Back to Insights

Can shorter work weeks follow the remote work trajectory?

I’ve been thinking about two big similarities between the shift to remote working and the shift to shorter working weeks.

One similarity was the impact of the pandemic.

Covid didn’t make remote working possible for the huge volume of organizations and industries that moved remote en masse. We didn’t invent virtual meetings or asynchronous communication technologies in response to the pandemic, they were already at our disposal long before covid.

It made it permissible – the idea that you could run a global company from your kitchen table, or be just as productive if not more so when your workplace is your home, became acceptable to business and to society.

I believe the same to be true for the concept of a shorter working week. Decades of progress in the form of globalization, digitalization, the advent of the internet and email, and so much more, meant that we already had the productive capacity pre-pandemic to spend less time at work without impacting performance and results.

But the way in which the pandemic disrupted many deeply rooted preconceptions about work and the workweek opened the eyes of many leaders, managers and employees to the possibility that it didn’t have to be this way forever. It didn’t even need to stay this way right now.

Where once the 5-day week seemed like the only show in town and the 4-day week seemed like a pie in the sky fantasy, now for very many people the 5-day week looks like an outdated relic designed for the second industrial era and an economy built around manufacturing, and the 4-day week feels long overdue.

There’s one other big similarity between the move to remote working and the move to a shorter working week. For companies that moved from five days in person to a hybrid or remote model, they needed to flip a decades-old compulsion to value and reward presenteeism, and focus instead on measurement based on results and outcomes. The performative value placed on being the first person to come into the office or the last person to leave was ended, so sharpening actual metrics of performance became essential. The same is true with the shorter working week.

They needed to rely much more on asynchronous communications when people’s schedules became more flexible, and needed to become much more deliberate about how they structured the workweek between collaboration, administration, focused work and rest. The same is true with the shorter working week.

That’s why for many companies that have successfully moved to remote or hybrid working, in many ways this involved a more significant organizational change than moving to a shorter working week will likely present. They often see the four-day week not as a radical departure, but as a logical next step.

Today, more than half of the world’s companies offer some capacity for remote working. 1 in every 5 employees globally work fully from home. Work location has changed forever for millions. Who would have predicted that 10 years ago?

10 years from now, 4-day weeks will be the new normal and work time reduction will come as standard. How long we work for and the way in which we work will change forever for millions. #ItsAboutTime for leaders to get ahead of the curve.