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Whatever the rationale, reducing hours needs careful planning. In May, Uncharted’s staff were given a month’s notice to prepare to reduce their working week by clarifying goals and streamlining work. “It was really figuring out what we say ‘no’ to,” says Mr Benitez. All employees were asked to be available on Mondays to Thursdays between 10am and 3pm for meetings and collaboration but otherwise they could arrange their time themselves.
While Fridays are the company-wide day off, Mr Benitez wants to ensure flexibility, for example, a parent working five short days to fit with school hours. After monitoring progress through an independent evaluation, he is convinced of the benefits of the four-day week. On average, the working week reduced 23 per cent from 45 hours. Some employees were concerned that by making every hour count, there was less room for fun, although that could also be a result of remote working during a pandemic.
Plans for a four-day week had already been under way before the pandemic at 3D Issue, a software company based in Donegal, Ireland. But Paul McNulty, founder and chief executive, says the crisis has sharpened his resolve to cut hours as a way of attracting new talent in a competitive local market.
When the working week was cut, he saw “greater happiness among employees. Some of them talk about having a day to themselves when kids go back to school. They are more refreshed and engaged.”
For David Cann, managing director of Target Publishing, it was coronavirus-induced financial difficulties that pushed him to make difficult decisions. “To get us through this we needed to take a 20 per cent pay cut to ride the wave. I didn’t feel quite comfortable. For people on a lower wage it felt like a big ask.” So he cut hours too, giving everyone Fridays off. “The team started to work well together. We produced the same amount of magazines.”
He says his 20-strong workforce are not working compressed hours but rather that they are more efficient — remote working had shown Mr Cann that meetings could be streamlined. “It’s early days but it feels right. What that’s achieved is thinking you shouldn’t be scared of change. Covid makes you think differently — I probably wouldn’t have done this unless it was forced on us.”