BBC 2024-02-21 22:32:06

‘Dad, please don’t go out’: The Gazans killed as Israel freed hostages

When Israeli special forces rescued two of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas, there was relief for their families and a boost for national morale. But the rescue on 12 February has left angry feelings in Gaza, where more than 70 people were reported killed on the night.

Warning: Readers may find some of the details below distressing.

Nawara al-Najjar was asleep in the tent that had been her family’s home in Rafah for the last five weeks, just a few hundred metres away from the site of the rescue raid.

Lying on the ground were Nawara, who is six months pregnant, her six children – ranging in age from 13 to four – and her husband Abed-Alrahman.

They had fled from their home in Khan Younis, about 9km (6 miles) north, following the instructions of the Israel Defense Forces who said Rafah was a safe area.

Before falling asleep, the couple discussed what to do about two of their children who had been injured. Their son had been burned by scalding food, and their daughter was recovering from facial paralysis caused by trauma in the early stages of the war.

Before they became refugees, Abed-Alrahman did whatever work he could find to support his family, often as a labourer on farms.

They were a strong couple who always tried to solve problems together.

“My husband was anxious, thinking about how he would find a way to treat them and where to take them,” Nawara says. “Our neighbours said they wanted to take my daughter to a doctor for treatment… So, we decided that he would be in charge of our son, and I would be in charge of my daughter.”

Then something unusual happened. Nawara usually slept surrounded by the children. But that night, Abed-Alrahman asked to change the arrangement. “Before he went to sleep, he asked me to come and sleep next to him. It was the first time he said, ‘Come sleep with me’.”

They fell into the exhausted sleep of refugee life. Then shortly before 02:00 (00:00 GMT), Nawara woke to the sound of shooting.

Abed-Alrahman said he would go out and see what was happening.

Nawara says: “Our oldest son was telling him, ‘Dad, please don’t go out’. [Abed-Alrahman] was trying to reassure him that nothing would happen; my son was telling him not to go out, that he would die.”

Then she felt a searing pain in her head. Shrapnel from an explosion had ripped into the tent.

Nawara started screaming. At first she could not see anything. After some minutes her vision returned in time to see Abed-Alrahman in his death throes. She remembers the “rattle” of his final breaths.

“When my children first saw him, they were screaming, ‘Oh, father, oh father, don’t leave us, don’t leave us’. I told them, ‘Stay away from your father. Just pray for him’.”

Daughter Malak, aged 13, was hit in the eye by a splinter of shrapnel. Four other children sustained minor wounds. They also endured the trauma of what they heard and saw – the explosions and their father being carried away to hospital. Later that night, in a hospital filled with other victims, it was confirmed to Nawara that Abed-Alrahman was dead.

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Weeping, she asks: “What was his sin? What was his children’s sin? What’s my sin? I became a widow at 27.

Malak says she was taken to three different hospitals to try and get treatment, but she lost her eye.

“I was not treated immediately. Only after three days was my surgery performed. I was injured in the eye and I was also shot in my waist. I’m in pain, pain, pain.”

Then Malak became distraught, and cried out: “I lost my dad. Enough!”

According to the health ministry, run under the direction of the Hamas government in Gaza, at least 74 people were killed during the raid in the early hours of 12 February.

It is not possible to say precisely how many of the dead were civilians and how many were fighters. But witnesses and medical sources suggest a high proportion of the dead were non-combatants. The independent Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza, using details obtained from hospital lists, says 27 children and 22 women were among those killed.

Mohammed al-Zaarab, 45, a father-of-10 from Khan Younis, also fled to Rafah believing it would be safe. He remembers being woken in his tent by the intensity of the assault. “They were shelling with helicopters, with F-16 jets …My son was shot in his hand. Our neighbour was shot in the head.”

The following day, Mohammed’s elderly father felt unwell. He took him to the doctor, but soon after the old man died of a heart attack. “I buried him. Today is the third day in his grave. Why is this happening to us?” he asks.

The International Medical Corps – which provides emergency aid in crisis zones around the world – runs a field hospital near the scene. Dr Javed Ali, a surgeon from Pakistan, was jolted awake by the first strikes and went to shelter in a safe room in the staff quarters near the hospital.

“Aside from the air strikes, we were hearing tanks in the background, there was active exchange of fire from small firearms, as well as a helicopter gunship that was going over the hospital fighting and firing in all directions. So, it was very, very scary. We thought that this was it.”

