Working From Home

Does the current crisis herald a further thought on the prospect of a 4 day week

Thursday 9 April, 2020

Does the current crisis herald a further thought on the prospect of a 4 day working week? Have we all been so focussed in our home offices that we now feel it’s not necessary to have the full working week and that we can complete our tasks in less time?

Some are starting to ask the question and reference where certain organisations have been able to implement this already. There was much coverage of the Microsoft trial in Japan in August last year where the company implemented a four-day work week project for its entire 2,300 staff, giving five Friday’s off in a row without any reduction in pay. Microsoft reported a staggering 40% increase in productivity, more efficient meetings and happier workers. It doesn’t seem to have led to any permanent changes though.

Perhaps the increase was due to it being the middle of Summer and so staff really enjoyed five long weekends at the right time of year and therefore had an in-built incentive for focus – apparently employees took 25% less time off during the trial. Would we have seen the same results in the middle of Winter?

Other (mostly smaller) companies have also piloted or implemented the approach. In the UK, the largest organisation to consider a four-day work week is The Wellcome Trust, although they ruled out a planned pilot in Autumn 2019 after much internal discussion, stating that it would be ‘too operationally complex to implement’. Where only some parts of a business may benefit, it can seem unfair to implement across the board. And then of course, which work day would go? Are Fridays again the focus, and the mandate given? If we all get to choose our own day that might impede the productivity of an organisation as certain stakeholders are not around for decisions. Although perhaps even with choice, Fridays would continue as the preference given that in the Western world there is cultural significance in the build-up to the traditional weekend where family members, children and friends will be breaking from the ‘work week’ cycle.

Does the idea of a formal four-day work week really provide an improved focus and life balance or is it simply better to offer individuals the chance to create their own ideal working patterns that truly respond to personal preference and working style spread across the (five or seven day) week? This might seem to be more in line with a reduced hours week such as in France – where a 35 hour work week was mandated in 2000.

We also have to consider that productivity is both personal and corporate. While completing my ‘to-do’ list is tremendously satisfying from a personal perspective and more quickly achieved without interruptions and distractions perhaps, my corporate productivity is different. This is all about interaction, collaboration, sharing ideas, having conversations with others outside the team and as a line manager making sure that my team have direct and easy access for questions and queries, steering and guidance, clarity and support.

So while the current WFH may be great for the former, it’s perhaps not so good for the latter and maybe we need that extra time after all….

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