During a Facebook Live, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke about shifting to a four-day workweek as a way to encourage local tourism, help with work-life balance and increase productivity.
“I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day workweek. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees, but as I’ve said, there’s just so much we’ve learned about COVID-19 and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that, she said.
The idea of a four day work week has been floating for quite a while. It particularly caught everyone’s attention last year when Microsoft tested out a four week work week in its Japan office, and discovered that employees were not only happier – but also 40 percent more productive.
Earlier, in 2018, a New Zealand company that trialled the concept also discovered that employees experienced better work–life balance and improved focus in the office in a four day work week.
The study offered hard evidence for what many already knew: Productivity isn’t just a matter of time, it is also employee mentality, as well as work culture that plays an influential role.
As the world looks to readjust to a new style of working, the disruption caused by Covid-19 has made the discussion around the four day work week even more relevant. It also begs the question – Can the idea finally catch on? And if so, how?
Technology To The Rescue
To make a four-day work week happen, it’s clear that we need a cultural shift from the top. We already know now that long hours doesn’t equate to higher productivity, so it makes sense for companies to re-think metrics around employee performance, moving away from a system that monitors employees, to one that places more emphasis on their output.
Technological gains, in fact, could hold a major key in recalibrating culture. AI, automation and robotics are already paving the way not just for better working conditions, but also better income and manageable workloads. Advances in communication technologies have resulted in more people than ever working remotely from their homes.
Keen on being more efficient, many governments and companies are jumping on the bandwagon, testing the waters for what shorter work weeks could look like.
A Swedish company, for example, still has a five-day workweek but limits each day to six working hours. The company sees it as a way to improve work-life balance, since employees can now more easily run errands after work and spend time with their families each day.
In South Korea, and France, governments have lowered the maximum working week, in a bid to promote a greater work-life balance.
By using machine learning to eliminate the drudge work that takes up much of employees time, companies can accomplish more tasks in less time. Businesses concerned about the financial impact of fewer hours are also increasingly learning that working less may in fact have a positive impact on productivity, as long as other extraneous factors stand well adjusted.
It all then boils down to whether companies want to adopt productivity gains brought about by new technology amongst all workers, instead of sticking to the traditional mould.
The coronavirus crisis is already forcing us to participate in a massive experiment in remote working, giving us a better understanding of how technology can boost productivity, while balancing important needs.
Whether we embrace it to move away from a society of overwork remains to be seen. The outlook for that , however, looks better than ever now.