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Making the four-day week work for your team

Teams need to work smarter, not harder, to meet the demands of a new workforce which no longer believes in the traditional nine-to-five way of working.
Business woman flying away across a blue sky

The majority of firms who participated in the UK four-day week trial have said they intend to keep it in place. In the scheme, where employees retain 100% of their pay cheque for working 80% of their original working hours, 95% of employers said productivity had stayed the same or improved during the shorter work week. 

Getting on board with the four-day week

The success of the trial suggests a broader cultural shift in the post-pandemic workforce in which workers are turning their backs on the traditional nine-to-five workday. 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.

Some of the most effective companies are those which prioritise asynchronous communication

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. 

Balancing 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 who place 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. 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.  

Prioritising a task-based work 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. 

The most productive work environment is the one your employees choose

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 put the 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. 

Create 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, and 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 shift to a four-day workweek, employers need to ensure the office is a smart working environment that ensures the organisational and communication needs of teams are met. 

Working smarter, not harder in the long term 

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. 

The shift to a four-day workweek not only speaks to a broader cultural shift but an organisational one

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.

Interested in this topic? Read Are we working harder and not smarter in L&D?

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