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Time to back to the office.

Going back to the office and testing the four-day workweek

The Covid pandemic is no longer considered to be a global health emergency by the WHO but it has permanently changed the focus of office work. After sending staffers off to work from home avoiding the virus, many companies have now introduced rules on how many days per week staffers have to be at the office. At the end of this year, 39% of global knowledge workers are expected to mix working from the office and from home. The number of employees who work only from home is expected to continue to fall. A test of four-day workweek in the UK resulted in 92% of the test companies deciding to permanently use four-day workweek.

A forecast from market research firm Gartner predicts that 39% of global knowledge workers will work hybrid by the end of this year, up from 37% in 2022. Only 9% of global knowledge workers will work fully remote. In the US, 51% of knowledge workers will work hybrid and 20% fully remote. 

The number of remote workers is expected to continue to fall year over year. Hybrid workers are defined as workers who work in the office at least one day a week. 

“Hybrid is no longer just an employee perk but an employee expectation. Many employees started to partially return to the office in 2022, but the hybrid workstyle will remain prominent in 2023 and beyond”, says Ranjit Atwal, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner. 

The report says IT workers are more inclined to quit their jobs than employees in other functions as they look for greater flexibility, improved work-life balance and better career opportunities. 

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 10% of workers will use virtual spaces for activities such as sales, onboarding and working remotely. 

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“While all countries have increased their proportion of hybrid and fully remote work since 2019, the allure of fully remote and hybrid work varies significantly by country.”

“Japan employers are focused more on employees returning to the office full time compared with other employers around the globe. In Japan, the number of fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers will total 29% of its workforce in 2023.”

“In Europe, where face-to-face interaction remains a preference, the hybrid style of work is projected to increase in 2023. In Germany, fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers will account for 49% of the German workforce in 2023.” 

“Given their cultural and vertical industry mix, the number of fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers in the U.K. will be on the rise over the same period.”

“The U.S. number of fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers will account for 71% of the U.S. workforce in 2023. In the U.K., fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers will represent 67% of its workforce in 2023.”

The pandemic made many companies accept staffers working from home. Now, a large test of a four-day week shows that 92% of companies participating have decided to continue with the shorter work week. 

61 UK companies, many of them in the digital sector including software, participated in the test by think tank Autonomy including specialists from the University of Cambridge and Boston College in the US.

Of the 61 companies, 56 are continuing with the four-day week with 18 saying the policy is a permanent change, a report from the project shows.

Highlights from the report:

  • The vast majority of companies were satisfied that business performance and productivity was maintained
  • Over the six-month trial period, stress and burnout for employees both significantly declined with 71% of employees reporting lower levels of burnout
  • Reported levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both experienced improvements.
  • Measures of work-life balance improved. Respondents found it easier to balance their work with both family and social commitments, and were more satisfied with their household finances, relationships and how their time was being managed.
  • Other key business metrics showed signs of positive effects. Companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same, rising by 1.4% on average.
  • There was a substantial decline (57%) in the likelihood that an employee would quit, dramatically improving job retention.
  • There was a 65% reduction in the number of sick days
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In the trial, the time men spent looking after children increased by more than double that of women (27% to 13%), but the share of housework between these two genders stayed almost exactly the same (68% reporting no change for men and women).

Among measures to improve efficiency when working four days per week are mentioned:

  • Reforming the norms around meetings, making them shorter, less frequent, and with clearer agendas and objectives. 
  • Reforming email etiquette, encouraging staff to be more attentive to the purpose of their messages and who needs to be involved. 
  • Asking staff to analyse and time each step of the manufacturing process, to identify ways to save time and develop a new set of production targets. 
  • Introducing a ‘heads down’ or ‘focus’ period – a designated time of day for staff to conduct independent work uninterrupted. 
  • Automating aspects of work (for example, introducing auto-filling reports, email templates or automating certain aspects of customer service). 
  • Adopting new project management software, or consolidating internal communications and documents into a single piece of software. 
  • Reorganising calendars to promote ‘monotasking’, eliminating the time wasted on switching between tasks. 
  • Creating a task-list before leaving work, in order to hand over to colleagues or hit the ground running on the following day. 
  • Reducing the number of staff involved in a particular process.
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