Working from home (WFH) has introduced marked shifts in work schedules. Some companies have allowed employees to choose their own hours while others have accommodated work across time zones. Others are experimenting with a new trend—the four-day work week.
Marketing software firm Intelligence Bank, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, went to a four-day work week while shifting to an 100-percent remote work environment due to COVID-19.
“A condensed work week was an idea we’d been kicking around, so it seemed like a perfect time to try it out," says Tessa Court, the company’s CEO. "We also wanted to help our employees, many of whom were facing challenging situations at home, including with the need for childcare.
“On the whole, our employees love the change, because it offers them greater flexibility in dealing with their non-work responsibilities," Court continues. “They’re less stressed when working. We’ve also noticed our teams working together better and performing more efficiently.”
Employees at audio systems reviewer The Product Analyst were also stressed out by work and family responsibilities when WFH started. So founder Willie Greer switched to a four-day work week as well.
“My decision to shift our work schedule and squeeze it into a four-day routine helped in building a more productive working environment,” says Greer. “The WFH setup made me realize that we are an output-based company and that we don’t need to work specific hours. If the job gets done in the required timeframe, the hours worked don’t really matter.”
Determining if a Four-Day Work Week is Right for Your Company
A condensed work week isn’t ideal for every company. Before jumping in, determine how such a change would affect your business model, output and the ability to serve customers.
“It’s also a good idea to check with your employees,” adds Cynthia Spraggs, CEO of Virtira, a virtual company focused on remote team performance. Some of her employees work a 4-day work week.
With a four-day work week, it’s a must that employees communicate with managers and coworkers on a regular basis.
—Willie Greer, founder, The Product Analyst
“Have your employees asked for a shorter work week?” asks Spraggs. “Do they expect the same compensation with reduced hours? What is the root cause of their requests? Too many meetings? Feeling overworked? Knowing their motivation will help you decide if a four-day work week is a good idea for your company.”
Spraggs suggests considering the following points to determine if switching to a four-day work week would make sense for your business:
- Are work tasks time sensitive? If so, can they be accomplished within a four-day work week schedule without compromising quality?
- Will and can your customers tolerate a no-response day each week?
- What is the best day of the week to take off? It may not be Friday or Monday. It could be mid-week.
- Do you have online information repositories, and collaboration and cloud-sharing solutions so that if someone is offline, it’s easy to find information?
- If four days a week still equals 40 hours, do your state’s overtime laws permit 10-hour workdays? Can employees commit to 10 hours a day?
- Will your managers need to pick up the slack if they have employees offline?
- If you gave employees a break from meetings one day a week, would it accomplish the same thing as a four-day work week?
- Does your company need that fifth day reserved for meetings or anything else?
- Do you believe your employees will easily adjust to a four-day work schedule?
- Are your managers equipped to guide your employees through a new schedule?
- Do you have a solid, reliable way to measure productivity after the shift?
Shifting to a Four-Day Work Week
Court found that ensuring everyone in the company was well-informed about their responsibilities was vital to successfully shifting her company to a four-day work week.
“If everyone is clear about what is expected of them and who to talk to when they have a problem," she says, "we found that they adapted well."
Communication is more vital than ever, adds Greer.
“With a four-day work week, it’s a must that employees communicate with managers and coworkers on a regular basis.”
Hold regular meetings, especially in the beginning. Also check in with employees individually to ensure that the condensed workweek is working for them.
Measuring Productivity After the Shift
Using productivity software is one way to guarantee employees are completing their work.
“Our company uses productivity monitoring software to ensure that employees are performing as required,” says Greer. “Through the software, I'm able to see how much time employees spend on tasks and whether they’re visiting any unproductive sites like social media. The software we use detects keyboard and mouse activity. Screenshots are also taken at random times, which the employee can delete if he chooses to.”
If you do use productivity monitoring software, Greer suggests disclosing that fact.
“I believe it's important to be explicit,” he says.
As a software developer, Court’s company already had a project management process in place.
“We have great visibility at a granular level regarding how the switch to a four-day work week has impacted productivity,” she says. “The good news is that all indications point toward an increase in task completion and a generally faster development cycle.”
Court also uses an anonymous survey system to check how employees are adapting to the new schedule.
“The employees are free to complain, but no one has had anything negative to say,” she says.
In Court's experience, the more latitude she can give her employees, the better.
"Whether it's a four-day work week or the permanent ability to work from home whenever possible, it's a good business move to give employees as much freedom as possible," she says. "They almost always reward you by working harder, smarter and faster. What's good for them is good for business."
Read more articles on work-life balance.
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