Street Clock & Business Spirit
05 July, 2012

Much of human behavior is based on ‘clock time’ which divides our day into quantifiable units – hours and minutes. Georgia is not an exception. Those units dictate when tasks begin and end, and at work, allow us to ‘punch the clock’. It is a familiar, almost common sense system for a modern economy - but it is not the only way to think about how to plan and measure work. And it often makes us unhappy. Tbilisi and other city streets need more electric street clocks as its one of the indicators of the nation’s business spirit.

Even telephone switches got so called ‘clock modules’ which synchronize billing and heartbeat of the phone network. Clock time is largely determined by the rotation of the Earth, and the rising and setting of the sun. But the hour – 60 minutes – is entirely arbitrary. It is an unnatural fraction of a day, a legacy of Babylonian math, which was built on base 60, and of the Egyptians’ derivative preference for using base 12. If our ancestors had used base 10, as we do, an ‘hour’ would be 20% longer.
Clock time isn’t the only way to organize behavior. Another approach is ‘event time, in which we continue doing something until we finish or some event occurs, no matter how many minutes or hours it takes. You might, for example, start work not at 9 a.m. but whenever you finish your breakfast. The importance of clock time in the modern workplace can be traced back to Frederick Winslow Taylor. In 1909, Mr. Taylor, a former lathe operator, engineer and management consultant, published ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’, in which he argued that companies should replace rules of thumb for accomplishing tasks with precise instructions based on scientific analysis of the timing of tasks. He told factory managers to time their workers on the various parts of their jobs and to determine how long each part should take.
Once managers found the ‘one best way’, Mr. Taylor said, they should require everyone to follow that exact approach, all the time.
Although the original version of Taylorism proved too strict for much of modern society, the basic idea hasn’t gone away. Today, more than 58% of all wage and salary workers in the U.S. are paid at hourly rates. Hourly wages are increasingly common among the middle class and in upwardly mobile professions, including law, accounting, consulting and medicine. One-fifth of hourly workers are under age 25, but fewer than 5% of hourly jobs are at or below the minimum wage. For a range of jobs and income levels, people who were paid hourly worked longer and cared less about nonworking activities. They suffered from higher stress during downtime, and they worried more about having enough work. When work was available, they were tempted to work as much as possible. A vacation or a day off meant a loss of money.
Other studies found that the problem got worse as people made more money, because they felt that their time was more valuable and therefore more scarce.
Another solution is even more basic: stop billing by the hour. Professionals could instead charge a fee based on the service provided: a fixed amount to file a legal brief or complete an audit or repair a leak. Lawyers, accountants and other professionals are increasingly trying to find ways to charge flat fees instead of hourly rates. This is particularly true at large law firms, where the combination of economic pressure and low morale among associates is leading partners to search for new ways to bill. Economists and consultants say that flat fees are more efficient than billable hours because they encourage workers to internalize the costs and capture the benefits of time spent on a project.
But even beyond the personal impact, there are reasons to reconsider hourly work. The most important engines of economic growth run at a much slower pace than modern life. Innovation doesn’t occur in a year or a quarter – and certainly not in an hour. So why continue to reward most workers using a too-brief measure of time? Clocks and calendars are not going to change – so it is up to us to try to get off the clock, especially when we find ourselves watching it.
English people have a good saying: ‘Punctuality is the courtesy of kings’. This being true, please do not take this article as an appeal for mass street clock production in Georgia. Time is the best judge.