Hearing the sound of ambulances, the medics decided to leave the safe room and help. Along with the wounded came women and children seeking shelter.

“The hospital itself is a tent structure. So there were a lot of concerns. Obviously, if there is any strike towards the hospital it will be devastating, but we had to make a decision to save as many patients as possible.”

Many of the dead were thought to be still lying under the rubble of destroyed houses. Another doctor – from the international agency Médecins Sans Frontières – sent a series of anguished voice messages to colleagues in London after sunrise on 12 February.

She described lying across her children’s bodies to protect them as shrapnel flew through the windows of the room where they were sheltering. The doctor has given the BBC permission to quote the messages but wants to remain anonymous.

Her account of what she found after the raid is harrowing.

“At our home when we were checking, I found pieces of human flesh. We found a whole lower limb belonging to a human that we don’t know who he is. When I saw the pieces of flesh on the floor, I cried.”

Since the beginning of the IDF incursion into Gaza, the military has accused Hamas of using the civilian population as human shields, and using medical facilities to conceal military operations and hide hostages.

The rescue of two hostages – Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70 – in Rafah this month was a rare success for the Israeli teams searching for more than 130 people, including two children, still believed to be held captive.

In a statement to the BBC about the events of 12 February, an IDF spokesman said it was “committed to mitigating civilian harm” during military operations. Military lawyers advised commanders so that strikes complied with international legal obligations.

The statement says: “This process is designed to ensure that senior commanders have all reasonably available information and professional advice that will ensure compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict, including by providing ‘Target Cards’ which facilitate an analysis that is conducted on a strike-by-strike basis, and takes into account the expected military advantage and the likely collateral civilian harm, amongst other matters.

“Even where circumstances do not allow for a targeting process involving this level of deliberate pre-planning and pre-approval, IDF regulations emphasise that commanders and soldiers must still comply with the Law of Armed Conflict.”

Human rights organisations have previously accused Israel of using disproportionate force. In a statement on 8 February – four days before the hostage raid – Human Rights Watch warned that Israel “might be carrying out unlawfully indiscriminate attacks. When it comes to the question of whether Israel is violating the law in Gaza, there is enough smoke to suspect a fire”.

In December US President Joe Biden warned Israel against “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza.

Any legal deliberation on whether the raid constituted a disproportionate use of force, and therefore a war crime, must await an independent investigation. With no end to the war in sight, that process may take a long time.

The anonymous MSF doctor who found body parts in her home is deeply pessimistic.

“To be honest, the one who died is the one who is lucky… the one who is left has been cursed and abandoned by all people around the world. It’s not fair… I don’t know how anybody can sleep knowing that our kids are suffering for nothing. We are only civilians.”

Her message comes from inside the frightened, claustrophobic confines of Rafah, where 1.5 million people – six times its normal population – have sought shelter.

Israel is threatening an invasion of Rafah in the next few weeks, necessary, it says, to destroy Hamas. The fear for the refugees is that the horror of 12 February will soon be overtaken by new miseries, and forgotten by the international community.

“I know that this message means nothing to a lot of people,” the MSF doctor says, “and will change nothing”.

With additional reporting by Alice Doyard, Haneen Abdeen and Gidi Kleiman.

Ukraine war: Dozens of Russian troops ‘die in air strike’

At least 60 Russian troops have been killed after a training area in occupied eastern Ukraine was hit by two missiles, reports say.

Sources familiar with the situation told the BBC that troops had gathered at the site in Donetsk region for the arrival of a senior commander.

Video footage of the incident appeared to show large numbers of dead.

A Russian official confirmed that a strike took place but described the reports as “grossly exaggerated”.

The attack reportedly came hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

At the meeting, Mr Shoigu claimed Russian successes in several areas of the front line and spoke of the recent capture of the town of Avdiivka, but made no mention of the Donetsk region incident.

Reports say members of the 36th motorised rifle brigade, normally based in the Transbaikal region of Siberia, were waiting for the arrival of Maj-Gen Oleg Moiseyev, commander of the 29th Army of the Eastern military region, at a training area near the village of Trudovske.

A soldier who survived the incident said during a video recording of the aftermath that the brigade’s commanders had made them stand in an open field.

They were reportedly hit by two missiles fired from the US-made HIMARS launch system.

