Optimized work patterns and the 4-day week

Could optimizing human work flows get five days' work done in just four days?
8 December 2022

Work. It’s not a place anymore, it’s what you do.

In Part 1 of this article, Claire Dutton, Senior Manager, UK & Ireland at Poly Hybrid Solutions at HP, explained that 2023 would be a year in which the hybrid working model would be cementd finally into place in workplace culture, where office geography would change to favor more collaborative space and fewer cubicles, and where the death of the 9-5 working pattern would be fully realized. She also dangled some tantalizing clues about the nature of a potential 4-day week with no loss of pay that might well establish itself in the workplace culture in 2023. We had to know more.


You mentioned the notion that the hybrid working model was essentially the “new normal,” and that bosses who wanted people to flock back to the office had to offer incentives to make them want to come back into a central hub. We’re reminded of Elon Musk’s recent shenanigans, where he said people had to come back and work hard or leave, and a vast number of them just went “See ya!” He later relented with enormously bad grace, but by then, people had found places elsewhere. A parable for 2023?

Mandating, by Musk


Exactly. When you try and mandate a return, that’s when people push back. So you’ve got to give these people a reason to want to go into the office. That said, there are lots of customers that we work with that are doing it successfully, because they have people who can do their jobs better in the office, because they’ve got a team of people around them, and they can collaborate better. We also have a selection of businesses who are doing maybe two remotes and three in the office. It seems like the average is trying to get a minimum of three people in. I think it’s a real top-down thing.

You’ve also got challenges where people see that they’re potentially discriminated against if they work remotely, and there’s an unconscious bias that needs to be managed. In some companies, if you’re not sitting in an office environment, you’re not going to be promoted or developed. You’re going to miss out on a whole load of things.

But real estate is the real challenge. Because when you’ve got a lot of real estate, you want people to utilize that real estate in the office, which is where you need to look at utilizing the spaces very differently. But from what we see at the moment, is that once you mandate that people have come back into the office, people push back.

Where everybody knows your name…

So people need a really good reason to go in, and 9 times out of 10, it’s about that camaraderie, it’s about the conversations that you wouldn’t normally have if you were in a hybrid situation. Because those sorts of emotional connections don’t typically happen if you’re not in an environment to allow them to happen.

It’s a difficult balance, and the people who are doing it better make the office a place that people really want to go to. Their actual work, in all probability, they can do just as well in their home environment. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Coffee shops, restaurants, wherever they prefer.

That’s where technology comes back in, making sure that they can actually get rid of the background noise, make sure they’ve got good video quality and a good, safe connection.


And of course, the hybrid model can also cater to various different work styles.

Roll D20 for your work style


Absolutely. This is a key thing, when you look at spaces and how people are working together. Typically, there are around seven specific work styles that a business will have, and then there’s maybe an additional to that, maybe a contact center, or an off-site engineer, that most typical businesses don’t have. But what we tend to find is that the shift in how the office is used is very much dependent on the work styles you staff have. That’s not departmental, that’s very much a case of whether you’re an Office Communicator, spending all your time in the office, or a Road Warrior, where you’re out on the road a lot.

If you can define work styles then what you can typically do is define the way that people need to work, which is more about the platforms they need to connect to.

So you look at those work styles and then you can provide spaces which enable them more. When you can define your staff’s work styles and how they utilize spaces, it makes the technology easier to supply, because then what you’ve done is moved away from the one size fits all paradigm which most businesses probably applied before Covid. The truth is, one size never fits all, people have different requirements, make different connections, and spend different amounts of time on video calls or audio conferencing.

They need the tools to facilitate the work style that they have. And that’s how the spaces element comes into it as well. Once you know what your spaces need to deliver, you can change the workplace geography so that they best suit the needs of the staff you’re trying to entice back in.

The 4-day what-now?


The pandemic changed a lot of what we thought we knew, and what we thought was the only acceptable way of doing things. On which note, tell us about the 4-day week with no loss of pay. How does that work? And how will it appeal to employers in 2023?


The 4-day week is an evolution of the hybrid model and the death of the 9-5 work pattern. Now, importantly, as we mentioned in Part 1, the company has to have strong hybrid policies in place, so everyone knows what’s expected in terms of work if they’re going to offer the 4-day week with no loss of pay.

The 4-day week really gets people excited, but if it’s going to work, you have to be really prepared for the shift, and get effective hybrid working strategies in place before you start. And if companies want to do it without encouraging staff burnout, they need to make sure that staff actually got the right tools.


So, we’re talking about things like software automations, delivering the mundane tasks? Otherwise, how are we fitting what have previously been five days’ work into a 4-day week?

Early birds, creatures of the night, and depressed dogs


There can certainly be some automation involved, because no-one wants to do the mundane stuff if there’s a way machines can do it for us. But it’s actually more to do with the death of the 9-5, and giving people more time with a lot more flexibility.

It goes back to those work styles we mentioned. The 9-5 never suited everyone – as we said, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. I’m an early bird, I like to get up at five o’clock in the morning and do some work. That’s when I’m at my best. That’s when I’m optimized.

And if the 9-5 is dead, you can give people the opportunity to work when they are actually optimized. That allows people to be more effective. If you give them the ability to work when they are more optimized, it’s not about compressing the workload, or making five days’ work fit into four. It’s more about tackling the question of whether people really needed to be in an office from 9-5. It’s just a different way of working and a different way of managing your workload to make sure you still get through it all. That way, all the work is done, so the company’s happy, and the staff are working when it’s most effective for them


So it’s four days, but not stuck to the rigid 9-5 of previous years? Optimizing the preferred hours of individual staff, to let them work when they’re most focused and improve their work-life balance?


Yes. Again, you need a leader in this sort of environment, it has to come from the top down. I get up at five o’clock, much to the disgust of my dog. My dog’s still in bed at one o’clock in the afternoon. He’s so lazy.


That’s not laziness, it’s just that his work style was interrupted at five in the morning. You’re lucky he doesn’t bite your leg off.


I’m guessing you’re a night owl?


We prefer “Creature of the night.” And the coffee. There must be coffee, it’s in the Journalists’ Creed.

Uncoupling from the 9-5


And that’s when you’re at your most effective. Whereas if I’m uninterrupted from five until six, I can get so much more work done than I can if I log on at nine o’clock when people can see me and they’re pinging me. If you’re focused on your work, and someone distracts you, it takes up to 20 minutes to get back into that focus again. So actually, when you can have some focused time, you’re so much more productive than if you are in that typical 9-5 working environment.

And when I send emails to my team at five o’clock in the morning, they know that my expectation level is that they don’t email me back just because I’ve emailed them, they’re all fully aware of my optimized working time. That’s the importance of the top-down leadership. Then HR knows that’s my optimized working time, and if I send emails, I’m not expecting them to be answered in my optimized time, but in the optimized time of the person I’m sending them to.

That’s how the idea of a 4-day week might well become a thing in 2023. We’re far enough past lockdown now for the flexibility of the hybrid working model to start delivering additional benefits. And it can – but it takes companies to be forward-thinking, with strong hybrid strategies, and to want to offer incentives to their staff for when they come into the office.


Your dog’s probably going to leave home, but asynchronous optimization throughout the work day and a highly-flexible 4-day week? That could be a winner for people leaving companies that demand they come in and use their real estate five days a week.


What will happen to office life in 2023? Probably quite a lot of this, as work flows change and optimize to a new, less rigid model outside of the traditional 9-5. The post-pandemic focus on a better work-life balance, and particularly Gen Z’s quiet quitting resistance to conventional norms of workplace tedium, might well mean that the office just isn’t the place you thought it was any more.