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The Executive View: Companies with Shorter Workweeks Find Less Is More

A man holding a notebook that says four - day week.

​It improved workers' well-being and productivity in New Zealand and Iceland. The idea was so popular that employees at one Spanish company agreed to take a 6.5 percent pay cut to take advantage of it.

We're talking about the four-day workweek, a concept that—while batted about in the U.S. for years—is catching fire now that the COVID-19 pandemic is entering its third year.

"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," writes Reuters in a recent article that explored what happened when companies in several countries experimented with shortening the workweek.

Skepticism and Repercussions

Obviously, not every industry is able to accommodate a four-day workweek. Some company executives don't trust it. And commercial real estate owners may lobby against the idea: In places where a shortened week has proven successful, workplace experts say, company leaders are even imagining a three- or two-day workweek. But the more days commercial real estate stands empty, the more company leaders may ask themselves why they're paying for space they don't use.

Peter Miscovich is a managing director with Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate investment and management firm that manages more than 5 billion square feet of corporate real estate assets and oversees $73 billion in commercial real estate assets.

He is also a co-author of The Workplace You Need Now: Shaping Spaces for the Future (Jones Lang LaSalle, 2022) and a former Accenture and PWC advisory partner who has been involved in workplace transformation since the early 1990s. He "has the experience to speak with authority about how the workplace will evolve and what it means for real estate," writes ComputerWorld.

Miscovich has a few predictions based on what he's seen so far. "New views on flexible work and a re-evaluation of what employees want will reshape commercial real estate and redefine what 'office' means," ComputerWorld said.

When asked how hybrid and more flexible workplace trends are affecting commercial real estate, Miscovich pointed out that in Lower Manhattan, over 20 million square feet of commercial office space has been converted to residential space since the Great Recession. Several of his clients, he said, have transformed their office space into senior living, assisted living facilities or hotels. In a lot of suburban areas, he said, commercial buildings are being refitted as warehouses.

"Pre-pandemic, for many of my clients, people were commuting into the office only four days a week already," Miscovich told ComputerWorld. "On Friday, they'd work from home. … So, the question is, can you complete all of your work tasks Tuesday through Friday or Monday through Thursday, or any combination of days. I think the Europeans and some of the more progressed companies are already working toward this."

International Examples

Around the globe, companies have launched four-day workweek pilot trials.

In New Zealand, Iceland and Japan, employers experimented with the four-day workweek and discovered that employees demonstrated improved well-being and productivity.

Similar trials are happening in Ireland. In Spain and Scotland, government officials have agreed to invest public funds so companies can explore the effects of a shorter workweek.

Desigual, a Spanish high-end apparel brand, instituted a four-day workweek at its Barcelona headquarters. There, employees don't work on Fridays and are allowed to work remotely any of their four working days. This approach was so popular that Desigual employees agreed to take a 6.5 percent pay cut for the privilege of a more flexible work schedule.

Companies in Japan are taking note. There, long work hours have historically been a badge of honor, indicating that an employee has an admirable 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," Reuters recently wrote.

Coral Alcaraz, chief people officer at Desigual, told Reuters this: "The future of work is not the future anymore."

Tips for Experimenting with a Four-Day Workweek

Joe Sanok is the author of Thursday is the New Friday: How to Work Fewer Hours, Make More Money and Spend Time Doing What You Want (HarperCollins Leadership, 2021). The book describes his experience with the four-day work week as he built his consultancy practice. In it, he offers tips for companies that want to experiment with a shortened workweek.

"Right now, we have a window of opportunity where workers really can say this is the kind of job that I want, this is the hours that I want," Sanok told Insider.

In his Q&A with ComputerWorld, Miscovich articulated perhaps the best rationale for experimenting with a shorter workweek.

"Who really knows if you put in a 40-hour week or a 45-hour week or a 32-hour week?" he asked. "I mean, the question should be more focused on outcome and creativity and innovation. Are we really measuring people by hours still? That's perhaps a leftover relic of the Industrial Age that we're finally going to be rid of." 


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