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Is the four-day working week a pipe dream or reality?

The dream of the four-day working week becoming closer to reality.

The dream of the four-day working week becoming closer to reality for some; hybrid working hours and new-look management tools for others; and the need for a chief time officer – these are among the ways in which the daily workplace might change irreversibly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent panel hosted by The Drum, in association with Scoro.

The Drum’s assistant editor, Jenni Baker, chaired a panel which included Ali Maynard James, managing partner at Manifest; Tyler Webb-Harding, operations director at StrategiQ; and Scoro’s vice-president of marketing, Dan Roche. It discussed the practicality of a four-day working week and the chief roadblocks to its implementation, alongside some of the tools available to those seeking to improve time management.

The idea that there is a move towards a four-day working week appeared a matter of consensus. While StrategiQ and Manifest might each describe four days as an aspiration, Scoro’s Roche described it as “a stated ambition”, noting that it was potentially easier to put into practice in a software company rather than an agency “which trades time for money”.

“There's a number of legal and sociological issues that we need to consider,” Roche said. “But ultimately, it comes down to: can we make this happen from a business perspective; can we be as effective in 32 hours rather than five days?”

While Maynard James agreed with the intent, she argued: “At the moment in our industry, it's probably a bit of a struggle. More realistically, it's probably 10 days into nine.” She cited control of diaries, cover for those not working and difficulties with setting appropriate rates for projects as among current inhibitors. “I do think we're inevitably going to end up with a four-day working week,” she continued. “But I think there's a lot that's got to change within the creative comms industry.”

Maynard James pointed to the new hybrid working model, which so many agencies have introduced post-pandemic as more realistic. Manifest is currently asking staff to come in two days a week, whereas StrategiQ is focusing more on a Friday off for staff to pursue other interests and on being more accommodating to staff’s personal needs.

“That’s the bigger question here. People want to be where they need to be, whether that's at home because their daughter's got a cold, or whether you just need a bit of flexibility because you're moving home,” said Webb-Harding. “We’re fortunate enough to be in the agency world, which tends to be a little bit more forward-thinking than is the case for most businesses. You know, you work to live, not live to work.”

Although clients too do not wish to be chained to their desks, the panel agreed, many of them are stuck with more traditional five-day, nine-to-six working hours – so agency staff must work around that. This is where agency time management and collaborative work management tools come in. Manifest uses a wide variety including Slack, Harvest and Asana, whereas StrategiQ has consolidated onto just one central platform – Scoro.

“A lot of customers come to us, using 10 to 15 different apps to manage their business,” says Roche. “We actually call them ‘Weapons of Mass Distraction’. And these are just time sucks, some of them. They have been bought to improve productivity, but they don't link together.”

Webb-Harding cited how StrategiQ could even use Scoro to help employees gauge actual working hours against their salaries and even ask for a pay rise as a result, further helping them to see the positive in time management tools.

This complexity of competing softwares is one of three major current obstacles towards streamlining towards a potential 32-hour week. A second difficulty lies in leading clients toward a proactive not reactive response footing, where solutions to possible problems have been scenario-planned in advance. A third problem is, of course, the crushing inefficiency of meeting culture. This has worsened during the pandemic, as the ability to pop a head up over a desk for a two-minute chat has given way to scheduling a Zoom meeting. And, Zoom meetings “feel like they have to be 15 minutes minimum” to be worth scheduling.

Ultimately then, to help move toward that four-day week and implement new time management tools, a chief time officer might become “a thing”. But the focus of this role should not merely be a “chief timesheet officer” but how to motivate staff to get the best out of their time at work.

As Webb-Harding concludes: “Find out what motivates individuals within your company, because if we have an incredibly motivated team, it doesn't matter if they're doing four, five or seven days a week (if they are) motivated to do what they love. The key aspect is flexibility, not one day less at work a week.”

Click to watch ‘The four-day agency working week: pipe dream or reality?’ panel discussion.

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