Beyond 9-to-5: Embracing the 4-Day Workweek Revolution

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which now seems to be a distant memory, the workforce and attitudes towards working a standard 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday workweek have shifted.

Phase 1 started in the midst of the pandemic when the majority of us (who were able to do so) had to work from home. Zoom calls became the norm, and boundaries between “office hours” and “downtime” disintegrated.

However, as we continue to return to post-COVID-19 normality, the main question arises: Do we need to work 40-hour weeks, which have largely remained unchanged since their introduction in 1938?

I first heard about the idea of a 4-day week at the beginning of last year. Many workplaces went into the trial phase (generally a 3-month period). However, as a Director of a Migration Firm, CPD Provider, and collaborator on other projects, the idea of working 4 days per week caused a sense of anxiety. How would I meet expectations in less time? Would this cause unnecessary stress? Would I be playing catch-up once I return to work? Will clients, staff, and business partners support or at least understand the decision to move to a 4-day week? All of these questions have placed the 4-day week in the “too hard” basket.

Nonetheless, I revisited the idea recently. Ironically, the idea of working less came back to me during a busy period at work. I had several deadlines, meetings that could not be moved, and projects that were due. I felt stressed and exhausted and finished the week on what I would call a sour note. I spent most of that weekend researching the 4-day workweek in the hope of finding balance.

What exactly is a 4-day week?

The idea behind a 4-day week is to work the same number of hours for 4 days and have an additional day off. The purpose of that day is to reward yourself with the ability to attend to day-to-day life admin, relax, rejuvenate, and therefore maintain the same level of productivity during the 4 days you are at work.

How exactly is this executed in practice?

Research suggests that on an average day, we are productive for around 2.6 hours. This is a sobering statement given that most of us spend in excess of 8 hours at work per day. However, being present at work does not amount to productivity. For example, many of us also use this time to browse social media (I am guilty of this), attend to personal matters, procrastinate, or simply fill up time with tasks that do not produce an output. What if we were to shorten the period spent in the office and focus on tasks that do matter? For example, if you spend 2 hours of your time browsing social media at work, you have easily identified 10 hours of time that produced 0 output. If we look further, I am certain that more unproductive tasks would be identified.

Therefore, a 4-day week is possible IF one manages to produce the same output in that time. The idea is not to work more hours; rather, to focus on the job as opposed to background noise.

Then came the big announcement.

I told my staff that I would no longer be working on Fridays and that I would not be available during this time. I wanted to spend my Fridays focusing on projects and activities that I enjoy doing.

Surprisingly, between Monday and Thursday, I did not feel additional pressure to work “harder”; in fact, the opposite happened. I became very conscious of my time and cut back on many tasks such as unnecessary meetings and internal correspondence. I spent less time on social media, less time getting coffee (my personal favorite way to procrastinate), and for all 4 days, I managed to get to the gym and go for a run.

I woke up on Friday feeling a little uneasy; it was very tempting to check my emails. I am an early riser; therefore, I decided to do a spot check to ensure that work was moving as it should be. I set my “out of office” and disabled my emails from my mobile device. And I felt a sense of relief.

While this trial period is in its early days, the results so far have been surprisingly good:

1) I am acutely aware of how I spend my time during the week.
2) I become more vocal about my availability.
3) I have set boundaries, and this is important – if you are going to do a 4-day week, you can’t make exemptions; it creates the perception that a task becomes urgent if the noise around it becomes too loud.
4) I feel refreshed and more focused – spending time on projects that I can never do during the week because I simply do not have the time.

Is a 4-day week the right solution?

At this point, I honestly do not know the answer; however, I am willing to keep an open mind and see where this journey takes me. I will keep you posted on the blog.

Written by Ross Ahmadzai

1 Dec, 2023

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