As millions of employees who still had jobs shifted to remote work full-time over the past couple of weeks, companies are adjusting to inevitable new norms. While still in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis, company management and C-suite executives are beginning to rethink office structure and processes to withstand current circumstances as well as those further into the future.
Will this “forced” trial run of remote work, in turn, make it more commonplace? How has it influenced the way we think about work-life balance? What can companies do moving forward to better support employee well-being amid growing anxieties or increasing professional and personal life demands?
While far from common, our San Francisco-based software company, Monograph, has been practicing the four-day workweek since our founding. We’ve seen from firsthand experience how it ultimately continues to be a net positive gain for our business over time. For starters, the four-day workweek made the transition to working from home full-time due to the pandemic a lot smoother.
I found that giving my employees the option to take a “mid-weekend,” as we’ve come to call it, provides them with a much-needed day off in the middle of the week to rest and recuperate—not only to power through the rest of their tasks, but also to keep their mental strength high when in deep-focus mode.
Similarly, more companies might consider instituting a four-day workweek to provide employees with space for personal development. For those who can speak from previous experience operating on a shortened workweek schedule, it effectively encourages this personal growth. It gives employees the space to take care of themselves, which has a long-term impact on their productivity and the profitability of the business.
For example, our lead engineer recently has been using their midweek weekend to read The Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby: An Agile Primer, by Sandi Metz, to gain a deeper understanding of object-oriented programming languages. In less than a week, we’ve already applied principles and strategies from his learning directly to Monograph, which has helped us effectively reduce the time it takes to release new features by 50%.
The four-day workweek is partially about productivity, but it’s also about the health and well-being of employees. This pandemic specifically brings workers’ wellness front and center with special consideration for the anxieties that are being felt across the globe right now. Allotting employees an extra day a week to take care of themselves and their families can only help personally and professionally. It is important not to forget that the team is made up of real people living real lives. Employees should be encouraged to look out for each other and themselves, and employers should play an integral role in helping staff manage their stress levels.
Monograph has also witnessed internally and externally how companies that already had remote-work infrastructure in place have had a significantly smoother transition to working from home full-time due to the pandemic. The workplace shifts we might experience after going through the COVID-19 outbreak, and the rapid shake-up felt across corporate environments, will be less focused on requiring core work hours and more on maintaining consistent communication and connectivity.
It’s not so much about time—it’s about output. So if an employee can successfully handle a sufficient workload in four days, what they might have previously produced in the standard five days—there isn’t a strong enough or necessary argument to get employees to work another eight hours.
Looking back, when my business partners and I hired our first employee, we wanted to define our culture as one in which work-life balance is at the core because we strongly believed that employees are more effective when they have the flexibility to reset midweek. This is what led us to the four-day workweek. Our team members work 32-hour weeks, and new employees are able to decide with the team which days they’ll take off.
The argument in support of the four-day workweek comes from not only a positive culture shift, accommodating flexible working schedules and growing families, but evidence suggests it’s good for business. This includes a reduction in burnout and increased company morale, productivity, and loyalty. While not unfamiliar, up until this point the practice had not been widely considered. I expect this might change in the wake of the pandemic as more business leaders come to realize the four-day workweek can lead to an overall improvement in employee performance, productivity, and well-being.
Robert Yuen, an associate member of the American Institute of Architects, is the CEO and cofounder of Monograph, a software company revolutionizing the future in how architectural projects are managed.