Post-pandemic work: four days a week, no meetings, no office

By Sakura Murakami and Belén Carreño January 3, 2022

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TOKYO, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Four days a week, no meetings, you choose the hours and work where you want.

The coronavirus pandemic has sped up a transition into more flexible and diverse working hours around the world, opening up ways of working that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

"The traditional model of how we work has been broken," Meghana Reddy, vice president of video messaging service Loom, told the Reuters Next conference.

"I think there's a real opportunity there to just say, let's have work fit into our lives in a better way, as opposed to us fit our lives into work."

Loom has moved to a flexible model where employees may or may not come to the office and even move to live in other places without being penalised for doing so. Meetings have also been reduced to a minimum.

Far from this renowned Silicon Valley model of flexibility, Jin Montesano, Chief People Officer at luxury toilet maker Lixil Group Corp, has managed to bring worker-centred policies to one of Japan's most emblematic companies, navigating traditional "salaryman" culture.

Japan is known for a rigid work structure, where long hours at the office symbolized a strong work ethic. However, in recent years, cases of so-called "over-work" where employees have committed suicide or suffered health issues have forced the country to reckon with its work culture.

Lixil decided to get rid of core working hours and morning meetings, while also revisiting the concept of what an office should be.

"It's no longer the place to work...wherever you get work done is where you work," said Montesano during a panel discussion on the Future of Work. "What we want to do is reimagine the office as a place for communication, collaboration, brainstorming, reconnecting, and having that ability to maybe have a deeper conversation that you just can't achieve online."

Spanish high-end apparel brand Desigual introduced a four-day work week at its headquarters in Barcelona last month, raising expectations in the business and political arena in Europe, where some other pilot trials have been launched. 

No employee works on Friday and they can choose to work remotely any of the four working days. The company has subsidized half the cost of the 13 percent reduction in working hours, with employees overwhelmingly agreeing to a 6.5 percent pay cut.

At a time of concern about the resignation of millions of workers from their jobs, a trend known as The Great Resignation, all three executives agreed that their policies are serving to attract new talent. 

Reconciling the needs of customer service, or face-to-face shifts in factories or shops, were some of the main challenges facing the women entrepreneurs.

But Coral Alcaraz, Chief People Officer at Desigual, said it was critical to address them: "The future of work is not the future anymore."

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