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What role will digital technology play in pursuit of a four-day working week?

A four-day week is seen by some as the Holy Grail when it comes to work, allowing individuals more time to spend with family and friends or doing what they care about most. The argument is that for some roles – especially those that are heavily task-focussed – fewer working hours will result in higher […]

A four-day week is seen by some as the Holy Grail when it comes to work, allowing individuals more time to spend with family and friends or doing what they care about most. The argument is that for some roles – especially those that are heavily task-focussed – fewer working hours will result in higher levels of efficiency productivity. The concept of quality over quantity is an easy one to get behind, especially when it has the potential to improve lives. In addition to employee wellbeing as a result of better work/life balance and superior business performance, it’s even been promoted as an approach which can be used to fight the climate crisis.

Yet despite the enthusiasm with which the idea of working fewer days is met, it isn’t to say the concept isn’t without its detractors. The counter-argument goes that it simply won’t work for certain sectors – retail for example – which makes it an inherently unfair system. Furthermore, some have raised concern that cramming five days’ worth of work into four might not result in the utopia its advocates have been promoting, leading to working conditions which will actually have a negative impact on those involved.

While admittedly still in its relatively early stages as a credible, applicable concept, around the world there is an increasing number of companies asking themselves the question: Is it time for the four-day working week? However, there’s a lot of space to fill between wanting to do it and actually reaching the goal of a shorter working week. So how do you achieve it and will technology hold the key to making this a more commonplace reality?

Driven by data

For a business to successfully reduce their working week to four days it first needs to understand how its workforce operates and it’s here that data becomes king. A key method of obtaining this insight is through the use of time tracking software, says Ivan Petrovic, CEO of Workpuls who also believes taking a measured approach to any changes in the structure of the working week is key: “Businesses who are using it can test a four-day week, measure their employees’ performance in both scenarios, and actually see if their team is ready for this type of change.” 

Crucially, however, it is how performance data is used that is the key to unlocking a shorter working week. “Many companies lose out on productivity because they don’t have proper data systems set up to spot time and money sinks. Even if they do have good data systems in place, many companies don’t look deep enough into them to figure where they can improve things,” commented Paul Bonea, founder of Perfect Data.

It’s a belief shared by Petrovic, who expects the businesses that will really make a four-day week work for them are ones already tracking their performance. “They already have the data, it’s just a matter of time when they’ll start testing, analyzing and transitioning.”

Revolution or evolution?

Some see the introduction of a four-day week is a logical progression in the context of the rise of flexible working and the gig economy, developments that at their core have and will continue to leverage digital technology. With that in mind, adjusting to a four-day week is less of an overhaul of working practices than it may have been in the past. Instead, it’s a case of utilising the digital tools already being used for ‘more of the same’.

Now boasting millions of global users, enterprise social networks, communication and collaboration tools are now widely adopted, enabling a workforce to work together on tasks effectively even if they are operating on different shift patterns or time zones. Frank Spear from Rafflepress commented how “Applications like Zoom and Skype make it so that you can quickly and easily have face to face meetings with people in your neighborhood, or on the other side of the world.”

These improvements in communication are removing the need for teams to all be physically present in the same location, enabling businesses to cut down on office time. For others, whether as part of a flexible working approach or a more structured four-day working week, cutting down office time is only a precursor to more radical change centred entirely around tasks and outputs. 

“Forget the set-schedule work week – the future of work will be driven by the ‘passion economy’,” suggested Mike Morris, CEO of Topcoder.

“As the gig economy and the prevalence of digital, on-demand talent networks and marketplaces grow, freelancers, or ‘gig economy’ workers, will shift their loyalty to the work that’s out there, rather than a specific company, completing it on their own schedule. 

“It’s not going to be about when you work, but what you work on,” Morris added.

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