.

  9. Jeff Eitzen on June 10, 2020 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for this article. I appreciate the part about other things that really do matter. We do have a job to get done and ultimately we have deadlines and objectives to get accomplish. I have learned to focus on these things and not WHERE they are accomplished
    In light of that, and in caring for our staff, how do we help them find separation from work? If they are working at home, I believe they also need to have time and space that is NOT work. This is for themselves but also for their families.
    It used to be that employees were not required to, nor allowed to answer emails before or after hours.
    Now its common place to answer communications where ever and when ever .
    Any ideas on that ?

  10. Ulrich on June 5, 2020 at 5:52 am

    Dear Carey, thanks for that great article. Lots of stuff worth pondering.
    If I understand you correctly you approached the issue of ‘leadership practice’ mainly from the perspective of technological advance and its implication – less so with regard to human disposition in general.
    You know, it is very interesting to reflect on our recent experience in our organizational FHQ with regard to the points you made. Late March 2020 our Thai staff was rather keen to move to home office based working given the Corona-crisis situation. And it did work out rather well. But you wouldn’t believe how keen they actually were to get back to work in the actual office in May when the lockdown was easing up! No joke.
    Working from home there was no 8-4 for any of them. Yes, the focus was very much on: Results matter; Deadlines matter; Objectives matter; Key metrics matter. And as I said, it did work out rather well.
    But it seems there is some other stuff that matters, too. The realization how the casual talk over a coffee can actually advance the work progress significantly. The realization that oneself might not be as disciplined as one had thought and with all the pros of the flexibility one was glad to get back to some externally enforced accountability. The realization that working together in an office where others can accidently see the screen helps to not stray into the black hole of the web (whether that be simply entertaining [e.g. Youtube] or downright destructive [e.g. pornography] stuff).
    So, while I fully agree with you when looking at it from the angle of the technological advance and possibilities I think there is another side to it as well. Not sure what to call it. Just realizing it might actually not be the majority of the people we have on our teams who flourish in an environment of almost complete structural freedom. The entrepreneurs, the self-starters and the artists among us will. But they might be a minority.

  11. Greg on March 19, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    What if the productivity and outcomes are just not there in a given employee? Would more accountable in-office hours be appropriate in that situation? In other words, should the flexible work schedule you are talking about be a reward for when and if an employee produces the outcomes required? Stated another way, should I expect a non-productive employee to become more productive by giving them a flexible work schedule?

  12. Justin on December 10, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I have team members who need to be in from “8-4” for answering calls and working with clients and other team members who don’t interact with clients so it really doesn’t matter where and when they do their job. Any suggestions on avoiding an insurrection by the 8-4 people because half of the team has this kind of flexibility?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 11, 2019 at 5:34 pm

      Hey Justin,

      I dive deeper into this inside The High Impact Workplace, but sadly, you can’t manage everyone the same. You can just clearly explain why they need to be in the office.

      Inside the course, I have a PDF that outlines whether an employee needs to be in the office.

    • Chris on April 17, 2021 at 11:33 am

      Justin – our church office is highly flexible. Admins (we call them ministry partners) do have set hours (they are paid hourly) to answer calls and outer ministry staff are often in the office but are able to be flexible with their time/location of work. I try to be as flexible as possible with the needs of my ministry partner (issues with her young child, dr appointments, making up hours, taking an unpaid week off to serve as a camp counselor, etc…). Flexibility may need to look different for different employees, but it should be a high value to acknowledge and affirm when they are incredibly productive already.

  13. Keshav Jindal on December 10, 2019 at 3:41 am

    Nice Blog
    Thanks for sharing this type of informative article.

  14. Chaplain Mike on December 9, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Carey…Thanks! You are singing my song! As a “retiree”, I would love to take the talents, knowledge, skills, and abilities that the Lord has blessed me with and contribute to His great commission. However, many Christian organizations still require that employees be in seats at 8A-5P.

    Boomers are now considered to be outdated by a portion of ministers and organizations and that their KSA’s are outdated. Even those of us who have kept up with using technology and the latest concepts in organizational leadership and management are not usually considered for a position. The positions that we are interested in can also handcuff us to the point of disinterest.

    While we long to contribute, we are tired of office politics, grinding 8-5 schedules, and regulated vacation times. Employers need to understand that we have been reliable for 30-40 years and many of us have handled corporations and businesses that are at least as complex as many ministries and churches. Given flexible schedules and vacations, and the ability to work remotely could add benefit to an organization. Conference calls, video meetings, and the like are very effective means of running organizations.

    All we’re asking for is a chance. It’s time to change and adapt with the new world of employees. You’d be surprised how well it works out.

  15. Mark on December 9, 2019 at 10:15 am

    We are always on the clock. I take calls at weird hours to accommodate foreign clients and sometimes I know that the client is awake in the middle of the night. Holidays in one country are not holidays in another. If I am taking a break, I am still accessible and am only out range if I get on a plane that does not have inflight WiFi.

  16. Troy on December 9, 2019 at 10:09 am

    This makes a lot of sense and we’re allowing the folks whom this applies to to be able to do just this. That said – there’s one element that eliminating the 8-4 piece doesn’t seem to account for. As this has increased for our organization – the level of collegiality and impromptu brainstorming has decreased. Plus relationship seems to have decreased. Wondering how to address that.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 9, 2019 at 9:12 pm

      Hey Troy,

      I get the tension. We have noticed this too on our team, so we have began scheduling in specific extra brainstorming meetings when we need them.

      As for the relational aspect, we take extra time during our weekly team calls to ask about each other’s lives. We also gave group texts and message feeds going on outside of work.

      Is that helpful? I think it’s just another level of intentionality with those things.

      • Troy on December 9, 2019 at 9:48 pm

        It is. I do miss how few serendipitous connections happen with this new norm. Thanks for all your great work.

  17. Monica on December 9, 2019 at 9:48 am

    These are all so true and I’m thankful for a job and employers who manage our workplace with flexibility in these areas. Their trust has honestly made me a more responsible employee.
    But…the title. “Why 8-4 Don’t Work No More” would have been much more catchy, just saying. 😉

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