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The future work week: do more and work less

By Shira Jeczmien

Sep 4, 2018

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Andrew Barnes, founder of the New Zealand based Perpetual Guardian, a company that manages wills and trusts with over 200 hundred employees, has recently made headlines for reducing his company’s work week to four days. The reason behind Barnes’ decision to cut one day off of work for his employees was to increase wellbeing in the workplace with a more balanced work-life routine and with that, boost productivity and reduce burnouts that result in sick days.

What Barnes initially referred to as a workplace experiment—where all employees had the opportunity to shed a work day from their week but maintain their five work week paycheck—ultimately stacked up extremely positive results. After a two month trial from March to April of this year, 78 percent of employees reported that they could manage their work-life balance as opposed to a prior 54 percent. Independent surveys that were conducted during the trial period by the Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland also show that employee stress levels reduced from 45 percent to 38 percent.

Since the dawn of ‘work and life’ culture synonymous with ‘digital nomads’, startups have attempted to iron out the old-fashioned creases from a standard office work week. From flexible hours, to working remotely and even trying to imitate a home environment within the office, the concept of a nine to five, Monday to Friday is going through an identity crisis—and not necessarily for the better. Because what has so far been lacking from the startup reimagination of work, and what makes Perpetual Guardian unique in its approach, is that the intention to truly reduce the hours worked has never quite been a part of the package to date. Sure, you can work from home or from a bench in a Canadian national park using solar panels, but have your Slack open, Trello blazing; Gmail notifications ON. By reducing the working hours and maintaining the pay the same, Perpetual Guardian has tested how productivity can be reassembled along the working week—and how hours in the office (or outside it) by no means correlate to hours worked.

There’s another positive twist to the plot. An additional day off means that a 240 strong company gets to rotate the days all of the employees are in the workplace. As Barnes says, “if you have fewer people in the office at any one time, can we make smaller offices?” ‘Yes’ is the definitive answer to that question. Following the trial and the positive surveys that followed, Perpetual Guardian is now seriously working through how it will implement the four day work week for good, while New Zealand’s Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is encouraging more companies to tweak and adjust their own work week standards.

Employees and office spaces are the highest expenses of any company—yet the way they are treated, despite a startup revolution that seems to have disrupted, decentralised, and monetised any industry out there, has remained pretty much stagnant since the crack of dawn. Real change that isn’t disguised behind plants, meditation rooms, and work from home perks has now proved to have serious positive impact. “It was just a theory, something I thought I wanted to try because I wanted to create a better environment for my team,” Barnes tells The Guardian in an interview. What’s to follow is probably the true office work shake up we’ve been waiting for. No more plants. And please, no more Trello.