This and other videos and stills show dozens of soldiers apparently lying dead in a field. Estimates, including by those who survived, suggest at least 60 have died.

The BBC is working to verify the footage.

Transbaikal governor Alexander Osipov indirectly confirmed the strike in his Telegram channel, but said that the reports about it were “inaccurate and grossly exaggerated”.

Without giving casualty figures, he said full and accurate information would be provided to the families of all the soldiers involved.

“No-one will be left without help or support,” he added.

There has been no word about the strike as yet from the Ukrainian authorities.

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In a separate development, several pro-Russian sources have reported that the military blogger Andrey Morozov, known as Murz, has killed himself.

Morozov, whose Telegram channel has some 100,000 subscribers, wrote in a series of apparently final posts that he had been forced by the military to take down a report about Russian losses in recent battles, including Avdiivka.

He had said about 16,000 troops had been killed or seriously injured in the campaign and 300 pieces of armour destroyed.

The blogger wrote that he had been shut down by propagandists from state TV, but that they were too cowardly to come and kill him.

“Well I’ll do it myself then,” he adds. “I’ll shoot myself if no-one dares to take on this trifling matter.”

The BBC is unable to verify reports of the blogger’s death or how he might have died.

Russia’s military rarely reports casualties, but some pro-Russian military bloggers have regularly done so. Ukraine has also spoken of thousands of Russian troops killed in recent battles.

And BBC Russian, in a joint project with the Mediazona website, recently updated its figures for confirmed deaths in the Russian military based on open sources in the two years since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Altogether, 45,123 are confirmed dead, including 6,614 since October last year. Since that date, there has been a sharp increase in average weekly deaths compared with previous months.

Additional reporting by Ilya Barabanov

Israeli report says Hamas sexual violence ‘systematic and intentional’

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel says it has gathered evidence Hamas gunmen “systematically and intentionally” committed sexual crimes during the 7 October attacks.

A report by the umbrella organisation describes “identical patterns” of sexual violence at multiple locations.

These allegedly included violent rapes of women conducted “collectively” or “in front of an audience”.

Hamas has denied its gunmen sexually assaulted women during the attacks.

On 7 October, hundreds from the Palestinian armed group infiltrated southern Israel, where they killed about 1,200 people and took 253 others hostage.

Israel responded by launching a military campaign in Gaza, during which 29,300 people have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of rape and sexual violence

Reports of sexual violence carried out by Hamas – which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK and others – began to emerge soon after 7 October and have accumulated steadily ever since.

A senior Israeli police officer told British MPs last month there was “clear evidence” – collected from forensic investigations as well as from hundreds of statements by witnesses and first responders – that sexual crimes had been committed on a scale large enough to define it as a crime against humanity.

The BBC has also seen and heard evidence of rape, sexual violence and mutilation of women.

The report by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ACCRI) brings together much of what has been reported, as well as other information that it says it has received directly from professionals and confidential calls.

It found that the 7 October attacks included “brutal acts of violent rape, often involving threats with weapons, specifically directed towards injured women”.

“Many rape incidents occurred collectively, with collaboration among the perpetrating terrorists,” the report says. “In some cases, rape was conducted in front of an audience, such as partners, family, or friends, to increase the pain and humiliation for all present.”

“Some Hamas members pursued victims who escaped the massacre, dragging them by their hair with screams. The majority of victims were subsequently killed during or after the sexual assault.”

It also cites various sources as indicating that many victims’ bodies were “found mutilated and bound, with sexual organs brutally attacked, and in some cases, weapons were inserted into them”.

The report concludes that there is “a clear picture of identical patterns of action repeated in each of the attack zones” – the Nova festival, homes in kibbutzim and villages near the Gaza border, and Israeli military bases.

Several Nova festival survivors reported cases of gang rapes, “where women were abused and handled between multiple terrorists who beat, injured, and ultimately killed them”, it says.

First responders and volunteer body collectors who went to border communities witnessed signs of sexual violence on women and girls, as did those who identified the bodies of female soldiers killed at bases.

The report also warns that information from released hostages suggests abuse has continued in captivity – an allegation that Hamas has denied.

The BBC’s Paul Adams in Jerusalem says this is something Israeli officials are extremely reluctant to talk about openly, out of respect for anxious family members. But they do say that one reason Hamas is still holding female hostages is that does not want their stories to be told.

