4 August 2020

The Four-day Work Week, Powered by Automation

by Rachelle Lee

We are all in for a four-day work week. Is a flexible work arrangement of a compressed work week possible though? Companies such as Unilever and Microsoft Japan have tried it. They reported an increase in productivity by 40% and lowered their electricity costs by 23%.

Consider employees like new mothers or parents with children in their formative years. A weekday off would mean “living” a whole school day with their children. For others, it can mean a quiet “me day” without the weekend buzz.

John Maynard Keynes predicted technology would lead to a 15-hour workweek within two generations.

Many successful businesses which have reported lowered operating costs, happier and more productive employees with the four-day work week. Why hasn’t it replaced the traditional five-day week?

The pushback from skeptics abound, ranging from supervisory challenges, redesigning incentive plans and increased stress to get work done on time. For industries which operate on seven-day work weeks and 12-hour daily operating hours, such as food and beverage, such arrangements can get more complex. 

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book, Give and Take, advocates how freeing up attention and energy can contribute to heightened quality. His most recent observations of the pandemic of 2020 feature an extended work day of two to three hours. 

Could this be the perfect opportunity to reverse this trend by testing out a four-day work week?

Here is a useful preparatory guide to develop a business case for the four-day work week arrangement. Use this to pitch to your management! Chances are you might even be successful in getting approvals for remote working. 

The key takeaways are:

Manage your own expectations

Before you approach the compressed work week discussion, you have set your parameters. What would you be willing to do, and possibly give up, to convince your management?

The allure of a flexible work policy, going into a 32-hour week, without a pay cut is not (yet) an entitlement.

Be open to a negotiation process. Approach the conversation by framing your business case with the “I will” mindset. You may not have to explicitly state everything on your wish list. But it is as important to manage your boss’s expectations, as to manage your own.

Team Volve has put together some suggestions to get the discussion going positively:

I will …

  • … remain contactable on my “off-day” for urgent matters
  • … not be looking to decrease the amount or scope of work that others expect of me
  • … never compromise on the quality of my work
  • … always ensure to deliver my work on time  
  • … (to seal the deal, if required) be open to changing my “off-day” plans. I will accommodate the needs of my team, my colleagues and the organization, especially during peak periods.

Creating more time from a busy schedule

This is the keynote of your pitch.

Be candid with the management of how you can manage your time effectively and your commitment to your deliverables during the four-day work week. Even if it means culling non-essential activities, such as coffee breaks in the pantry, and cutting back on your lunch hour during work days.

It is a fact that it is quite impossible to expect people to be productive every hour, every minute of the day. This also means that you don’t waste time due to distractions.

Talk through with your management on how you are planning to organize your work tasks to deliver expected productivity outcomes in a timely manner.  

Here are some techniques you can start with.

The 3 questions on prioritizing work tasks

Can you confidently show your commitment to maintaining your productivity on a shorter four-day work week? You might not even need ready answers:

  1. What is the best and most productive use of my time right now?
  2. Why am I doing this?
  3. What is the payoff for meeting your deliverables on a shorter work week?

It is so simple. It is so obvious.

That is also why so many of us forget to use this evaluation framework.

The 80/20 productivity rule

The Pareto Principle is a fact. Only 20% of what you do contributes to 80% of your results.

Like the earlier 3 questions on prioritizing work tasks, getting this pitch right means asking yourself critical questions. Am I focusing on the crucial 20% of my work tasks? Or am I spending too much time with that 80% portion of my work schedule that yields minimal results?

As you get more fluent with outcome-based decisions, your productivity levels will soar.

The two-minute rule on procrastination

The two-minute rule is designed to quell procrastination, making it easy to start taking action on tasks that you ought to be doing. This technique centers on tasks that can be completed in two-minutes of less.

Think of your “to-dos”, both your to-do tasks and to-do dreams, and start on those that are reachable and/or urgent. Take two minutes and start doing each one.

Granted, “bucket list”-type of dreams, such as saving up for a round-the-world vacation, will not fulfill themselves within two minutes. The idea is not about completing the task, but about getting the momentum going by starting it.

Visualize your four-day work week workspace

Your living spaces, whether at work, at home or at play, all require regular housekeeping. Commit to declutter, clean up, refresh and reassess anything that is holding you back from delivering your best outcomes possible!

