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Lessons learnt from the four-day week pilot

Earlier this year, selected organisations across the UK have been part of the four-day workweek to trial its potential for success for 6 months. The initiative in which around 3,300 workers tested out a four-day workweek, is due to conclude this month.

The 6-month pilot program has provided the opportunity for 70 organisations to test and make anecdotal observations of the “100:80:100” working model: 100% pay for 80 percent of the time, in exchange for 100 percent productivity. The pilot scheme has been run in partnership with researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. Similar trials have also been taking place this year in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, and Spain.

Then and now

The standard five-day, the nine-to-five structure was invented by Henry Ford who created the five-day, 40-hour workweek with two days off, in 1926. The UK adopted this model in 1933 when John Boot advocated for a change and Boots reported reduced absenteeism and increased productivity thanks to the shorter week. The reduced hours meant there was less chance of a surplus and Boots had a workforce which showed up ready and invigorated on Monday mornings after having more time for leisure and family activities. The two days off each week reduced absenteeism and had a positive effect on productivity and the weekend was therefore made official Boots policy in 1934.

Although there have been significant changes in the ways we work over the last century, not much has changed since. The workspace remained largely unchanged until the advent of virtual workplaces, which brought with them new challenges and opportunities for workflow management.

The pandemic has presented a unique opportunity for organisations to look critically at their work cultures. Remote work is a natural extension of the flexible working policies that organisations have been implementing since the mid-2000s to support employee lifestyles. However, the surge of remote work during the pandemic showed that we have the capacity to adapt very quickly to new patterns, signalling the possibility of shortening the entire workweek, which has the potential to improve well-being, productivity, and recruitment.

The pandemic forced organisations to trust their employees to work from home, and innovation in corporate structures has allowed for a more flexible working environment. The rise of the four-day working week, which is also known as a compressed workweek, is an alternative to the traditional five-day work schedule. The aim of this strategy is to increase productivity while lowering the number of hours worked by employees each day.

What we learned from the four-day week pilot

As the trial has been progressing, 41 firms responded to a survey midway through the scheme, with 86 percent of those surveyed saying they would keep the four-day week policy going after the trial ends. The reason why many organisations are keen to implement this new working model after the trial ends is that data showed that productivity has been maintained or improved for most firms.

Every organisation and team prefer different ways to work and there is no one size fits all approach to success. During the four-day week pilot, the need for open dialogue has been paramount for employees to learn how to manage work volume and for leaders to know what methods work best in this process.

Methods such as implementing new tools, eliminating unnecessary meetings, or making existing meetings more effective helped and many organisations that have been part of the pilot are happy with the results so far and are enjoying the extra day off: "We certainly all love the extra day out of the office and do come back refreshed. It's been great for our well-being and we're definitely more productive already."

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