Clocking In: Strategies for a Smooth Transition to Hourly Work

At Atomic Object, all employees are hourly workers, and most full-timers are expected to work 40 hours per week. It’s one of the reasons I joined the company. I loved the idea of having a clear expectation for how much time should be spent and getting paid for all the time I put in. Even with the benefits in mind, I was nervous about what that would look like since I had always been a salaried employee. After a few months here, I’m starting to get into the swing of things. Here are a few strategies that have made my transition to hourly work easier.

Experiment with your schedule.

Atomic Object doesn’t require a strict start and end time each day, allowing for a lot of flexibility on how you get your hours in. Before my start date, I often ruminated over the best way to get my 40 hours. Should I do the classic 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour for lunch? Or maybe 9 to 6 would suit my sleep schedule better. And what about the best times to commute? Do I even need a full hour for lunch?

It can be easy to overthink all the different scenarios, so pick a schedule and try it for a bit. Are you feeling energized or sleepy when you walk in the door? Are your working hours aligned with your natural focus hours? You might find that your commute is longer at certain times or on certain days of the week. Or, perhaps you tend to get a few more hours in when you work from home.

By experimenting, you’ll learn a lot about what works well for you and what doesn’t, things you can’t know before starting the job. Ask around and see what works well for your coworkers. They might have some unexpected strategies too.

Get creative with your commute.

Here in Chicago, commute time plays a big role in your work day. I recently moved further away from the office. The longer commute shook up my schedule, so I began experimenting with how and when I get to work.

Sometimes, I’ll start my day at home and then drive in during my lunchtime. I gain extra time because I can get started earlier than I normally would, and there’s a lot less traffic around noon than during rush hour. Sometimes, I’ll find I’m running out of steam around 3:30 or 4, so I’ll head out while the traffic is light and then log on for a few hours when I get home. That can work really well as a brain break. I usually come back to the task with fresh eyes and a little more energy for a final push before calling it quits for the evening.

I know other folks at Atomic will work from the train or bus, so there are lots of ways to work your commute into your day and still get your hours in.

Stay on top of it, but don’t obsess.

At Atomic, our time quota is managed by the quarter. As long as you average at least 40 per week (including vacation time) over 13 or so weeks, you’re meeting the expectation. Aiming to work at least 40 hours each week, especially at the beginning of the quarter, will help you stay on track toward that goal. The last thing you want to do is take it too easy early on and then have a bunch of hours to make up at the end of the quarter.

The benefit here is that if you work extra hours, you build up a buffer that carries over from week to week. You may find you’re naturally working a bit more some weeks than others. That can give you added flexibility later when you want to head out early on a Friday or take an extra sick day.

That said, it’s okay to find yourself a little bit behind from time to time. Unexpected things are bound to come up. You might have your whole week planned out to the T, and then your lunch with a coworker runs a little long. Don’t sweat every minute. After all, making up one hour only requires you to keep working an extra 15 minutes for four days. Three months is a comfortable amount of time to make up a small deficit, as long as you keep it under control.

Be patient, be flexible, and don’t stress.

Shifting from salaried to hourly work can be daunting at first. But, with a bit of experimentation and creativity, you’ll discover what strategies work best for you. Give it time and be gentle with yourself. It will get easier, and you may find that you never want to go back!


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