Asked about these reports at a recent briefing, a senior Israeli official declined to give details, saying simply: “Believe me. We know.”

The ACCRI says it has submitted its findings to the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, who is carrying out a similar investigation and visited Israel last month.

Israel has complained that the UN and other international organisations have been slow to respond to the allegations, and the ACCRI’s executive director said its report now left them “no room for denial or disregard”.

On Monday, several independent UN experts put out a statement expressing concern about reports of violence by Israeli forces against Palestinian women and girls in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

They said the “credible allegations” included that women and girls had been killed extrajudicially in Gaza, and that others detained in Gaza and the West Bank had been subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault.

Israel rejected the allegations as “despicable and unfounded”.

This film’s viral moment spotlights Oscars dark horse

The German actress Sandra Hüller has an Oscar nomination for her blistering performance in Anatomy of a Fall. The film’s viral moment could make her a contender for the top prize.

In two of this year’s most acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – films, German actress Sandra Hüller plays two characters who in different ways are perceived as monsters. In the case of Hedwig, the wife of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, growing a garden and ignoring the death camp over the fence in Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest – this perception is more readily understood. But what about when the monstrous mantle is given to the confident, outspoken, bisexual writer Sandra, when she is accused of murdering her husband in French director Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall?

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Last month Hüller received a best actress Oscar nomination for this role, one of five in total for the film, which also took the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The Zone of Interest also received five Oscar nominations, putting the critical spotlight back on Hüller, eight years after she first received international acclaim for playing another woman seemingly indifferent to anyone’s opinion – Ines, in Maren Ade’s father-daughter drama comedy Toni Erdmann.

How does Hüller feel about her fictitious namesake Sandra being accused of being a monster? In the film’s lengthy courtroom scenes, the prosecution aggressively cross-examines her, using her own writing and marital infidelities as evidence to support its case. Sandra herself protests during the film, “I’m not a monster!”. Society’s judgement that, if guilty, she must be, seems already present.

Sandra’s just actually acting like a man and if that were the case no one would say anything about it – Sandra Hüller

“I find that so interesting,” she tells BBC Culture, from backstage at the International film festival in Rotterdam, where she gave a career talk.

“Even just today, a close friend of mine told me that ‘yes, Sandra’s just actually acting like a man and if that were the case no one would say anything about it’But the fact that she’s a woman and behaving that way seems to be scary for some people.”

Anatomy of a scene

The Sandra of Anatomy of a Fall is blunt, career-focused and doesn’t hide the fact she is more successful as a writer than her husband Samuel (played in the movie by Samuel Theis), who she’s accused of pushing to his death at their French chalet house. She’s also bisexual, and Hüller thinks all these characteristics add to the debate around her.

“Unfortunately, it’s rare to find female characters that have so much to tell and that are so true to themselves and that are so intelligent and so carefully written and that don’t have any clichés in them. It was really liberating to play a woman who knows a lot about herself. I think Sandra’s really done the work and I admire that very much.”

Anatomy contains a blazing marital argument that went viral earlier this year (Credit: Alamy)

The fictitious Sandra is neither a femme fatale nor frightened victim in the electrifying noir thriller-meets-courtroom drama written by Triet and her partner, Arthur Harari, who has co-written most of the films she’s directed. Anatomy contains surely one of the most blazing and memorable marital arguments ever seen in cinema. One particular scene went viral earlier this year, and currently has just under 10 million views on TikTok. When the film first premiered at Cannes, Justine Triet told the BBC that she had wanted to explore the tensions of a long-term relationship.

“I think it’s very complicated to live together,” she said at the time. “What do we owe each other, what do we give each other, what is love and how can we live together? It seems very simple, but in fact it is a question.”

Hüller agrees that the scene is “extraordinary” but thinks that’s down to the strength of Triet and Harari’s own relationship.

“It’s not because of us, it’s because of the writing. It helps that the people who wrote it are living together, and they wrote down their worst nightmare, how it could go really, really wrong,” she points out.

“They went into a place that was really uncomfortable, I think. And I can only thank them for that because it was brave. I’m often talking about bravery in filmmaking, but I do think it was really brave to write this as a couple; I’ve lots of respect for that.” 

An international success story

Anatomy of a Fall is an examination of the breakdown of a relationship through the lens of the courtroom, set against the formality of the French legal system, already portrayed in 2022 by Alice Diop in the film Saint Omer as inherently prejudiced towards women accused of emotive crimes.

