Allowing flexibility in work schedules — like working from home on Fridays — is a simple way to motivate and engage workers. But some innovative companies have started to advocate a four day work week, both as a way to allow workers to spend more time with families and outside activities, but also as a way to focus attention on what’s essential while at work.
Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp (formerly 37signals), wrote in the NY Times in 2012 about the four day work week:
There’s one surprising effect of the changed schedule: better work gets done in four days than in five. When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.
Basecamp’s four day work week is seasonal, running from May to October, but Ryan Carson’s Treehouse is on the four day week year round, and has managed to grow to over $10 million in yearly sales, grown revenue over 120% per year, and over 70, 000 paying clients. (Carson also attributes the company’s productivity to a no email culture, but that’s a different post.)
The state of Utah offered a four day work week of 10 hour days in 2008, over 70% of 18,000 workers preferred the arrangement. Workers were taking less leave, and interestingly, paid overtime was way down, too. And residents got the benefit of the DMV being open 10 hours, Monday through Thursday.
People are working longer hours, in general, or at least it looks like they are. According to Captivate Network’s Homing From Work report, 45% of white collar workers leave work for doctors and dentist appointments, and 85% do online banking while working. People are doing more of their personal activities on work time because they are coming in earlier and leaving later, and therefore are constrained to ‘home from work’ as the report suggests.
In the recent Dell Evolving Workforce expert insights, it’s clear that the US model of working everywhere — in the office, the home, and the corner cafe— has not traveled very far. In France, Russia, Germany and other countries, the demarkation between the workplace and everywhere else is very sharp:
The problem with France, and we are really an exception, is that in France there’s a thought that in the manager’s mind that if you are not in the office you are not working. — Catherine Lejealle, France, Consumer Behavior, Mobility and Workplace Sociologist
But here in the US, at least, it seems that the best course may be to follow the lead of companies like Treehouse, or the State of Utah, and give everyone a four day work week — of 8 or 10 hours, depending on whether you think 32 hours per week is enough once you drop all the nonessential time-wasting activities at the workplace.
In an economy where retaining the best talent is becoming a major issue for all companies, giving back a day a week to your workers is becoming more attractive. As Genevieve Bell, Intel’s director of user experience points out, many European companies have started to make sure people don’t work over the current two day weekends:
What’s interesting is if you look outside of the US, particularly into Western Europe and it’s increasingly in the financial sector in New York, you see a push to re-contain work within either the physical confines of the office or within a certain number of hours. A couple of big companies in Europe moved over, I would say a year or so [ago], to not let the employees take the technology home. Or in the case of some companies I can think of in France and Germany, actually turning off their email service over the weekend, so that email just doesn’t happen and there is no work email on weekends.
We’ll see how far and fast this all takes place, but I expect that the most enlightened companies — or those most motivated to hang onto their top performers — will be the ones that adopt these policies first.
This was originally posted at Dell’s TechPageOne.
This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit TechPageOne. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.