The Changing Ways of Work

March 3, 2023

It began in March of 2020 when the pandemic lockdown changed literally everything -- including how we work. Millions of workers turned to technology to allow them to do their job from home, and the practice has revealed some interesting things over the last three years.

Remote workers typically report a far better work/life balance, as well as financial benefits in not having to pay commuting or childcare costs. A recent Forbes article reported that things like office politics and colleague interruptions affected productivity in an office setting versus working from home. In fact, many offices are having to adapt as almost 60 percent of employees surveyed have said they’d rather quit than be forced to return to the office full time.

Now comes another study that may further reshape how we work.

Recently, a project in the UK looked at moving to a four-day work week. For six months in 2022, 61 companies and almost 3,000 employees experimented with reducing their work hours to 32 per week with no loss in pay. Workers were given the option of either taking off Mondays or Fridays.

There were some concerns that workers might push themselves to cram their duties into those four days, defeating the purpose of the program; that proved to not be the case. Employees found ways to work more efficiently during their shorter week.

The results of the pilot program revealed less burnout and absenteeism, fewer sick days, and no drop in revenue; in fact, that increased by about 1% during the test period. Ultimately, 96 percent of employees stated they’d like to keep to the four-day schedule, and 92 percent of the companies in the program agreed to do so.

In 1890, people in manufacturing jobs worked an average of 100 hours a week. In 1926, Henry Ford was among the first to institute a 40-hour work week at his factory. In 1938, President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act codifying that as law, with extra hours qualifying for overtime pay.

Between remote work and a possible four-day work week, it’s clear that our working lives are evolving yet again.

The ripple effect may be profound. There are jobs that can’t be done remotely or can’t be scheduled for just four days a week. And what about those businesses that rely on office traffic– the local deli, coffee shop or restaurant? Those really took a hit during the lockdown, as did corporate office space. Younger workers miss out on the chance to be noticed or mentored by higher-ups when no one is in a physical office. There are reports of some employees feeling a greater sense of isolation from remote work.

However, the positive impact on work/life balance and overall mental health from these alternate scenarios can’t be denied. This will be a challenge to shift our thinking, but it also offers new and creative opportunities. Let’s be open to them.

What are your thoughts on remote work? What if you had a chance to do a four-day work week – would you/could you do it? What do you see as upsides/downsides to these potential changes? Spill it in our Community Soapbox!

Cindy Grogan is a writer, lover of history and "Star Trek" (TOS), and hardcore politics junkie. There was that one time she campaigned for Gerald Ford (yikes), but ever since, she's been devoted to Democratic and progressive policies.

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