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The New York City Subway in Manhattan (Manuel Lardizabal photo)

If anything, the global remote-work experiment spurred by the Covid-19 outbreak last year proved that employees could get the job done without going to the office.

With studies showing many organizations have reported a spike in employee productivity since sending them to work from home, the idea of a permanent flexible arrangement now is being embraced by many businesses including Salesforce and Twitter.

Experts say the success of work-from-home revolution is poised to open the door for another: A four-day workweek.

“Similar to the trends we’ve seen with remote work, the more companies embrace this practice, the more mainstream it will become,” said Brie Weiler Reynolds, a career development manager and coach at FlexJobs and Remote.co.

Such a notion likely would have garnered shrugs from many company executives and HR directors before the pandemic.

But it’s clear that the tectonic shifts caused by the health crisis has forever transformed how, where and when people work.

About 43 percent of companies worldwide have changed their remote work and flexibility polices since the outbreak, while 40 percent altered rules on offsite work schedules, according to Monster’s Future of Work 2021 study.

In addition, the numbers of workers permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021, Reuters reported, citing an Enterprise Technology Research survey.

While many employees are expected to return to the office this year, some will be able to stay at least partially remote.

A Harvard survey of 1,800 workers suggests at least 16 percent of employees will work from home at least two days a week after the pandemic.

For example, Siemens’ staffers can stay at home permanently post-pandemic for two to three days per week. Other companies shifting to on-site and remote work include Nationwide Insurance, Slack, Square, Upwork and Zillow.

Seattle-based startup Volt, software-maker Buffer and Unilever New Zealand are just some of the companies that already have nixed a fifth day of work.

To be sure, it’s still early days and it remains unclear whether the trend will dissipate or evolve into a global movement.

Remote Workers Prime for Four-Day Success?

What is known is that remote workers have shown to be more productive, and the pandemic has provided more data that flexible work arrangements work. (Although burnout has been a concern, a May 2020 Monster survey showed.)

According to a July/August 2020 Mercer survey of 793 Americans working remotely, 94 percent said they were just as productive — or more — as they were before the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition, a Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) survey of 3,000 people working remotely during the pandemic found 73 percent were successful when working from home, 86 percent felt “fully productive” and 76 percent want to continue working remotely at least 2.5 days per week.

Employers agree that productivity from their at-home workforces is improving. According to a PwC survey in January 2021, 52 percent of executives polled said average employee productivity has improved, versus 44 percent who said the same in June.

Since remote workers tend to work longer days, a shortened week is a no-brainer for many businesses going forward, according to Weiler Reynolds.

Remote workers are more productive, so they make the most of work hours and would likely continue that productivity with a four-day week, she said.

“Remote work is already a very flexible way of working that gives workers more control over their days,” she said. “When work hours are compressed into four days rather than five, they have even longer stretches of control — three full non-working days each week.”

Taking Fridays off during the summer has already worked for many companies, which may be a good starting point for other organizations to see if a four-day workweek makes sense, she added. A shorter workweek would be the extension of that already-existing norm,” Weiler Reynolds noted.

Adoption Obstacles

Damon Brown, an entrepreneurial consultant, a TED speaker and author of Build From Now, agreed that the pandemic has sped up the potential adoption of the four-day workweek.

Still, fostering trust between leaders and staff is still a challenge, he said.

“Leaders are still associating ‘butt-in-seat’ with productivity, hence work-monitoring software being up by more than 50 percent since the pandemic began,” he said. “Sometimes staff work more to prove to the leaders that they are working.”

Employers that have tried four-day workweeks report savings on utility costs, enhanced efficiency, better talent and increases in morale and retention, he added.

Andrew Barnes, author of the book titled The 4 Day Week and founder of Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based estate-planning company, is so convinced that a four-day workweek makes sense for both employers and employees that he instituted it at his firm.

“Business productivity, and therefore profits, goes up, while employees get more time off and no reduction in pay,” he said.

Working four days a week is “a win–win,” and it can work in all industries around the world, he added.

“There are no disadvantages, it sounds crazy, but it’s true,” Barnes said.

Focusing on output instead of hours defines remote workers, he added. Once a desired output is delivered, the worker can — at least in theory — stop working, he said.

Shifts in Recruiting

Another potential benefit of a four-day workweek for businesses is in recruiting, Barnes said, adding that Perpetual Guardian has been able to enlist top-quality applicants and turnover has declined after it began offering an abbreviated workweek.

Flexible work options will be key in attracting and retaining employees even after the pandemic subsides, studies show.

A GWA/Owl Labs report found that one in two people won’t go back to a job after the pandemic if remote options aren’t offered.

Employers who offer flexible work options are highly sought after,” said Weiler Reynolds at FlexJobs.

For businesses seeking to determine if they should try a four-day workweek, they first need to decide if it will be optional or required, said Miriam Lacey, PhD, a professor at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School in Malibu, California.

To be sure, a shorter workweek may not always be ideal. Some health issues could be triggered for those who put in longer hours each day.

A 2019 French study found that people who worked 10 hours a day or more for at least 50 days a year had a 29 percent increased risk of having a stroke.

Lacey also cautions against companies going fully remote on a four-day-a-week schedule, as it could weaken company culture. She recommends mandating at least one day a week in the office.

“Four-day workweeks work particularly well when people can work from home a portion of the week,” she said.

Businesses can also make remote days 10-hour shifts, and in-person days an eight-hour shift, Lacey added.

Weiler Reynolds agreed that if employers adopt a shorter work week, they need to consider if they expect workers to put in 40 hours in four days or 32 hours in four days.

“This makes a big difference to just how much control and satisfaction someone might feel in a four-day workweek,” she said.

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