Compressed work weeks might be trendy, but they’re also misunderstood. But productivity coach Donna McGeorge, author of The 1-Day Refund: Take Back Time, Spend it Wisely, is here to explain the concept of a compressed work week – and Hive is here to help you implement it with your team.
What is a compressed work week?
A compressed work week is a work schedule that takes your drawn-out, five-day work week and squeezes it into a four-day week instead. The number of hours you work can vary, and your schedules may change dramatically, but those who have implemented a compressed work week insist that it’s a game-changer.
“Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand financial services company, found people had no trouble delivering on a full-time workload in 4 days,” McGeorge says. “It resulted in lower stress, happier employees, and a 20 percent rise in productivity.”
McGeorge says that there are three kinds of compressed work weeks: ones that cut down on days worked, ones that cut down on hours slightly, and ones that squeeze 40 hours of work into four full workdays.
Employers that pay by the day or hour frequently engage in a work week that only pays for days worked.
“This is the most common,” McGeorge says. “People work fewer days and take a pro-rata pay.”
For those on salary, McGeorge says that four-day, 40-hour weeks are one of the most common compressed work week schedules. But this program operates under the assumption that you need 40 hours to produce desired outcomes – which might not be the most accurate belief.
The best model, McGeorge says, is, unfortunately, one of the least common: 32-hour four-day work weeks, at the same pay as five-day work weeks.
“This model acknowledges that we can still produce the same outcomes with fewer hours. Parkinson’s Law says that work will expand to fill the available hours. So, by reducing the amount of time, people can feel more focused and productive.”
Why compress your work week?
There are numerous benefits to compressing your work week, but the main one is that your quality of life will improve. The data on compressed work weeks states unequivocally that your work/life balance will improve if you have an extra day off, and you’ll focus more on essential tasks when you’re actually at work rather than attempting to fill your hours with more menial tasks.
“In Australia, it was common to have a nine-day fortnight or monthly RDO (Rostered Day Off), adding an additional 45 or 25 minutes to each workday,” McGeorge says. “This allowed people to run personal errands they may have previously used working time for and resulted in a dramatic reduction in sick or personal leave.” This includes doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, child care, or even activities usually crammed into the paltry hours of the weekend, including grocery shopping or exercise classes.
“Overall, compressed work weeks reduce commuting times, particularly if the person is working from home,” McGeorge adds. “If we consider that most commutes were approximately one hour each way, then many people who were working from home were already doing the extra hours, so it brings things back to a fairer playing field.”
Additionally, a compressed work week allows you to regain a more intentional headspace. With less time at the office, you won’t just flick away notifications with the idea that you’ll get to them later; you’ll feel the pressure to accomplish tasks faster, talk to coworkers more immediately, fix problems without hesitation, and follow up on action items without delay.
“Most organizations that have tested a compressed work week have found increases in productivity from between 20 and 25 percent,” McGeorge says.
Implementing a compressed work week
McGeorge has a step-by-step guide to help your small company try out a compressed work week, and Hive has tools to support the transition.
“Identify the business need,” McGeorge begins. Think about why you’re implementing a compressed work week, whether it’s about honing productivity, fostering a better work-life balance, or increasing worker retention.
You might find that your problems have different solutions than just compression your work week once you brainstorm, and you may find that a compressed work week isn’t the right fit for your organization or team.
“It doesn’t suit every environment, so it needs to be a strategic decision,” McGeorge says.
The next step is to make sure that your team is all on the same page moving forward.
“Consult with team members to determine what they want and how they want to work,” McGeorge says. Team members all have different needs, and some might prefer more supervision or fewer meetings. Maybe they’d even like their compressed work week split up by a day off, or to take off Monday instead of Friday. Find a way to accommodate all the requests of your time while also making sure that you aren’t foreclosing on opportunities to work with those who don’t have a compressed work week.
Burnout is also an issue when employees are working eight or ten hours a day, and they might not have the stamina early on to stay focused for that length of time. Don’t overload yourselves, and double-check that everyone feels good about the shift before it happens.
“You can also flex up or down depending on demands or peaks in workloads,” McGeorge adds. Hive makes it easy to keep an eye on your bandwidth; you can examine your current and upcoming projects using summary tools that fit best with your conceptualization style by using tools like Gantt or Kanban.
Next, launch your compressed work week – but don’t make it permanent. Use the opportunity to collect data on how your teammates feel, how their work is going, and if they feel like their quality of life has increased.
“Do a pilot or trial,” McGeorge explains. “For example, Microsoft Japan started with just giving the whole organization Fridays off for five weeks. They found that productivity jumped 40 percent, meetings were more efficient, and workers reported being happier.”
“Identify the benefits you are looking for and measure them,” McGeorge continues. “MRL Recruitment in the UK used it as a wellness, energy, happiness, stress reduction, and staff retention strategy. Retention was at 95 percent, productivity increased by 25 percent, and short term absences reduced by 40 percent.”
Once your pilot is over, you can gather data on time management and see any gaps in the process. Hive is the perfect tool to utilize here – time-tracking is simple and effortless, and monitoring the progression of action items has never been more straightforward.
Finally, if a compressed work week is a good fit for you and your team, take it to the next level and make it a permanent fixture.
“Extend the pilot or trial until you are good to go,” McGeorge says. She concludes that many companies like Buffer or Shake Shack have tried a compressed workweek, and they haven’t gone back.
“Shake Shack in the US experimented with a compressed work week to improve productivity and work-life balance,” McGeorge says, “and [they’re] now extending the program.”