The recent UK four-day week trial where employees retain a full pay cheque for working 80% of their time, was a success for the majority of teams that participated, with 95% of employers saying that productivity had stayed the same or improved during the shorter work week.
A shift in priorities
The results of this trial indicate that there is a broader cultural shift in evidence following the monumental disruption to the workplace and traditional working practices during and after the pandemic. It seems that ‘nine-to-five’ is just not cutting it anymore and there is a thirst for change across the UK working population.
Many workers have also incorrectly associated the four-day workweek with working harder for a shorter period of time
Our yearly State of Hybrid Work Report found that 65% of British employees would take a pay cut for a four-day work week, while over a third (37%) would decline a job if flexible hours were not offered. Though the complete findings of the four-day trial will be revealed later next year, the current stats highlight a clear desire for greater flexibility and work-life balance.
While this new way of working offers renewed opportunities and greater flexibility, it also poses challenges for companies looking to meet the demands of their clients. Many workers have also incorrectly associated the four-day workweek with working harder for a shorter period of time, adding to concerns around burnout.
How to balance asynchronous and synchronous expectations
In a workforce where 73% of UK workers feel disengaged during online meetings, it’s important to prioritise necessary communication to minimise the chance of work-related stress. Managing your communications strategy will be key to adapting to the evolving needs of the workforce placing greater emphasis on flexibility.
Some of the most effective companies are those which prioritise asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication is where one person provides information that doesn’t demand an immediate response such as an email, whereas synchronous communication does such as Slack, for example. Companies like Microsoft use Yammer to share company updates regardless of time zones. This helps employees reserve meetings for when they are most needed and gives them greater control over their workday schedule.
To maximise reduced working hours, managers can prioritise asynchronous meetings over synchronous ones by creating new workflows. Companies can host more efficient asynchronous standups over Slack. Team members can receive a series of questions beforehand and answer them at a comfortable pace without the pressure of an immediate response.
It’s important that managers set an example by creating clear boundaries in terms of what is expected regarding response time and availability. By implementing a clear asynchronous and synchronous communication strategy, managers can remove the pressures of Zoom fatigue, information overload and the feeling of being compelled to reply to everything.
Offices need to consider focus, collaboration, learning, socialisation as well as rest to ensure that spaces remain inclusive
Make task-based work your new strategy
A task-based approach involves structuring job expectations around specific tasks rather than working on them as they come through. This approach can provide workers with the right tools to prioritise high-value tasks while avoiding ad hoc requests which can be distracting. For example, batching similar activities together such as replying to emails in a specific timeframe or ticking off all your admin tasks in one go can boost efficiency.
Another approach involves setting deadlines based on your teams’ individual internal rhythms or energy levels. Studies have repeatedly shown that our body clock, or circadian rhythm, determines when we are most productive at work. When planning ahead, look to more challenging and more complex tasks at a point in the day when you are most energised. Tracking the time it takes to complete a task can also help maintain focus.
By shifting to a task-based approach, workers’ synchronous communication needs are also met as their workload can be tailored to suit their own working rhythms. As we make the shift to the four-day workweek, it’s essential teams try new ways of working that best suit their teams’ organisational needs.
Start creating conscious office environments
The most productive work environment is the one your employees choose. Given that 81% of office workers feel they are just as or more productive while working remotely compared to working from the office, creating conscious work environments will be key to bolstering productivity for those who tend to work better at home.
Offices need to consider focus, collaboration, learning, socialisation as well as rest to ensure that spaces remain inclusive. Linkedin has sought to do this by designing its workspace around its employees’ needs. The Linkedin HQ features a silent library and more social settings like coffee shops that can cater to people’s individual routines.
Offices can also become smarter by using analytics and connected technologies to enhance the in-person experience. For instance, Google is combating rigid office infrastructure by developing expandable, movable balloon walls that can be shipped flat to offices around the globe. Similarly, Microsoft’s Hive Room can be transformed using styrofoam so that concepts can be tested there and then. Better video conference technology can be an easy place to start to enhance the hybrid work experience.
As companies make the shift to a four-day workweek, employers need to ensure the office is a smart working environment which ensures the organisational and communication needs of teams are met.
To prevent teams from feeling pressure, managers can leverage their communication strategies, prioritise task-based work and create an inclusive office environment
Working smarter, not harder
Working smarter, not harder, will be key for managers looking to make the permanent switch to a four-day workweek. Organisations need to ensure that reduced working hours do not lead to situations of burnout or work-related stress.
To prevent teams from feeling pressure, managers can leverage their communication strategies, prioritise task-based work and create an inclusive office environment for both hybrid and remote workers. The shift to a four-day workweek not only speaks to a broader cultural shift but an organisational one, which needs to consistently prioritise flexibility and workers’ needs above all.