the new 9 to 5Before the new 9 to 5, when the U.S. workforce toiled during normal office hours, people lived their lives outside of that time. Employees crammed dental appointments into lunch breaks, Dads watched peewee soccer games on weekends, and if parents attended a weekday dance recital, well, that’s what vacation or sick days were for.

No more. Working from 9 to 5 is so last century. Technology has cut the ties that bind employees to office desks, allowing workers–especially people who work in real estate– to make deals on their iPhones at Starbucks or on their iPads at the beach. The new work ethic is no longer “Show up on time;” it’s “Get the job done.”

“My time is my own,” says Meg Schmitz, a senior consultant with FranChoice, a franchise consultancy group based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Schmitz is an independent contractor who lives in Western Springs, Illinois, and matches franchises to prospective franchisees.

“I’ve got a laptop, iPad, and smartphone,” Schmitz says. “I can work when we’re fishing on a bass boat. I’ve been known to take a picture for clients and send it to my office from my kayak.”

Does this new work arrangement make workers happy?

You bet it does, says Dr. Lonnie Golden, professor of economics and labor-employment relations at Penn State University who researches how work hours relate to employee happiness and productivity.

During a recent study, “Work Schedule Flexibility: A Contributor to Happiness?,” Golden compared the frequency of flexible work schedules with levels of happiness. Employees with rigid, fixed schedules reported they were “very happy” less than 10 percent of the time, while workers who “often” change their work hours reported being very happy almost 20 percent of the time.

In a new study currently under review, Golden found that flexible schedules have “significant benefits” on worker well-being, including improved job satisfaction and reduced work stress.

“Employees love the flexibility,” Golden says.

Employers are getting the message, and more than 27.5 percent of full-time wage and salary workers are allowed to work flexible hours, according to a May 2004 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest figures available. The Bureau found that men were more likely to have flexible schedules than women and that management, sales, and office workers had more flexible work lives than construction, maintenance, and transportation workers.

Millennial workers, the future of the workforce, rate workplace flexibility as a prime reason for choosing a particular job. “Millennials at Work,” a global survey of workers age 31 or under, found that “flexible worker hours” is the second most important workplace benefit, behind only “personal learning and development” and ahead of “cash bonuses.” The new 9 to 5 is popular.

Flexibility of the new 9 to 5 in real estate

Last year, Ben Belack racked up $25 million in residential real estate sales in Los Angeles working from his office, home, car, and even a Hawaii vacation with his girlfriend.

“I had a listing I was launching,” says Belack, an agent with The Agency in L.A.  “We were at the pool, and I was on the phone. It wasn’t my girlfriend’s first choice, but she was patient about it.”

Belack loves selling real estate because “I’m not chained to a desk every day. I’m breathing fresh air, seeing beautiful properties, and talking to people, which is a lot of fun,” he says. “If I need to go to a doctor, I don’t have to ask my boss permission.”

The downside to all this freedom and flexibility, Belack says, is that he’s “on call” pretty much 24/7.

“Clients want to talk to you when they’re done working, which means nights and weekends,” says Belack, who estimates he works 60 hours weekly spread over seven days with the new 9 to 5 schedule. “I had a client who texted me at 11 p.m., ‘Do you have a minute. I want to pick your brain.’ Everyone wants me at all hours. At a certain point, I have to breathe.”

But breathing, in real estate, can cost money. Belack is still tortured by a possible $20 million deal-that-got-away because he was enjoying a Friday “date night” with his girlfriend and didn’t service a client until the next morning.

“That is what haunts you,” he says. “There has to be a line in the sand, but it’s hard. You have to run your business the way you want to. When you are a new agent, you must foster and nurture every lead. It’s hard to drop that feeling. But the guys who are selling over $100 million a year are blocking time for work and time for personal. They say, my practice is going to be okay if I’m offline for a few hours.”

Adam Hergenrother loves hungry workers like Belack. Hergenrother owns real estate brokerages in 10 states and employs almost 200 real estate agents.

“I like to hire workaholics,” says Hergenrother, CEO of Hergenrother Enterprises headquartered in Colchester, Vermont. “If you love what you do, it’s not work. It’s a passion.”

Living with all this flexibility of the new 9 to 5

 Kim Shepherd is the CEO of Decision Toolbox, a virtual recruitment firm with 100 employees working from homes throughout the United States. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Shepherd was working from her home in Laguna Beach, California, watching an Orca glide through the Pacific Ocean.

“The technology revolution has changed how we look at time,” says Shepherd, who counts real estate brokerages as clients. “You can do anything, anywhere. Going to an office is antiquated. It’s no longer work/life balance; it’s life balance. The reality is, work and life are one and the same.”

Shepherd says the real estate agents she recruits are professionals who “want to run their own shop.”

“I don’t think anyone wakes up and says, ‘I want to sell a home,’’’ Shepherd says. “They wake up and say, ‘I want to control my clock and my earning potential.’ Real estate fits the bill.”