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In my last blog Flexible Working: Are you still clock-watching at your office desk? I shared some of the benefits of flexible working. Now I’m going to dig a little deeper and explore whether a four-day working week should become the norm – for all.

If the experts say so..
If experts at Davos this year said it’s time for us all to switch to a four day working week, then it may be time for leaders to listen up – and actually start making changes. Many organisations already believe they offer flexible working. And sure, I know a lot that do. Mostly, it involves the option to be part-time; sometimes it can be as simple as being able to work from home. But can we go one step further? Could a four-day week soon become a reality – and if so, what’s there to gain? And why do we even have this archaic five-day convention that we’ve stuck to for so long?

A legitimate legacy…
9-5 working hours, in fact, hail from Henry Ford’s era. The business magnate believed that he should reward his people for making positive life choices, and therefore it was a benefit to have an 8-hour work day – compared to far greater hours over six days. I do wonder what Henry Ford would do in today’s modern world? I suspect he would be a huge advocate of challenging and redefining our working week.

Working smarter…
We are all operating in a world where the norm no longer applies anyway. Far from it. Technological advances mean we can work anywhere, anytime. It started with taking our Blackberry home with us and on holiday (in my opinion, a deceptive corporate ‘treat’ designed to keep us clocked-in at all times). And now it’s gone way beyond that, with smart conferencing, virtual tools, even the use of Artificial Intelligence to manage remote staff. All this means there are zero geographical boundaries – and therefore the meaning of a deadline has also changed. It’s 5pm in London, but it’s only 1pm in New York where your cohorts or clients are.

Millennial loyalty…
In fact, flexible working is becoming so mainstream – driven by millennials and mumpreneurs alike – that these days it’s less of a perk and more of an everyday expectation for many. For millennials and Gen Z, diversity and flexibility are thought to be key to loyalty. And it’s also promoted by some as the perfect antidote to burnout and exhaustion.

Productivity boost..
What’s more, shorter, more focussed work hours are thought to be a massive productivity driver. One Glasgow marketing firm saw the switch to four days lead to a 30% increase in their productivity, while another firm saw a 20% uplift by the switch. The Wellcome Trust have trialled a three day weekend for their 800 workers.

So, if you’re considering it, here are some pointers on how to make it work for your team:

1. Trust: two-way trust between leader and team members (much more on this in the next blog)
2. Communication: agree how you will communicate as a team, have set team meeting times & perhaps as a video call, communicate about what you have going on
3. Ground rules: agree any key meetings that are face to face or what needs to be in place for the team to work effectively (i.e. team coverage, when people are needed)
4. Output & outcomes: agree as a team who is doing what and what dependencies there are to ensure everyone has what they need to do their job & what you’re all working towards
5. Transparency: share your story, don’t be afraid to be open about what you have going on, in order to manage expectations (e.g. I am watching my daughter’s swimming lesson on Monday at 4pm. I can call you back at 5pm).
6. Be flexible: sometimes conflicting demands come up, be able to flex work demands with life demands and be prepared to give and take

Give it a go?
As a leader, it’s your role to keep people honest and to role model openness. Greater flexibility – even shorter weeks – may evolve rather than be perfect from day one, but what’s the harm in giving it a go? From my experience training leaders, it’s easier to change than you may think.

Three-day weekend anyone? I’ll happily be first in line…

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