In the witness box, Sandra is interrogated about her dedication as a wife and also as a mother to the couple’s young son Daniel (played by Milo Machado-Graner) who happens to be blind and also the main witness. Her marital infidelities with both men and women are exposed to the court.

Does Sandra’s bisexuality count against her in the courtroom, as some have debated? “It’s interesting that fact is frightening for some people,” Hüller replies. “Or that even makes her, I don’t know, less believable? I mean, let’s not even go there, it’s just ridiculous.”

Sandra is more successful than her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) – she’s accused of pushing to his death at their French chalet house (Credit: Alamy)

Hüller has so far spent much of her career working in theatre, which perhaps stood her in good stead for Anatomy’s long scenes, which were spoken in English and French, her second and third languages. It’s something the actress says she loved and wants to do more of. “There’s a lack of control in other languages that I enjoy very much because I can never do it right. There will always be an accent and little mistakes, and I really like that fact that I can focus so much more on what I say than how I say it,” she explains.

Triet and Hüller described themselves at Cannes as “sisters from another mister” as they’ve also worked together on the 2019 comedy drama Sibyl, about a psychotherapist-turned-writer who finds her latest patient is a tempting source of inspiration for her work. While Triet’s earlier works, like Sibyl or 2016’s In Bed with Victoria, have a comic undertone that Anatomy doesn’t have, all these heroines share a strong ownership of their sexuality.

The film’s success – it’s made more than $28m internationally – has propelled Triet into a different league: she’s now a Palme d’Or winner and one of only eight women filmmakers to be nominated for a best director Oscar.

“I don’t understand why it took so long,” says Hüller of Triet’s recognition. “I really don’t get it because even when I saw her first short film, I thought, ‘this is really something’. I think it’s remarkable what she’s doing, the way she’s thinking, the risks she’s taking. I really admire her very much.”

The film’s big unanswered question

The director also took a risk in fiercely criticising French film industry policy (about the suppression of pension protests) during her Palme d’Or acceptance speech, which resulted in her being called “ungrateful” by the French culture minister. It may also have been one of the reasons Anatomy of a Fall was passed over as the French Oscar entry for best international film – although if so, Triet may have had the last laugh.

As long as we recreate those narratives…almost that just one woman is allowed in there, it’s going to stay that way – Sandra Hüller

Now the filmmaker finds herself the only woman in a directing category that also includes The Zone of Interest’s Jonathan Glazer. Only once before, in 2021, have two women ever made it to that shortlist, and the exclusion of Greta Gerwig, who made the billion-dollar box office saviour Barbie, provoked well-publicised indignation, especially from Gerwig’s leading man, Ryan Gosling.

“I still think it’s a strange picture to see Justine in the middle of four men. I find it strange. And I would have loved to have seen Greta Gerwig nominated. Of course, I would,” says Hüller. “I think though as long as we recreate those narratives about maybe it’s just the way it is, almost that just one woman is allowed in there, it’s going to stay that way.”

Justine Triet (pictured with Hüller) is the only woman nominated in the Oscars’ best director category (Credit: Getty Images)

The actress describes her own Oscar nomination as “very nice on one level, and at the same time it’s very intimidating. There are a lot of things going on right now I have to process a bit, but I’m very happy.

“I’m lucky to receive any honour, but it’s out of my control. I can just continue to work and that’s what I’ve always done. I really try to create something that I agree with and not to do any favours to anyone. And sometimes it pays off.”

And will Sandra Hüller go off to the Oscars armed with the inside knowledge that most fans of Anatomy of a Fall are desperate to know – did she do it?

“I won’t tell because I don’t know,” she replies.

“I really don’t know! There are so many theories, and that’s the beautiful thing about this film, that everybody is making up their own story about it and everybody has their own judgment and then their own fantasy. Justine and I never discussed it and I also didn’t decide because the balance is very important for this film, that the audience is constantly moved from one side to the other. And I think it was easier to not know ourselves.”

Anatomy of a Fall is on release now. The 96th Academy Awards will be broadcast on ABC on Sunday 10 March at 7pm ET.

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Forget the 9-to-5: Embrace ‘chronoworking’ hack

The key to getting the most out of workers may be allowing them do their jobs when they feel like it.

