Starting this June, over 3,000 UK employees will enjoy an extra day each week to spend with their families, on their hobbies, …or simply in bed. The catch? There isn’t one—employers will pay their full salaries, too.
The upcoming 2022 four-day working week pilot is said to be the world’s largest yet. Partly run by researchers from Oxford and Cambridge, the scheme will ask the big question: “Can employees be just as productive in 20% less time?”
Currently, the average U.K. workweek stands at around 36.3 hours, spread across five days. And while even this can feel excessive, it’s a breeze compared to working habits of old. In fact, until motoring magnate Henry Ford pioneered a five-day pattern in 1926, it was common for U.K. factory workers to toil for up to 16 hours a day, six days a week.
Since lockdown, we’ve seen another labour revolution as flexible, technology-supported working explodes in popularity. But while the four-day week grabs headlines, its fixed hours may still be too restrictive for some. If business leaders want to offer true flexibility, should they instead relax established shift patterns and let employees choose when they work?
Attar Naderi, Associate Director Europe & MENA at Laserfiche takes a takes a look.
Cater to individual employees, not your whole workforce
After a two-year pandemic, Britons are now craving freedom and fulfilment. U.K. staff have been quitting their jobs at the highest rate in over a decade, in line with the worldwide “Great Resignation”. So, it’s no wonder that 97% of U.K. organisations are hoping to engage their employees by offering hybrid or flexible working policies.
These changes can benefit both business and worker. After all, some staff are more productive in the morning, while others work better once their kids are in bed. Even pre-pandemic, a higher percentage of U.K. employees preferred working from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. (21%) than 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (16%). But with a fixed four-day week, staff may feel obligated to work certain days or hours outside of their optimal performance zones, hampering their productivity and wellbeing.
Another common four-day complaint is that workers are forced to cram even more work into fewer hours, resulting in far higher stress levels. One U.K. CEO told London paper CITY A.M. that the 100:80:100 model leaves employees “fighting to ensure tasks are completed, as well as further impacting employees’ sense of connection to colleagues and subsequent sense of belonging to the business.”
Not all employees may be suited to a compressed, faster-paced four-day environment. Instead, businesses can offer flexibility by giving their workers more choice. So, if they’d rather take a little more time over their tasks by working the full five days, they should have the freedom to do so. But whatever pattern your employees choose, they’ll need support to stay connected and make the most out of flexible working. And, like so much else, the answer lies with technology.
Invest in tech to support flexibility
Modern automation technologies can now handle many of your workforce’s menial tasks; think social media scheduling, autoresponder emails, expense reimbursements, and much more. These streamlined workflows and efficiencies then free up your staff to focus on more impactful, fulfilling work. They also afford employees more time to relax and recharge, safe in the knowledge that they’ve completed their weekly duties through working smarter, not harder.
Since lockdown, historical fears that work technology would be solely used to monitor and regulate workers have been largely quelled. Now, cloud services allow staff to access files at any time. Video calls can turn any space into a meeting room. AI-powered task managers and to-do lists help staff stay organised and up to date with their colleagues.
Digitisation and automation can also help with the transfer of legacy knowledge and processes.
As many organisations weather the “Great Resignation”, technology allows for the remote onboarding of new employees even if others have moved on. Virtual meetings with managers and co-workers facilitate inaugurations from anywhere, while video tutorials, online guidebooks, and a range of other digital tools help new joiners to get up to speed faster than ever.
Rather than replacing humans, workplace technology can empower them. As one CEO told Forbes, “We’ve seen new technology lead to incredible things like greater employee engagement and higher levels of satisfaction and productivity.” It’s no wonder, then, that the U.K.’s digital transformation market is set to reach $68.81 billion (£52.38bn) by 2028. With great technology comes great flexibility.
Put flexibility before shift length
Ultimately, to discover what works best for your workforce, it may be worth trialling a period of flexible working—whether through subscribing to the four-day model, or even allowing employees to control their own diaries. You might find it to be one of your best workplace policies yet.
After all, according to Gartner research, 43% of fully-flexible workers say they now achieve greater productivity than ever before. And with more than 4 million UK employees already working flexible hours, and millions more claiming they’d even take a pay cut for the chance to do so, demand is likely to only increase. With the support of technology, could it be time your business went flexible, too?