From four-day weeks to working from home – is flexibility the future?



The traditional office nine-to-five day is on its way out. Advances in technology mean that, for many of us, a computer and reliable broadband are all we need to work flexibly or remotely.
Even London’s City firms are looking at the idea. Lobby groups have begun discussions with the financial services sector, including banks and investors, about the possibility of reducing stock market trading hours in a move aimed at helping working parents.
The benefits of flexible working can include everything from boosting morale to helping the environment. Whether it’s a four-day week or working from home, many employees have already made the switch.
Work-life balance
A firm in Bristol said this week that it would be changing to a four-day week in order to give its employees a better work-life balance.
According to the Bristol Post, employees at marketing and branding agency Cre8ion will continue to be paid for five working days.
Darrell Irwin, the agency’s founder and CEO, told the newspaper: “Today’s workforce doesn’t want work to dominate at the expense of what is being worked for.”
But not everyone is in favour of the concept. Councillors in Shropshire last month rejected a “bonkers” motion calling for the authority to consider such a move .
Could the traditional nine-to-five shift at the office be on its way out? (Photo: Lauren Hurley/PA)
Research from the University of Reading’s Henley Business School suggested that switching to a four-day operation could save UK businesses an estimated £104bn every year.
The study found that a shorter working week on full pay increased staff productivity and physical and mental health, resulting in fewer sick days.
Two-thirds of almost 250 firms which have already implemented the change have reported an increase in staff productivity, according to the findings.
André Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School in London, said policymakers were now considering the idea as a possible solution to a range of workplace challenges including mental health and poor productivity.
Shifting technology
“Four-day weeks will probably do a reasonable amount of good with much less harm than we might expect,” he told i.
And as well as a shorter working week, some employees are choosing to work fewer hours or to work remotely.
Last month Helen Whately, the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, introduced a Flexible Working Bill in Parliament.
Read more:How a four-day working week could ‘increase productivity’ and actually be better for the environment
She argued that flexible working should be the default position for all employees, rather than something they have to ask for.
For Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, a not-for-profit group which advocates “smarter” working practices, the introduction of four-day weeks by some firms shows that things are changing.
“Technology is shifting the need for traditional nine-to-five work patterns – replaced by a more flexible approach. This will continue as more of us embrace new, smarter ways of working.”
Working from home: ‘I will never go back to a proper job’
Harriet Shortt, 39, splits her working week between the office and home.
Ms Shortt, an associate professor in organisation studies at the University of West England in Bristol, works two to three days a week at the university and the rest of the time from her home in Bath, Somerset.
Harriet Shortt splits her time working between her home and the office. (Photo: Harriet Shortt)
She balances her hours with the childcare responsibilities that come with having a four-year-old daughter.
Ms Shortt – whose husband works from home on a full-time basis – said the flexibility afforded by home working had been hugely beneficial.
It can take anything from 45 minutes to two hours for her to drive to the campus, depending on the traffic. “I started working at home when I started my PhD,” she explained.
“I had four years of being a PhD student at the University of Bath and that was my induction to working from home.
Read more:Working at home? Take inspiration from these space-saving ideas
“Then I got a job as a lecturer at UWE and I was in maybe four days a week. The university is amazing for people who want to work flexibly.”
Her job involves tasks such as reading, writing, reviewing and marking, which she said can all be easily done beyond the office.
Ms Shortt added that home working had also been good for her husband as he would have seen a lot less of their daughter if he worked at an office.
“If he was still commuting like he used to, he would barely see her,” she said. “The fact he’s had these really early years with her is priceless for developing that relationship.”
The couple both work from a studio in their garden but they are considering reevaluating how they will divide their working days as their daughter grows.
Read more:Office co-working movement is changing how we do our jobs and make new contacts — but for better or worse?
“The boundaries need to be made clearer so that when I’m home we are at home with her; I’m mummy and I’m not working,” said Ms Shortt.
“It’s really difficult having one eye on your emails and one eye on your child in the garden. I find that really stressful.”
