The future of the work week is under the scanner and technology provides ample oppportunities for disruption of the regular, five-day, 40-hour work week notion.

The man-made construct of the early 20th century continues to persist even though four-day work weeks are being experimented with alongside revolutionary concepts such as results-only work environment (ROWE), a management strategy wherein employees are paid for results or output rather than the number of hours worked.

Some of the other common concepts of flexible working are part-time working, job sharing (two employees doing one job and splitting the hours between them), flexi-time (where employees work certain core hours every day and have the option to select start and end times of their working day), compressed hours (working full time hours but over fewer days), and annualised hours (where employees are contracted to work a certain number of core hours but have flexibility to choose the length of the day or week). 

Benefits of quality over quantity

Earlier this year, the tech giant, Microsoft introduced a summer programme called "Work Life Choice Challenge" in Japan. The firm shut down its offices every Friday in the month of August to give its employees an extra day off each week, essentially introducing a four-day working week.

Even though the time at work was cut short by a day, Microsoft saw an upsurge in productivity (measured by sales per employee) by 40 percent, compared to the same period in the year earlier.

"The four-day working week concept is just part of the discussions on how do we increase productivity, how do we attract talent, and how do we provide a better employee experience," Sherif Seddik, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Europe, Middle East and Africa of Citrix, told Zawya.

Interestingly, the US-headquartered software firm does not have fixed office hours, but its employees have tasks to complete. When, where and how they achieve their targets, is their responsibility, Seddik noted. 

The company does have physical offices for employees, but Seddik explained that the remote work option is popular among employees. Though based in Zurich, he works from home most of the time but does drive for 40 minutes to reach his physical workspace when it is needed.

True flexibility not only enhances employee engagement, but productivity and efficiency as well, along with its profits and top-line sales.

According to a study by International Workplace Group (IWG), 91 percent of its 18,000 respondents believe flexible working “helps them to grow their business and maximise profits”.

Meanwhile, 84 percent of the UAE’s business leaders said flexible workspaces helped them “mitigate against financial and strategic risks".

Flexible work culture not only provides workers with job satisfaction, better health, improved work-life balance, and less stress, reduced commuting costs, they also benefit employers. Higher productivity levels, low turnover and reduced absenteeism help employers retain top-notch talent and save money too.

"Flexibility at work comes with a lot of benefits. Not only for employers and employees. It also comes with environmental benefits," said Seddik.

Creating a sustainable business practice with higher productivity is likely to become more critical to businesses in future.

Four-day work week

The topic of four-day week is focused on employee experience and is top-of-mind of most organisations.

While globally, organisations have been focused on great customer experience, there has been a gradual understanding and the focus has now expanded to include both employees and customers.

"A lot of companies have realised that a great employee experience is essential to drive a great customer experience," agreed Seddik. 

There are several factors that have led to this paradigm shift. The war for talent or talent availability is another major factor. “Everybody is trying to find means to attract or retain good talent,” said Seddik.

It has given rise to different business models wherein potential employees look for different equations in terms of perks and flexible work schedules offered.

The third factor is the focus on productivity. A lot of organisations feel that in the last seven or eight years, growth in productivity has not been happening at the same pace as investment or technology. “It is believed that technology has contributed in taking away from employees' productivity levels rather than adding to it,” said Seddik. In this context, Microsoft's initiative in Japan is worth celebrating.

Changing notions of work

The notion that work is a set of tasks and something you do, and not somewhere you go to, is gaining momentum. However, most people continue to “go” to work, despite various remote working technologies available.

Citrix recently surveyed 3,750 office and home workers across the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, investigating the hours they work currently and the likelihood of them adopting a four-day working week in the future.

The research revealed overwhelming support for the four-day week, with 87 percent of respondents saying they would take the option if their employer offered it to them, and 41 percent agreeing a four-day working week would be feasible with their current workload.

Overall, 53 percent of the survey respondents are contracted to work regular set hours (i.e. the traditional 9-to-5). Only four percent overall have complete flexibility in the way they work, with no set number of working hours.

Future of work

Moving forward, work will not be about the number of hours (quantity) but rather about efficiency and flexibility (quality). Businesses will have to be focused on results and outcomes and will have to allow employees to work in a way that suits them the most without compromising on productivity.

In the end, businesses will always benefit from higher productivity.

(Reporting by Mily Chakrabarty; editing by Anoop Menon)  

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