The 4-Day Work Week and Other Ways the Workforce Is Changing

By: James C. Price

The workplace is a fluid concept. It’s always evolving and becoming better suited for its leaders, employees, and production needs. From its harsh beginnings in the industrial revolution to the development of the 8-to-5 work day to the integration of the internet in everyday tasks, the “what” has stayed constant, but the “how” is more ambiguous than ever before. When it comes to maintaining a high level of productivity, companies are realizing maybe the 8-to-5 grind isn’t the best option. Offering compressed workweeks, flexible hours, telecommuting, and remote work options is becoming more popular than ever as recruiting and retention techniques—and top talent are gravitating toward companies embracing the changing workforce.

Longer Days for Shorter Weeks

According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 43% of companies offer a four-day workweek to at least a portion of their workforce, while 14% of small businesses offer this option to all employees. The idea of a compressed workweek has shown to help workers stay well rested and maintain a healthy work-life balance—which according to an Indeed survey is the highest-ranking factor in job satisfaction. The public sector is joining this fast-growing trend, as well. State and federal government employees are often allowed to work nine-hour work days to get every other Friday off. From four 10-hour days to allowing every other Friday off, companies that utilize the compressed workweek as a motivational tool often stagger days off to maintain a
sufficient staff in the office five days a week.

Flexible Hours to Accommodate Flexible Schedules

With a healthy work-life balance being the most important factor in job satisfaction, allowing workers the flexibility to choose how, when, and where they work can boost job satisfaction exponentially. In a study by the Families and Work Institute, employees allowed workplace flexibility are less bench-sea-sunny-man-largelikely to feel they don’t have enough time for themselves, spouses, or children. And, as the largest generation in the workplace becomes more family-oriented, Millennials are more likely to push for flexible options to accommodate their children’s schedules. According to The Hartford’s Millennial Parenthood Survey, 97% of Millennials say employers should offer flexibility in work hours in order for them to be able to be responsible parents, while 44% said flexible work hours was a “must.”

Telecommuting to Save Money

Though the compressed workweek and flexible hours may be the current trends, telecommuting was one of the first flexible work options that hit the workforce. Introduced in the 1970s to combat rising gasoline prices, telecommuting allows workers to at least partially work from home. Not only is telecommuting an option that some employees want to help balance out the demands of life and work, but businesses are also choosing this option for fiduciary purposes. Recently, companies have taken advantage of the potential bottom-line impact of letting their workers with compatible jobs telecommute at least 50% of the time. According to a Global Workplace Analytics study, a typical company can save on average $11,000 per employee per year in utilities, office space, and accommodations. Savings work both ways, as employees telecommuting can save between $2,000 and $7,000 per year in transportation and other work-related expenses.

Remote Work to Raise Productivity

Remote work is essentially telecommuting, but on a full-time basis. Employees who work remotely can be anywhere in the world and still maintain a high level of productivity. In a recent study, Gallup found that 58% of Americans believe workers who work remotely are just as productive as those who work in a business office. In a separate study, Nicholas Bloom, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, put this theory to the test. Working with travel website Ctrip co-founder James Liang, Bloom selected some workers to work from home, while the others worked in the office as a control group. After nine months, the remote employees completed 13.5% more calls than their in-office counter parts—adding up to nearly an extra day of work out of each employee per week. Moreover, the company saved $1,900 in office space and supplies per employee during the nine-month period.

Is this changing workforce right for you?

Full disclosure: flexible work options aren’t for everyone. Some businesses require their staff in the office during normal work hours every day as a means to maintain a high level of face-to-face customer support. Additionally, the companies that offer the option to telecommute or work remotely are usually employing workers who are mainly tied to a computer or phone. But, for those companies that want to boost morale, raise productivity, and be more attractive to top talent, it may be time to start looking into how this changing workforce can positively affect their businesses. One thing is for certain: the companies with the best talent are already embracing this change.