In a period of great operational difficulty for companies, whose productivity has been put to the test by the ongoing health emergency, the organizational model of smart working has taken hold, a term that has been widely abused to indicate even the simple telework or home-working. The need to protect the health of employees and meet their life needs has encouraged the spread of new organizational and work models.
Yet smart working is not the only revolutionary paradigm that organizations are trying to introduce into everyday business in recent times. In fact, Andrew Barnes, founder of the New Zealand financial services company Perpetual Guardian, in 2018, experienced a four-day working week and, given the promising results in terms of productivity, has started a new current of thought: the “4 DAY WEEK” (4dayweek.com).
Barnes said he got the idea after reading an article that explained how employees were more productive working, on average, between one and a half and two and a half hours a day. He then started thinking about how he could increase productivity by reducing unproductive hours within his company. This led him to give his employees an extra day off, reducing the weekly working days to four.
But how does 4 Day Week work specifically?
Employees are simply required to work four days a week for 8 hours, without the extra hours of the day off being spread on weekdays. This means that they do not have four days of work of 10 hours each, as in the "pressed week", but the total number of hours per week is reduced to 32. The employee chooses which day of the week to stay off (in addition to Saturday and Sunday) by coordinating with his colleagues and his manager.
This huge concession, however, has no effect on the employee's salary, which remains de facto unchanged. Barnes explains that this escamotage should serve to limit the unproductiveness of working days by compressing the time needed to carry out its activities. The basic idea is that: if it is true that not all 8 hours of work per day are productive, then giving up 8 hours of work per week should still be able to carry out your tasks and achieve your goals.
Andrew Barnes not only hypothesized this model, but first of all he experienced it in his own company with an eight-week trial of 240 people. At the end of the experiment it was found that employees, in general, reported a better work-life balance, job satisfaction and health, as well as less stress at work and less time spent in meetings.
For Perpetual Guardian, revenue and profitability increased by 6% and 12.5%, respectively; worked performance, team creativity and staff retention also increased. In addition, no office closures were planned as staff found themselves shifting according to the extra day of rest chosen by the employees.
Could 4 Day Week be a new organizational model that will allow any organization to be more effective and efficient?
In economic-company terms efficiency is the ability to obtain a higher output than inputs and effectiveness is the ability to achieve the set objectives.
Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple and immediate. In fact, qualitative studies carried out on Barnes' experiment by Dott.ssa Helen Delaney, Senior Lecturer for the Department of Management and International Business of Business School University of Auckland, have revealed some rather interesting criticalities.
Some participants in the experiment said they felt more pressured because they had to complete their weekly tasks in less time. Others, especially managers, saw an increase in daily working hours, which in fact led to a shift to the "compressed week". Many of them justified their difficulty in applying the 4 Day Week by saying: "the work simply doesn't stop". Another critical issue noted by some participants was the difficulty in coordinating work with colleagues and other teams due to the presence of midweek days when some employees were off-from work.
Despite the discussed difficulties, the benefits found by the Perpetual Guardian have led to the permanent implementation of the 4 Day Week in the company and in the wake of this first experiment other companies in the world have tried the same experiment. A striking case was that of Microsoft Japan, which using the 4 Day Week has found an increase in productivity of 40% and a simultaneous decrease in electricity costs of 23%.
Like Microsoft, many other companies in Europe and around the world are trying their first approaches to this new organizational model. However, according to flex work and HR experts, it presents difficult challenges for all business stakeholders.
Given the period that we are living and the consequent boost of smart working, it could be a good time to carry out new experiments and conduct new analysis maybe mixing different solutions. This could lead in the near future to the implementation of organizational and working models able to reach extremely satisfactory levels of worklife-balance, environmental sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
Articolo a cura di Beniamino Galeone, Sales & Operations Intern VGen Lab