It will come as little surprise that the six month trial of the four day week (for five days’ pay) has been hailed a success with 56 out of the 61 participating firms saying they would keep the working pattern for now. And who’s to blame them? With anecdotal reports of good productivity, less sickness absence and happier employees, as a recruitment and retention tool, it’s hard to beat.

And yet and yet – something about this concept troubles me. I’m no mathematician but even I am able to work out that if you want productivity levels to remain stable but you give people a fifth less time in which to make that happen, something has got to give and I’ve been thinking about what it is that gives.

Organisations participating in the trial have talked proudly about slashing travel time and cutting the length of meetings in half. Now there won’t be an office worker in the land who would disagree with the concept of shorter meetings. There are only so many ways to dice a carrot and debating the pros and cons of each method three times over can be tedious in the extreme.

However, whilst I am all for efficiency, where time becomes so very much of the essence, do we risk losing the space to think, to try out, to share and to risk? What happens to the water cooler moment – not the one where you’re discussing Love Island (although those with an eye on workplace culture might argue that that matters too), I’m talking about the casual exchange with the colleague where you share an idea and they let you know that Emma is doing something similar and you might want to get in touch. And what of a junior colleague wanting to learn – does your explanation of why and how you’ve changed their proposal simply become a mark-up left on their desk? Do you ditch the face to face client catch-up in favour of Teams or skip following up with the interesting person you met at a conference? Do you even go to conferences anymore? And of course, if you have less time to do what you need to do, then surely it must make sense to work from home as much as you can?

However, before you write me off as a cynical, naysaying lawyer, I do believe that the four day week can work albeit with caveats (of course there are caveats – I’m a lawyer). Employers will need to think carefully about how they want their people to spend their more limited time. Yes, there needs to be a rigorous focus on productivity levels but if you want your people to keep up with the more discretionary elements of their role - the investment in colleagues, the ‘maybe it will work, maybe it won’t’ idea, even, dare I say it, the writing of blogs, you’ll need to make sure they know that these efforts will continue to be valued and indeed expected or the world of work may just become a slightly duller, less creative place.

#fourdayweek #hybrid working #employers