The 4 day work week

You might have noticed a growing interest in the concept of a 4 day work week — it’s a hot topic. The BBC came to film 3Sixty for the Politics on Sunday Show. Here are our thoughts.

A number of factors appear to be driving this trend in the UK, such as The Labour Party and the TUC calling for shorter working hours. And then there’s ‘the robots are coming’ argument, which says that technology and automation will reduce your work hours and in some cases, take over — allowing you to work less and embrace more free time.

Will automation and robotics lead to more free time? Really?

But what about ‘A fair days wage for a fair day’s work?’

Firstly, what is a fair days work? Around the time of the industrial revolution, it was about attending your workplace from 9 to 5 with the expectation that you achieved a measured output. And in return, you were paid an amount equal to what you needed to subsist for a day. In other words, your income was directly linked to the time you spent at work. But post-industrial revolution and in today’s knowledge economy, how do you measure and value your time? It raises some interesting questions, particularly about productivity. What if your competitors choose to work 5 days a week, won’t that make you uncompetitive?

Are we selling time or value?

Rather than selling time, how about focussing on value? Forget about hours, attendance and other outdated workplace habits formed at the start of the industrial revolution. After all, if you’re buying a product or service aren’t you more interested in getting the result? It’s a bit like that story about a person who goes out to buy a hammer. They don’t really want a hammer, they want to bang a nail into a wall so they can hang a picture. That’s the result.

Sounds good, but how does that work in the real world?

Here’s how 3Sixty treats working hours, location and vacation differently: Hours: Taking a leaf out of the Strategic Coach playbook, days are divided into 3 categories: buffer, focus and free: Buffer time: Is for you to get prepared, doing admin, research and lots of stuff that surrounds your core competence or money-making activity. Focus time: This is where you do your core competence and the area that makes the company money. Designing, research, development, sales. Etc. Free time: Is for anything except work. A period where you rest and recuperate. There’s flexibility around hours too, so if you have to take the kids to the nursery or drop the car at the garage, fine. But what if you’re busy? No problem, just do what it takes in a way that works for you, the team and the client. We trust you to get your work done. Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach thinks of it like an athlete or actor who spends time practising and preparing, then performs at a very high level, followed by a period of rest and recovery. Location: Technology means you don’t have to be physically in the building to communicate with your colleagues and clients. Sometimes working from home, a cafe or anywhere except the office is more appropriate to what you want to achieve. If you need a quiet space to concentrate, your home might be the best environment. If you need to be creative, perhaps a cafe with the background white noise is helpful. I don’t know about you, but when was the last time you had a good idea sat in front of a computer screen? Vacation: 25 days is a minimum. If you are working particularly hard, we expect you to take more holiday. Which may sound counter-intuitive, but you need to manage your life and energy reserves to perform at your best. Trying to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of a workweek or limiting time off will lead to diminishing returns. Or even worse, burn out.

Dan Sullivan — Strategic Coach.

Being in the business of selling results

Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach says ‘There’s no such thing as a cost, only a good investment or a bad one’. Professional service providers like lawyers, accountants and consultancies focus on the time they spent, with costs all justified and billed in hours. Which makes sense as the work did take a certain amount of time. But aren’t you more interested in the result? Getting the outcome is what you wanted and signifies that it was a good investment.

So what about the 4 day work week?

The concept is good in theory, but perhaps too binary. Wouldn’t it be better to accept that the current 5-day workweek is not always fit for purpose and consider a more flexible structure that values both people and results? The Pomodoro Technique is a similar highly effective version of time management:

Pomodoro Technique on Wikipedia