The best way for companies to establish a four-day workweek

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For years, companies have been experimenting with flexible work arrangements for their employees, and with the pandemic still raging a year after it started, the practice of allowing employees to telecommute has become commonplace. Even more importantly, companies have realized the necessity of having a backup plan in case their office can’t function with staff onsite.

Last March, several companies were forced to allow their employees to work from home because of the pandemic. In many cases, they weren’t legally allowed to have people at their location, and finding a fast-track to a mobile worksite was urgent. In other cases, the companies were proactive and decided to allow their employees to work from home for the safety of everyone involved.

Surprisingly, many companies found that their employees were just as productive working at home as they were when working in the office. However, there are companies that need people working at the office, and one way they can help both their companies and their employees is by instituting a four-day workweek.

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The history of the four-day workweek

Historically, the four-day workweek isn’t exactly new. It was first used during the Great Depression in the 1930s to help reduce unemployment, for example. However, in recent years, the four-day workweek has become a growing trend. For instance, Vice President Pablo Iglesia of Spain introduced a proposal in December 2020 that encouraged people to make a national shift to a 32-hour week or four-day workweek.

Unfortunately, a flexible workweek meets resistance from many people because they assume that people will be less productive. In other cases, employers fear that a transition to a flexible workweek will be costly to implement. However, some companies have made the shift and the results are positive and encouraging.

Companies That Have Made the Shift

Microsoft Japan did a one-month trial of the four-day workweek in 2019 and reported increased productivity. Equally important, the company also reported a reduction in the printing of paper pages and electrical costs.

In the United Kingdom, the thinktank Autonomy reported profitability statistics from more than 50,000 firms in the country. They found that in the event of a worst-case scenario, shifting to a four-day workweek without loss of pay to employees would be affordable for most companies once we are past the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, Autonomy argues that the government in the U.K. could prevent steep unemployment numbers if companies support the move to four-day workweeks. The report suggests that the government sector should be the ones to lead the way in this venture.

Steps to establish a four-day workweek

By now, most companies know that they and their employees can benefit from a shortened workweek, but what are the best ways to implement the change?

1. Start slowly

Certainly, the benefits of the four-way workweek are well-documented, but in reality, it’s a good idea to start slow when you’re readying your company’s transition to a shortened workweek.

2. Get your managers on board

When you have your line managers on board with your plans, it will make your transition easier. If they object to the move and see it as a negative, they can sabotage the plan’s success, whether intentionally or just by having a negative attitude about it.

3. Engage your staff

For your employees, a four-day workweek will invariably lead to a better work-life balance, which is a win for not just their families, but society as a whole. Including your team in the conversation about the transition will make it go more smoothly.

4. Assess results and processes

If your company takes the plunge and starts implementing a shorter workweek, it’s essential that you monitor the progress. You’ll quickly know if it’s working for you or not, and you can shift accordingly. Don’t give up, though. You may have to tweak it until it works for your company and your employees.

5. Explore other options

A flexible workweek should be just that: flexible. A four-day workweek may not work for every company, and if your company relies heavily on customer service, it can be tricky. Exploring other options could help you find something that works well for everyone.

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