Is your business ready for a four-day week?

The last two years have been revolutionary times for businesses in the UK. For millions of people, the home became the office, either for part of the week or permanently.

The world of work now looks like a very different place. And while some of these changes will be with businesses forever, it’s not just where we work that has come into question – but also how long we work. While many companies are concentrating on getting staff back into the office, proposals for a four-day working week are in the news again. The five-day, Monday to Friday working week has been with us since the 1930s.  Is a four-day week an idea whose time has come? And is your business ready for it? Read on as Douglas Mulvihill, UK&I Marketing Manager of call centre software provider Ringover, gives us the lowdown on the four-day week.

The four-day week is set to arrive with a bang in the UK this year. At the beginning of 2022, 30 companies across the country signed up for a six-month trial to ascertain the benefits of a shorter working week. The scheme, headed up by the 4 Day Week Campaign in alliance with think tank Autonomy, together with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College, aims to find out if employees can maintain 5-day productivity levels working 80% of the time, with no changes to their normal pay. The trial will run from June to December 2022.

Other countries

This won’t be the first trial to take place – other countries have already launched successful schemes. Iceland ran the world’s largest trial from 2015 to 2019. Spain also launched a trial in 2021, while in New Zealand, companies like Unilever and Perpetual Guardian have made moves towards adopting the scheme. Meanwhile, the UAE introduced an official 4 and a half day working week at the start of the year. Their weekend will now begin at 12pm on a Friday!

The benefits

The four-day week comes with a host of benefits. Work/life balance obviously improves, and employees work better when they’re rested and refreshed. Team morale is also boosted, with productivity rising as a result. The recruitment process becomes easier with candidates keen to work for companies with better working conditions for their employees. And with workers commuting for 4 days instead of 5, there are also positive environmental benefits with carbon emissions reduced.

While many companies are still nervous about the concept, the results speak for themselves. Following Iceland’s successful trial, that country has now adopted a general reduction of hours for 86% of its working population.

Should you adopt it?

Change is certainly in the air. The idea was being mooted before the pandemic, and the revolution to the workplace that Covid has wrought has amplified the demand for employers to show more flexibility when it comes to working conditions. Certainly, many world leaders are converts, major companies are experimenting with the concept, and some nations have already taken steps to enshrine it in their employment law. Is the time right for all businesses to take a four-day working week on board?

It can’t be denied that the data is promising, and in an era where employee stress and burnout levels have risen significantly, reducing the work week has obvious benefits. Also, looking at history, with time working practices do evolve. In the early 1900s, six-day, 60-hour weeks were commonplace. Even as late as the 1950s, although the five-day week was established, 48-hour weeks were the norm, with far less time off. It’s tempting to rush in with both feet and join the revolution.

However, if you’re feeling a little trepidation, you’re in good company. A 2021 survey of directors by Be The Business, a UK non-profit created for foster productivity, found that while 17% of UK companies were looking at the concept, only 5% had actually adopted it.

It’s a big leap for businesses to take, and although it seems unlikely it will become the norm soon, the pandemic has shown us how quickly things can change. Businesses looking to reduce their working hours need to carefully consider ways they can maintain (and even improve) their productivity levels with less time to play with. Covid has created other challenges for businesses too – while employee expectations have changed, so have the demands of customers. Consumer behaviour has been transformed by digital technology, and the Covid crisis has turbo-charged the process. A recent survey by CRM software company Salesforce revealed that 68% of companies felt their customers’ digital expectations had been increased by the pandemic. Consumers now expect to get what they want almost exactly at the moment they need it, be it a product, a service, or advice. If your staff aren’t available, how can this demand be met?

Plan for the future

Change seems inevitable, and businesses should plan to adopt a shorter working week without compromising productivity. Investing in technology that monitors the efficiency of workers, while making their jobs easier should be a central plank of the strategy. For companies that need to make external calls as part of their operations, such as call centres, call monitoring software can boost productivity levels.

Call monitoring software doesn’t have to be intrusive. If built around a system of the benchmarking of achievements, it can be used to establish realistic and fair objectives for your staff, both old and new. Employees can be given concrete targets and a structure to underpin their shorter working week.  

Time will tell if the four-day week will become a widespread phenomenon in the UK, but the signs are there. For businesses to attempt it, their communication processes will need to be on point. Using the correct communication tools will help keep everything on an even keel while boosting productivity.

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