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In the western world, Sunday has always been considered a holy day, one where no one was expected to work. The other days, though, were fair game. That meant that during the boom time of the industrial revolution, most people worked six days and rested (or worshiped) on Sunday. That is, until 1908 when Jewish workers in a mill in New England fought for their right to get their Sabbath, Saturday, off work in order to observe their religious covenants. The five day work week slowly caught on with other businesses in the area until one of the largest and most famous employers, Henry Ford, decided to make the switch as well.
Since then the five day work week has become a cultural norm and much of the rest of our lives, from education to entertainment, slowly adhered to the same schedule. Now we have all been working five days a week, eight hours a day for so long, it has started to seem like it is the only option. That is, until recently. A number of tech companies, including Microsoft, have piloted four day work weeks where employees work ten hours a day for four days and then get a three day weekend.
There has been a push from the academic community to study the possible effects of this change, including a six month study with 903 workers from 33 companies. Workers were expectedly positive about the change, citing that it lowered fatigue, improved mental health, and reduced burnout. Surprisingly, though, the companies feel just as positive, giving the trial a 9 out of 10 based on their employee’s productivity and performance. Average revenue for these companies even rose 38 percent compared to the same period the previous year.
More companies are starting to shift to this new schedule, but they are still the vast minority. The movement to switch to a four day week got some extra backing, along with a lot of media attention, thanks to a bill put forth in the Maryland General Assembly that would reward companies that switch to a four day work week with up to $750,000 in tax credits annually. The increasing occurrence of four day work week job postings have led many to predict that the mass adoption is almost underway.
With so many benefits of the four day work week, what is keeping more companies from adopting it. The biggest headwind against the change is likely company culture. Gatekeeping is the term used to describe individuals or organizations that feel that others should have to go through what others have had to in the past. Putting in five days of work has been a point of pride for many workers, and something that has helped many managers get to their positions in the company, so it is natural that they would want others to have to do the same. It is this same attitude that is being used as a reason to bring people back to the office. If a manager never had the ability to work from home, they probably don’t want their subordinates to do so.
On the surface it might seem like a four day work week would be a huge loss for office buildings, leaving space empty that could otherwise be filled with busy, and perhaps a bit dissatisfied, workers. But here is the thing: office buildings are already rather empty on Fridays. As more companies offer flexible office attendance, workers almost always choose to work from home on Fridays. Mondays are a bit better but not much.
If office building owners and occupiers embrace, rather than fight, the idea of a four day work week it could change the conversation around the office completely. Those dreaded commutes would be less painful knowing that they would buy a worker a long weekend. Nowadays everyone likes to throw the term “destination office” around. Offices are being retooled to make workers want to come in. If this concept is implemented correctly I think you would see more people choosing to come into offices full-time, if full-time means four days. A well located and welcoming office could also be a great place for people to drop into when spending their free time in the area.
I am still not convinced that America, land of the two week paid vacation, is ready for a four day work week. But if the notion gains more steam, I think office building owners and office managers should lean into the idea. Forcing people to come into the office has not proven to be particularly effective. Maybe providing a comfortable, productive space where people can get five day’s work done in four is a better strategy.
It is easy to forget how much Americans work compared to other countries with similar economies. Here is a good map that shows the average annual working hours by country.
From conference to dining room
Office to residential conversion are often stated as a way to solve office vacancies and the affordable housing crisis all in one fell swoop. But, they can be much harder than most people think. Here is a great profile of one of the masters of these kinds of redevelopment projects, Nathan Berman, of Metro Loft.
Save money, live somewhere else
Walmart is closing three of its tech hubs and rather than allowing employees to work from home, is requiring them to either relocate to somewhere where they can come into the office in-person two days a week, or look for a new job.
Resilient but dirty
Recently finished One Vanderbilt was designed with climate change in mind, it is one of the few buildings that creates its own electricity so it can withstand the large storms that are becoming more common. But it has also earned some negative press recently since its power source, natural gas, has fallen out of favor for politicians in NYC.