As the COVID-19 pandemic sparked international lockdowns, public gatherings were forced to a halt and many airports, restaurants, schools, and offices were obligated to shut in an effort to reduce the chances of infection. Although the UK government attempted to maintain public morale amidst the chaos and confusion, many of the public were adjusting to learning and working from the comforts of their own home.
Whilst remote learning and working, also coined as the term Working from Home or WFH, had become our new-fangled normal for numerous months, infection rates began to decrease, and society was once again operating like pre-pandemic times. Nonetheless, as we waved the mask-wearing, heavily regulated social distancing procedures goodbye, there is a particular aspect of the pandemic that has continued to grow stronger in today’s society: the concept of remote working.
Eliminating the office culture
As the UK workforce had sought solace in Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings during the numerous lockdowns, it appears that companies had discovered a sliver of gold in a year of low profits and a dwindling economy. The hidden benefits of remote and hybrid working have continued to grow over the years and have become accustomed to increased productivity and performance (Tech Target, 2021). The phenomenon of remote working had led 80% of employees to continue longing to work remote even after the COVID-19 pandemic had become a thing of the past (Forbes, 2021).
Many accredit increased time management to remote working. As employees work from home, the process of preparing from work is intensely condensed- we are no longer expected to arise at an nauseating hour and travel in rush-hour traffic to the office to complete work that can undoubtedly be done at home (Breathe, 2022). Statistics show that remote workers have an average of 35-40% more productivity than their office counterparts (Forbes, 2020). As the increased popularity of Zoom meetings continues to grow in post-COVID era, workers can also free themselves from the social customs of office culture- such as answering office calls in their pyjamas. These types of luxuries that many employees had experienced in COVID-19 lockdown periods has reinstated the concept of ‘working smarter, not harder’ (Tech Target, 2021).
The introduction of remote working has reduced levels of absenteeism and decreased employee turnover, in which 54% of employees would change jobs for positions that offered increased flexibility and a 12% turnover reduction after a remote work dynamic is proposed (Forbes, 2020). As there is a 41% lower absenteeism, there is higher productivity and performance that produces results with 40% fewer quality defects, resulting in 21% higher profitability. (Forbes, 2020; Tech Target, 2021)
Whilst some business leaders are reluctant to provide remote or hybrid work structures due to an apprehension that employees will become preoccupied, there is significant data that delivers employee satisfaction alongside higher quality of work.
The four-day week trial
Alongside the rise of remote working, there has been an increase in a demand for a four-day work week, as COVID has highlighted that the obligation for long work hours can one day become obsolete.
The non-profit organisation 4 Day Week Campaign aimed to enforce a four-day work week, in which workers can strive for 32 contracted hours instead of the current 40 hours, whilst maintaining their current salary (The Guardian, 2020; Big Issue, 2023). June 2022 marked the beginning of a transformative pilot run of the four-day work week, with 61 companies and approximately 2,900 employees taking part- from local small businesses to large corporations (SNBC, 2023; The Guardian, 2023). This six month trial aimed to analyse work performance, mental health of employees and the internal business benefits of the 4 day work week. Findings revealed a positive breakthrough that would further strengthen the momentum to push the 4-day work week into a necessary adoption for the UK work culture (4 Day Week, 2023):
- 92% of the companies have decided to continue with the four-day week after the six-month trial. 18 companies that had partaken in the trial have made this change permanent.
- The vast majority of companies were satisfied that business performance and productivity was sustained.
- Over the six-month trial, 71% of employees reported lower levels of burnout.
- Employees experienced an improvement in mental and physical health; 40% had improved sleep quality, 39% said they faced lower levels of stress and anxiety.
- 54% of employees experienced an improved and efficient balance with work and home commitments.
- There was a consistent level of revenue, with companies having an 1.4% rise on average- this can be attributed to higher quality work performance.
- There was a 57% decline in the likelihood that an employee would quit, dramatically improving job retention.
- There was a 65% reduction in the number of sick days.
Joe Ryle, the UK campaign’s director of the 4 Day Week Campaign has highlighted the increasing support in the implementation of the four-day week, even as companies brace for an upcoming recession (4 Day Week, 2023). Ryle argues “with many businesses struggling to afford 10% inflation pay rises, we’re starting to see increasing evidence that a four-day week with no loss of pay is being offered as an alternative solution” (The Guardian, 2023).
For some employers, they have also experienced higher employee morale. Participant Charity Bank is expecting to continue with the four-day week approach, arguing that “the change has been fantastic. It has really moved the dial on the mood, and people are like, ‘Wow, that’s a great organisation I’m working for here” (The Guardian, 2023).
This phenomenon has also made an international impact, with trials in Scotland, Iceland, Ireland, and Japan receiving promising results; for instance, Microsoft Japan reduced the workweek by one day and gained an 40% increase in productivity (Forbes, 2021; Big Issue, 2023).
Despite the success of this campaign and the overwhelmingly positive response from its participants, not all employers have found this structure to be efficient. Science research foundation The Wellcome Trust had scrapped plans to trial the four-day work week in 2019, finding that it would be “too operationally complex”. The decision found condensing work into a 4 day window could “harm productivity of some workers and negatively affect the wellbeing of others” (Big Issue, 2023).
Goodbye 9 to 5
As it is estimated that 70% of the workforce worldwide will be working remotely at least five days a month by 2025, it is vital to stress that technology has intertwined with all facets of life, and it seems peculiar to not apply these advancements to improve our quality of work life. Whilst these advancements are currently considered unorthodox and risky, it’s almost comparable to the 19th century campaigns of achieving a two-day weekend, i.e., why haven’t we done this sooner?
The Guardian (2023) Four-day week: ‘Major breakthrough’ as most UK firms in trial extend changes.
Forbes (2020) 5 proven benefits of remote work for companies.
The Guardian (2022) A hundred UK companies sign up for four-day week with no loss of pay.
4 Day Week (2023).
Big Issue (2023) What is the four-day working week and how close are we to getting it in the UK?
Forbes (2021) Why companies should consider a four-day workweek.
CNBC (2023) Workers report a 4-day workweek improves health, finances, and relationships: It ‘simply makes you happy’.
Breathe (2022) A four-day work week: is it really worth it?
Tech Target (2021) 15 advantages and disadvantages of remote work.