Nevertheless she would never give up her flexible working routine, she said.
“I had a spell outside academia working in a ‘proper’ job where you have to be in on time and stay all day and not in a million years would I ever go back to that,” she said. “The flexibility is priceless.”
Living far away: ‘Instant messaging is vital for talking to the office’
Julie Dudley, 61, works from home in Surrey for a charity based in Yorkshire.
Julie Dudley has worked from home for almost 20 years after the organisation relocated and visits the office once every two or three months.
Julie Dudley only visits her office every couple of months. (Photo: Julie Dudley)
Ms Dudley works from around 8.30am until 5pm from an office set up in one of her family home’s bedrooms. Thanks to the internet, she said it is easy to stay in contact with the rest of her colleagues.
“Instant messaging is vital,” she said. “I have it with certain members of staff but not others because they are in different teams. If you have a question it’s easier to message than to pick up the phone and go through all the channels.”
She said the switch from office to home working also helped with bringing up her two sons, who were young children at the time.
Read more:To make flexible working actually work, we need these systems in place
“It was extremely convenient,” she went on. “We were hot-desking anyway so I said to my husband can we buy a computer so I can work from home. In those days the internet was cranky but it did exist.”
She added that keeping lines of communication open with the office could have been the biggest challenge but that advances in technology had largely helped to avoid this.
“I know some people say they couldn’t work from home, that they wouldn’t be able to concentrate – but I’d rather be working than doing anything around the house, which makes it much easier,” she said.
Four-day week: ‘It’s a much better quality of life’
Neil Knowles, 50, introduced a three-day weekend for his staff several months ago
Mr Knowles is the founder and director of Elektra Lighting, a London-based design consultancy.
Neil Knowles’s lighting company has switched to a four-day operation. (Photo: Neil Knowles)
The firm has been trialling a four-day week for several months. To make up for the lost time, staff work an extra hour from Monday to Thursday.
“We are only effectively losing Friday afternoon,” he said. “The difference between a three-day weekend and a two-day weekend is enormous.
“Friday for me is a day I have off and I don’t have to look after the kids so I can do stuff I want to do.”
The idea came about after the company first moved its hours back to make the most of the light when the clocks went back, which “everyone loved”.
Read more:A four-day week for the same pay worked out for this New Zealand company – is it time to try it here?
Mr Knowles said he did not know of any other companies doing the same, but that he had read up on it before taking the plunge.
Having Friday off more than made up for the extra hour on the other days, he added.
“It’s a much better quality of life – it is the way forward. There are some companies that have Friday afternoons off… we just went the whole way.
“From a business point of view, it doesn’t seem to have affected our turnover. We still invoice the same amount.”
Side hustle: ‘It sounds a lot but it never  feels like work’
Neha Belgrave, 41, has found the right balance between a day job, her coaching and a side venture.
Ms Belgrave balances her day job as a senior executive in the charity sector with development coaching and a side venture called the Insight Collective.
Neha Belgrave runs The Insight Collective on the side of her day job in the charity sector. (Photo: Neha Belgrave)
She co-founded the initiative with her friend, Christina Clark, to offer professionals – largely London-based – the chance to be part of a community.
The project offers a range of services including workshops, panel discussions, networking events and masterclasses. “We bring professionals together,” she said.
Ms Belgrave said she worked between 35 and 40 hours a week in her day job, five to 10 hours a week coaching and around five hours a week on the collective.
“It sounds a lot, but Insight Collective never feels like work,” she said. “It’s fun. If something gets too difficult, we let it go. It’s not like my nine-to-five job where I have targets and things to deliver.
It’s a lot more fluid – we work at our own pace.”
But she added that it was crucial to strike a balance between work commitments and personal or social pursuits.
“I meditate daily, I see friends a few times a week and I have lots of holidays booked in the year,” she said. “If I didn’t have those things I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I do.”
She said that questions about setting up a “side hustle” were frequent among her coaching clients.



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