I had no broader aspirations than to see if this would work in my company. If the outcomes were positive, I was prepared to introduce it permanently.
To our surprise, the story of our experiment generated huge interest around the world. It is clear this enthusiasm stems from the simple fact that the way we work is no longer fit for purpose for the 21st century, and this transcends borders and cultures.
This is a response to the “always-on” culture of modern life, where work intrudes into our homes and leisure time. The imperative of needing two adult partners in a family to engage in paid work comes at the expense of time devoted to family care responsibilities, or simply to recharge our increasingly rundown batteries.
The impact on our planet is also acute; our cities are increasingly congested, with ever-longer commutes because of unaffordable housing, which in turn contributes to a significant increase in carbon emissions.
One of the greatest impediments to women reaching the C-suite or achieving parity in opportunities is that they disproportionately take on childcare responsibilities.
It is here that the four-day week can truly make a difference, because it enables men and women to take time away from work, without it damaging their careers, and women to return to the workforce after having children and be rewarded based on output first, rather than tenure. Once it becomes accepted for both men and women to have a balance between home and work that is based on productivity, we will see a more equal division of labor at home and the gender pay gap and C-suite gender gap will shrink.
Implementation of the four-day week prompts a discussion about improving productivity. The many successful implementations prove that incentivizing employees to eliminate unproductive activities (such as overlong meetings with too many participants, and social media browsing at work) in exchange for a shorter working week pays significant dividends.
The hardest part for leaders, used to having control over processes and decision-making, is that the policy has to be led by those who will implement it, the employees.
I have talked to many companies and organizations around the world and it is clear the biggest challenge to the four-day week is the underlying prejudice and skepticism of managers and leaders themselves.
Conditioned to the falsehood that working longer equates to working harder, and that hours spent in the office or factory correlate to productivity levels, business leaders are not confident in taking the leap into a world where these two misconceptions are jettisoned.
It is here that the pandemic has changed the landscape. Enforced lockdowns and home working have proved to business that physical presence is no longer required; for example Optus, Twitter and Alphabet have announced the retention of home working on a permanent/semi-permanent basis.
I believe businesses will increasingly recognize and admit the future of work will be different, and will seek to harness the better hourly productivity of employees working from home with flexible working arrangements.
We have been running the policy for over two years at Perpetual Guardian and the outcomes have been highly beneficial. This made adapting to home-based working during the lockdowns comparatively straightforward. Both managers and employees have a strong grasp of what productivity is, and our business has not suffered.
Ultimately, I believe more businesses navigating Covid will take the plunge — and in an era where profitable recovery is going to be central to business leaders’ objectives, the four-day week is a proven strategy to increase productivity and profitability, and to work in a sustainable fashion.