Day off sign on desk
Expert Andrew Barnes explains that four-day weeks are successful when done in a collaborative fashion and when there are distinct productivity goals to reach. — Getty Images/LittleBee80

If you could create your own fantasy Board of Directors who would be on it? CO— connects you with thought leaders from across the business spectrum and asks them to help solve your biggest business challenges. In this edition, a CO— reader asks for advice on the four-day work week, and how to know when it’s right for business.

Andrew Barnes, founder, Perpetual Guardian, architect, 4 Day Week and author, “The 4 Day Week: How the Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Wellbeing, and Create a Sustainable Future,” answers…

From Henry Ford to Richard Branson, innovators and entrepreneurs have never been shy about experimenting, especially in the arena of productivity. The idea of getting more from people by reducing work hours was first tested in 1917, when a British factory producing shells for the front tried shortening the work week from seven days to six, and found the number of armaments being manufactured went up — giving what may have been a crucial military edge at a critical time.

When I looked closely, I found more research supporting the benefits of a shorter-than-standard working week. To test my theory that the way we now work is no longer fit for purpose in the digital age, and to find out whether a shift to a productivity-focused, reduced-hour model of work would benefit my company and its people, in early 2018 I asked my staff to prepare for an eight-week trial of a four-day week, which would give every member of my 240-person business a paid day off each week.

We were inventing and testing the 100-80-100 rule, which states that staff receive 100% of their contractual compensation and only need to work 80% of the time, provided they deliver 100% of the agreed productivity.

At the time, a trial with these conditions was unprecedented anywhere in the world. What we learned through our approach — which we viewed through an academic lens, recruiting two independent researchers to accrue qualitative and quantitative data — can help other CEOs, founders and leaders decide whether the four-day week is right for their enterprise.

Let’s break it down:

Is a four-day week achievable for every business?

Any business that can focus on productivity can deliver a four-day week. The concept works well within teams charged with delivering solutions to working smarter, not harder. For those who are inclined to work longer hours, such as sole traders or self-employed people who are working to grow a young business and have to cover more roles in lieu of having a team to share tasks and time, coming up with smarter ways of working (such as making use of technology to reduce admin time) will help to aid work-life balance. At the very least, they can achieve many of the documented personal health and family benefits associated with the four-day week.

We found that people are more motivated to simply get on with their work when asked to meet the productivity challenge.

Productivity

Expert Andrew Barnes experienced firsthand in his own business how much more productivity increased among employees using a four-day week. Read on for some clever apps that can also help boost productivity.


Cheers,
CO—

Is it possible to work a four-day week and earn the same income as a five-day (or more) week?

Because the four-day week is a model of work that is fit for the 21st century — using the 100-80-100 rule — there is no compromise on compensation attached to a four-day week. If output remains consistent with that of the five-day week, compensation likewise remains the same. This means companies and leaders do not have to accommodate a decline in either profitability or productivity; and should in fact reap the benefits of a more engaged, motivated, healthy and satisfied workforce.

What are some practical tips to help businesses implement a four-day work week?

How you approach it is important. A bottom-up re-engineering process organized by staff, rather than a top-down process dictated by management, was crucial to Perpetual Guardian’s successful trial.

Our collaborative, staff-led and team-led approach meant that staff encountered it in a positive way: They felt empowered, and the results show a multitude of positive outcomes, from more engaged teams to enhanced leadership skills and better communication and collaboration within different business units.

It is about working smarter, not harder — so challenge yourself and your teams to come up with ways to improve productivity and reduce distractions or onerous activities that can be done in less time.

 andrew barnes headshot
Andrew Barnes, author, founder of Perpetual Guardian, and architect of 4 Day Week. — Andrew Barnes

As a business owner, what can I expect by implementing a four-day week?

We found that people are more motivated to simply get on with their work when asked to meet the productivity challenge.

The top-line figures tell the story: After our eight-week trial, work-life balance metrics rose by 44%, empowerment by 26%, leadership by 28%, work stimulation by 27% and organizational commitment by 29% — and this was with no advance preparation beyond asking staff to plan well and take it seriously.

We also monitored the use of popular non-work-related websites and found the overall amount of surfing went down by 35%. Stress levels decreased, as did the perception of workload — the latter I did not expect. You would have thought that someone asked to do five days’ work in four would perceive their workload to have gone up, but that was not the case.

People were also able to work more efficiently in their four days, partly because the social side of the business shifted: A 20% decrease in people at any given time makes for a quieter office, fewer interruptions and more persistent concentration.

In short, any business owner who is willing to make productivity the priority in their company can offer a four-day week. If you are paying for productivity rather than for a set number of hours at a desk, with no particular measurement of output, you will create a motivated, empowered, healthier workforce that is totally loyal to the organization.

Remember to be flexible, though: The four-day week is broadly applicable for companies, but it is not suited, for a variety of reasons, to absolutely every worker. But if someone proves able to do their work in four days, reward them. Let them be the best they can be in the office and the best they can be at home. Bold moves like the four-day week deliver that sort of environment. This is the future of work.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published November 22, 2019