Most days, Eloise Skinner is still working at midnight. The writer, fitness instructor and therapist opens her computer to check email around 11:00, takes the afternoon or early evening shift at the London gym where she runs workout classes, then sits down to tackle in-depth projects after 19:30. By that time, “the world has gone quiet”, she says, and she feels best able to concentrate.

The 32-year-old self-proclaimed “night owl” has been planning work around her biology for years, even across different jobs and time zones. “It sounds a bit extreme, but it just is a reflection of the fact that I really, really focus around 8, 9 or 10pm,” says Skinner. “That’s when I’m at my most productive.”

Amid a growing desire for flexible work post-Covid-19, workers are increasingly interested in the kind of set-up Skinner has, with many pushing their companies to adapt their working hours to natural energy levels for maximum productivity. The approach is called “chronoworking”.

Originally coined by journalist Ellen C Scott, chronoworking enables employees to ditch standard office hours and pick schedules that match their personal “chronotypes” instead – the natural time at which their bodies want to sleep.

There are four chronotypes, according to American clinical psychologist and “sleep doctor” Michael Breus. According to his surveys, 55% of people find peak productivity in the middle of the day (10:00 to 14:00); 15% are best suited to early-morning starts; 15% are better working late into the night; and 10% have a more erratic circadian rhythm, which can vary from day to day.

Despite these variations, however, the traditional 9-to-5, eight-hour workday – invented by US labour unions in the 1800s – is still the norm. As a result, many people must work outside their preferred hours of peak productivity; in one small January survey of nearly 1,500 American workers, 94% of respondents said this was the case, and 77% said mandated standard working hours impacted their job performance. To cope, nearly half take said they naps during the workday; 42% load up on caffeine to maintain energy levels; and 43% use stress-management techniques, like mindfulness.

Some workers find their peak productivity in the late-night hours, and want to work after most people have logged off (Credit: Alamy)

Chronoworking isn’t new, yet it has attracted more attention since the pandemic, as remote and hybrid work has mainstreamed, says Dirk Buyens, professor of HR management at Vlerick Business School in Brussels. “No longer do we all spend an hour or so on a commute between the set times of around seven to nine in the morning, and we can truly understand when we are most productive and how to get the most out of our job.”

Workers, especially younger ones, like the idea of suiting their schedules to their most productive hours – but companies also stand to benefit from chronoworking, adds Buyens. Allowing staff to work when they’re at their best could boost performance and wellbeing, with a knock-on positive effect on employee retention. “If workers are happy and that their managers allow them to work hours that suit their needs, they are going to be more likely to stay at the organisation,” he says.

It’s not a widespread phenomenon. Many companies still find it unconventional; and it simply can’t work for others, like customer-facing businesses or those tied to outside factors, like stock market hours. Yet some firms without these constraints – often with globally distributed workforces – are introducing it. 

None of the 17 employees at London-based jobs platform Flexa follow the same working pattern. Instead, says CEO Molly Johnson-Jones, they’re free to construct their days based on when they feel most productive. Some start as early as 07:30, while others don’t log on until 11:00, and work later into the evening.

It’s nonsensical that we all need to be working together all at one time. You get far more out of people if you operate around different chronotypes – Molly Johnson-Jones

It’s the right fit for the remote organisation, she says. “It’s nonsensical that we all need to be working together all at one time. You get far more out of people if you operate around different chronotypes.” The approach has the added benefit of normalising flexible hours for parents or those with other responsibilities that make it tricky to stick to 9-to-5 restrictions, she adds. “It levels the playing field.”

Chronoworking could create practical challenges, though, warns Buyens. As much as the approach grants workers independence and the ability to have a non-linear workday, team members still need at least some “crossover hours” for meetings and shared projects. They also need to be aware of each person’s individual working hours. Managers may struggle, both with overseeing staff output and also making sure they are available and supportive leaders at all times, he adds.

Yet for some of the companies adopting chronoworking, there are ways around these issues. For instance, Flexa requires all its staff to be online during the core hours of 11:00 to 15:00. This allows the team to “blitz through” shared tasks. Other companies use software to record meetings and share with those team members who didn’t join, helping bridge the gap of asynchronous work.

The benefits far outweigh the challenges, believes Johnson-Jones. “We’ll get more out of people and people will be more productive if they can operate around their own chronotypes,” she says. “Some people are morning people, some prefer the evening and some are bang in the middle. We’re all different, and so we can’t be expected to thrive in the same environment.”