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Will coronavirus mean more businesses take up a four-day week?

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    Alice Harper

    Alice Harper UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    For many, the biggest impact COVID-19 will have on their lives will be through their work. Aside from the millions already placed on furlough, by March 2020 one in eleven people employed in the UK had had their hours reduced as a result of the crisis

    But while the current necessary pay cuts will not be sustainable for the majority of employees, the four-day working pattern may be more likely to stick. With many companies already discussing and trialling this setup, workers have been forced to adapt to reduced working hours. Having made these adjustments, perhaps the need to retain a five-day week will be less clear once we are on the other side.

    There is a precedent for this kind of societal shift. The idea of a four-day week became more accepted in the UK after the 2008 financial crash, when it was necessary for some employees to reduce their working hours. This change proved especially popular with some City bankers, who kept to a four-day week after the economy began to recover. 

    Where accepting reduced hours was previously seen as something reserved for working mums, after 2008 people started to view it as a noble act to help navigate the crisis, or simply a more sensible option for many workers.

    Before the start of 2020, several companies had already begun to test the four-day week model to see how it affected their productivity. According to an article in Business Insider, Microsoft Japan ran an experiment in August 2019 where they gave all their employees a paid day off on Fridays. The new four-day working week included employees being asked to keep physical meetings to a minimum and communicate using Zoom or Slack instead. This streamlining of office time led to an unprecedented 40% boost in productivity. Other companies have also tried out four-day weeks and reported positive results. 

    Within the standard five-day week, a lot of time can be wasted in drawn-out meetings, unnecessary team briefings and meandering training sessions. Many of these could in fact be replaced by shorter video chats, or simple email bulletins. 

    For the companies trialling a shorter work week, efficiency has been boosted by truncating these kinds of interactions or removing them altogether. More useful tasks can be done in the time that might have been spent preparing for briefings, buying coffee or engaging in pre-meeting small talk. Employees are also less likely to feel that their time is being taken up unnecessarily, and become more productive as a result.

    There are disadvantages, of course, to this model. For certain industries it would be impractical to adopt the four day week, especially where whole teams are required to be on duty 24/7. The main risk for those firms able to adapt their scheduling is potential cost; there is always a chance that productivity will be affected negatively by a shorter working week. 

    Evidence also suggests that, where the four-day week has been trialled, some employees end up putting in the same amount of hours anyway. These workers would then need to be paid overtime, which neither improves the employee’s work/life balance, nor helps the employer to save money. 

    However, the positive impact of the four-day week has been repeated in a variety of trials with a broad range of companies. Uniqlo, Shake Shack, software company Basecamp, and estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian all reported that productivity levels were maintained with a shorter work week. The firms all cited positives including more focused employees, who were more likely to be on time and work hard as a result of having an extra day off. 

    Employees have reported finding it easier to find a healthy work/life balance, feeling more engaged and less stressed by the shorter week, and enjoying their jobs more as a result. Less obvious benefits might also include fewer overheads, especially if the office is empty for an extra day, and a fewer commutes meaning a lower carbon footprint.

    Arguments against the four day week often relate to the difficulty of adapting existing schedules when it is less risky to continue as things are. Now, with the chaos that coronavirus has unleashed on work routines, these arguments have been somewhat thrown into doubt. 

    With some predictions suggesting a form of social distancing may be necessary for another year or more, the prospect of long-term change seems likely. The ease with which many office workers have transitioned to working from home points to a future where this is the norm. And with less time being taken up in commutes, or physical meetings with colleagues, perhaps the next logical step involves us working longer hours within a four-day pattern.

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  2. Julia Sta Romana

    Julia Sta Romana UKBF Regular Free Member

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    Employees have reported finding it easier to find a healthy work/life balance, feeling more engaged and less stressed by the shorter week, and enjoying their jobs more as a result. Less obvious benefits might also include fewer overheads, especially if the office is empty for an extra day, and a fewer commutes meaning a lower carbon footprint.

    I don't think it would result in fewer overhead. An empty office is actually more of a waste. You're still paying rent even on days when your office is empty. And with longer working hours, whatever savings you get from that extra day in utilities could be cancelled out by the longer operating hours.

    But I agree that a 4 day work week would make social distancing easier for employees. And the reduced in traffic do help business improve employee morale and easier access for customers.
     
    Posted: Apr 27, 2020 By: Julia Sta Romana Member since: Apr 18, 2017
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  3. Forseti

    Forseti UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    In any case, people are in contact with each other. The mask does not protect 100%. If you do not let people work in the office for a long time, then their desire to work will disappear. They need a change of scenery. About coronovirus information is too ambiguous. Given the population density of China and India at the declared level of danger, mortality and infection should have been much higher.
     
    Posted: Jun 2, 2020 By: Forseti Member since: May 15, 2020
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