Three ways to make the most of the four-day workweek

Along with many organisations around the world, we’re waiting with bated breath for the outcomes of the currently ongoing 4-day workweek trial happening in the UK. It’s a topic that we’ve been following for a while now (and that we commented on for Consultancy.uk back in February), and we’re interested in it because it closely marries up with our goal of increasing productivity while also protecting wellbeing. Lots has been written about the potential to increase performance by giving employees the freedom to work when they are most productive and giving them more time to rest away from work, enabling them to be more focused and motivated when they are in work.

As the trial progresses, we’re using this blog to share our take on how organisations can make the most of a four-day workweek. As with any transition to a new way of working, new ways of managing are often key to ensuring success – and our work means we have a unique perspective on how managers can support their employees (and be supported themselves) to thrive in a four-day workweek.

Opportunity #1: help employees manage their workload

Some workers in previous trials of shorter working weeks have reported an increase in stress and burnout because they’ve needed to fit five days’ work into four days. Obviously, this ultimately reduces the benefits of a four-day work week; to overcome it, organisations can adopt a number of strategies:

  1. They can work to understand capacity and utilisation in their teams on a deep level, identifying opportunities to lend and borrow capacities across departments to get more work done in those reduced hours.
  2. They can take a deep dive look at their processes, looking for opportunities to streamline work and so reduce delivery times, helping everyone get more work done in less time. Of course, care needs to be taken to protect the customer experience – but it’s our experience that streamlining processes often improves the customer experience as well as reducing delivery times.
  3. Managers can be constantly on the lookout for signs of burnout in their employees. Working long hours or late hours, working on days off, or general low productivity are all signs that an employee might be struggling – if managers can spot those signs and manage them proactively, they can help employees to feel happier and less pressurised in their work.

Opportunity #2: help managers get back to managing

Managers are employees too – and so organisations can support them to feel less stressed and more productive in a four-day week. Strategies that organisations can take to support managers include:

  1. Freeing managers from data crunching. Tools like ours can do much of the data aggregation and analysis that managers often have to do by hand; taking that job away frees managers up to focus on their teams and make the most of their four day week.
  2. Just as middle managers need to look after their teams, senior managers can also look out for middle managers, looking for signs of burnout, and take steps to resolve issues that might be causing managers to feel burnt out.
  3. Organisations can look at automated planning and forecasting tools to further automate the data-oriented side of a manager’s workload, giving them more time to manage their teams.

Opportunity #3: embrace the new working schedule

A four-day workweek raises inevitable questions about service delivery. If everyone is off on the same day, how does that affect customer-facing operations? If not, how do you decide who works which days, and how do you effectively manage workload across each week? Organisations need to consider:

  1. The patterns of their work. Understanding how work comes in and gets done in your organisation may make the decision about whether to close the office for a day or to stagger your workforce an easy one. Understanding the flow of work around your organisation will also help you identify which teams are busiest at which times, which can help you suggest a working pattern that balances giving employees the days off they want with the need to maintain productivity.
  2. Ultimately, once that decision is made, it requires an organisation’s leadership to communicate the change clearly and set expectations around working hours. Many employees may perceive pressure from management to work on their days off to keep things moving; it’s on senior leadership to reinforce expectations and to give employees permission to step away from their desks when they’re not working.

Data will make the four-day workweek a success

We’re optimistic about this latest experiment with the four-day workweek. That being said, in our experience one component is essential to making it a true success: data. Real-time productivity data gives leaders, managers, and individuals insight into their work that help them get – and stay – on top of their workload. For instance, companies using our workforce intelligence solutions typically find they improve productivity by 15%; such an improvement makes it much easier to transition to a 4-day workweek while preserving productivity. Our solutions help make work feel more predictable for managers, giving them the confidence to plan and to adapt their plans as things change. And it’s that confidence that means employees can embrace a four-day workweek without feeling like they’re letting work slip, or that they’re making more work for other employees, which can be a major demotivator for embracing a shorter working week.

If your organisation is also watching the progress of the four-day workweek study, and planning how you can make a similar change in your business, we’d love to help you begin that journey. Take a look at our solutions to learn more about how we aggregate and gather real-time productivity data and present it to your managers, teams, and senior leaders to help them maintain optimal productivity while protecting wellbeing.