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Why the four-day workweek isn’t a trend – it’s a growth strategy Design Studio
Thought Piece

Why the four-day workweek isn’t a trend – it’s a growth strategy

  • 7 read
  • 05/05/2022

Before 2020, among the biggest threats for talent shortages were the mass adoption of automation and technologies like artificial intelligence.

Then the pandemic hit and everything changed.

A recent report by WeTransfer shows how 45% of creatives are thinking of leaving their jobs within the next six months. Creatives seem to be more focused than ever on doing work with meaning and reward.

With the Great Resignation underway, leaders are facing a profound shift in employee expectations and growing demand for greater work-life balance. Attracting and retaining skilled employees will require companies to craft their talent strategies with the same degree of care and attention they do for their business strategies.

 Across the world, we’re witnessing companies big and small trialling productivity models that focus on the quality of output rather than simply measuring how long people are ‘at work’. Thinking like this reframes the way expertise and skills are quantified and can promote a workplace culture that deters presenteeism. 

Here are a few reasons why clocking out of the 40-hour workweek mentality is not only a workforce innovation – it’s a game-changing growth strategy:

 

Protecting time for undistracted work means people can engage meaningfully in their roles at higher capacities and with more momentum.

Increases pace and productivity

Buffer’s Chief of Staff reported 91% of their teams being happier and more productive by scaling back on meetings and social events. Protecting time for undistracted work means people can engage meaningfully in their roles at higher capacities and with more momentum.

 

Lessens our overall environmental impact

Microsoft Japan’s energy usage fell by 23% and with commuting greatly reduced – so could the world’s carbon footprint. Businesses could eliminate a percentage of variable overhead expenses like electricity and energy consumption from the get-go.

 

Retains and attracts more experienced talent

Korean food-tech firm Woowa Brothers used a shorter workweek to lure people from Samsung and LG, helping build a company that’s currently valued at more than US $4 billion today. Bolstering robust talent strategies could help smaller companies compete with established ones in London or Silicon Valley for senior talent.

 

Creates space for focus and creativity

Rest fuels creativity and with more time to recalibrate, employees can allocate more space to seek new inspiration and upskill. Why offer company benefits like training budgets or relaxation days when employees can’t actually make use of them?

 

Cultivates a culture of trust

Working four days a week could foster a stronger sense of teamwork, as employees are more likely to focus on achieving their goals together. Building a deeper sense of trust and loyalty across the organisation.

 

Makes life less about work

Here’s a big one. Better work-life balance means more time for “life admin” and family, more energy for professional and personal development, more headspace for restorative hobbies and exercise. It no longer becomes about fitting life into work but work into life.

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Whilst the benefits are plenty, there are some drawbacks to the process.

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Finding the right balance will take time

Companies will need to meaningfully redesign how they work, prioritise time for focus, be strict with meetings and use technology more mindfully. This will require some time for adjustments and disruption to workflow.

 

Five-day clients will need more hand-holding

Not everyone will be working four days which may become difficult to schedule meetings and manage projects. Teams will need to be more rigorous with project planning and ensure enough boundaries and buffers are set in place.

 

May not work for everyone

Some employees may want or need to work extra hours based on their roles, for example, teams that may enjoy the social aspects of their jobs to help in idea generation and execution.

  

Where do we go from here?

Making the switch won’t be easy and while there won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, there are best practices to ensure that all the business needs are met.

 

Get everyone involved

By consulting with different areas of the business, leadership can create an executive list of team goals and prioritise accomplishments. Determine what business needs will be met by a four-day workweek and be clear about what’s changing and staying the same.

 

Always ask: Could this meeting be an email instead?

Evaluate the value of meetings to see where they can be merged, reduced or eliminated. Could a status update be an email instead of having 4 executives present? Think about the cost of talent in the room.

 

Measure output not hours

‘Parkinson’s Law’ is the principle where work expands to the time you give it. Instead of counting the number of hours clocked, companies should be measuring the quality of output. This puts a price tag on expertise and skill, rather than borrowing from an outdated punch-card era.

 

Keep it iterative

It’s going to take more than one try to get it right – look at how companies had to pivot and respond during the pandemic. Reviewing the process frequently and consistently will help make the transition smoother.

 

Be flexible

Offering employees the option to choose what works for them can be a good acid test to help leaders gauge the most suitable approach.

 

The bigger picture

More than half of the world’s workforce is already adept at some capacity of remote work. It’s given precedence for more companies to capitalise on the low hanging fruit and keep their best talents engaged in this new world of work.

A few days ago, Twitter reopened its offices announcing that its more than 5000 employees are welcome to “WFH full-time forever”. This move reframes the office from being a traditional place of work to becoming more of a resource and a safe place to meet with co-workers. 

At DS, we’ve had to adopt new models of flexible working since the first lockdown and it’s not been without its fair share of challenges. It’s teaching us to listen more, be more proactive and intentional with changes, to learn more from each other and adapt accordingly. It’s given us a better sense of how the workplace of the future could be built better for everyone: employees, leaders and clients.

Beyond just seeing the four-day workweek as an extra day off or a business incentive, it could very simply be a chance for us to build a more sustainable way of life, not just a portfolio.

Pamm Hong
Senior Strategist