Earlier nights or a return to the office

February 06, 2024

From Dublin-born DJ Annie Mac's Before Midnight club tour starting at 7pm and ending for an early bedtime, to various theatre organisations announcing the trial of earlier performance start times, we're all starting to live our lives earlier – a trend that will only gain strength in 2024.

Working habits formed during the Covid lockdown years have stuck, exacerbated by an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, and inflation-related business closures. While Ireland is still awaiting the promise of later pub opening hours the trend is currently in the other direction.

Since the pandemic there's growing evidence that we're living life earlier, data from restaurant booking platform OpenTable for Ireland (aggregated with UK stats) shows 6pm and 6.30pm slots are now "highly coveted". Over in London, the National Theatre recently found that "a significant portion" of theatregoers said that earlier performance times would improve their enjoyment of their night out – as a result, the National will start piloting earlier start times this year.

Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association says the effect of the continued cost-of-living crisis cannot be underestimated. "People are more selective about what they do," he explained. "People haven't got as much money, [businesses] haven't got as much money. The market is shifting, people are trying new things and [firms] are having to work harder to draw people out."

While this shift in behaviour is a transition for businesses, for many in the general public it's a breath of fresh air to admit that an earlier night is desirable.

A lot of this is the second order effect of a changed way of working. The opportunity to work from home two or three days a week has seen many people take the plunge to 'move out' – taking on a much longer journeys. I spoke to a former colleague last month who told me his move from Dublin to Wexford has made for a much nicer life for him and his family, but represented a journey that he wasn’t able to do more than once or twice a week. In fact, he felt he did his work better with this focus of office days and home days. He could power through work in his spare room and cluster all of his face-to-face activities in a very energised Wednesday in Dublin. For many others a ‘move out’ just means taking on a slightly longer commute - something else that contributes to a desire to end our evenings a little earlier, to tackle the trek home.

Many workplaces right now are wrestling with some of the themes about evolved ways of working. I published my trends for 2024 last month and by far the most attention was drawn to the headline that businesses ‘shouldn’t turn back the clock on flex’. A survey by KPMG found that 70% of CEOs in Ireland would like to see a bigger return to the office in 2024, something that 90% of workers say they’d like to avoid. Work’s evolution is having a measurable impact on the way we live our lives - but that doesn’t mean we should seek to turn back the clock on progress.

Bruce Daisley is a workplace culture consultant who previously worked at tech companies like Google and Twitter/X. His workplace trends for 2024 are available for free download.