Social distractions, such as news alerts from social media on the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, or spending excessive time worrying rather than doing. These are amongst several roadblocks that can potentially keep you from maintaining your mental focus and improving your work performance. Consequently, they are also roadblocks to your four-day work week plans.

To work as efficiently as possible, consider culling tedious routine processes which have often led to frustration, confusion and unnecessary aggravation. We will talk about the benefits of our expense management software later.

The goal is to foster a productive and collaborative working environment that will benefit everyone in the organization, both employees and employers alike. A deep-dive into what needs to be culled is as important as what needs to be put in place. This is especially true if you are planning to implement a flexible remote work policy in the organization.

Start with a rigorous audit of your day-to-day work processes:

  • Which manual administrative tasks have taken hours out of your work schedule? These also necessitate an additional 30 minutes for you to get back “into the zone” of focusing on more productive tasks.
  • How much time are you spending on managing these time-consuming, daily administrative, repetitive tasks because “it is the way work has always been done”?
  • Would the time spent on time-tracking and monitoring expense monitoring be better spent on thinking of new business ideas and generating more leads?
  • Are there any business process automation tools that can facilitate the completion of manual and repetitive tasks?

Automation is your friend

To stay competitive in today’s economy, you need to put some tasks on autopilot. This improves efficiency, saves money, helps employees hone their skills on more challenging tasks. It also reduces stress, and increases productivity.

Embarking on organization-wide office automation is essential to pack your tasks into a four-day work week. It is also a lot more manageable than most think.

To start, pick a familiar administrative task which is necessary for everyone, in every department, across the organisation. For instance, the administration of expense management software is one of those tasks that can be easily delegated to automation.

Start with expense management software

Improved iterations of automated expense management solutions, such as Volve, can even write expense reports for you.

Intuitive and predictable to deploy, Volve comes with zero costs for IT support.

How it works: Volve’s all-in-one corporate card and expense management solution unites payment and expense reporting in a simple one-step automated expense reporting tool.

By combining two highly time-consuming parts of the expense management platform, the whole end-to-end user experience of the expense submission, approval and reporting can be done in less than two minutes; a tiny fraction of the 20% outlay of time and effort that you typically need to spend on your productive work tasks, to yield a 100% completion of a mundane yet required task.

Volve’s paperless features also mean no more manual entries and paper forms are required. Missing receipts, lost claims, bottlenecks in approvals, delays during month-end closings can be relegated firmly to being a thing of the past.

Everyone is happy. Accountants, financial professionals and business owners have a clearer view of their cash flow, more so than ever before possible.

Recommended reading: How to Future-proof Your Organisation Through Your Expense Management Software

More productivity boosters

While we are on the subject of finance, you might also like to consider complementary time-savers and productivity boosters beyond expense management software. These will help you save time on finance-related tasks and make the hour-day work week a reality. Here are some tools we love right now.

Electronic signatures

Let’s take a look at what it used to take to get a document signed. After putting the draft in the mail, you would wait for it to be returned in the mail, hopefully signed by the other party.

With a program like DocuSign or HelloSign with its deep integration into Dropbox, you can do all this paperwork, including the signature itself, digitally. To track the timely return of the signed document, a calendar reminder can be auto-generated to the signer.

Password managers

Applications like LastPass and 1Password help you to remember all your passwords across every device. Team Volve loves the “login and go” feature which makes online shopping practically effortless. At the checkout stage, your stored profile automatically applies to all your payment and shipping details.

Both LastPass and 1Password let you can share passwords with your team members without actually revealing what it is. LassPass provides a special sharing folder just for those team-friendly logins. 1 Password offers a unique URL for you to share with others to access your vault. 

For file sharing

Dropbox, GoogleDrive, Microsoft and the highly secure alternative, Tresorit are useful options for teams, employees, and managers to stay organised and focused. These cloud-based apps sync across all devices, helping you coordinate, and communicate everything you need with everyone who needs it, securely.

With Dropbox, you can also connect to other popular tools like Slack and Zoom.

For collaboration and project management

Applications like Monday.com and Slack align remote teams by centralising all communication and removing endless email chains.

We especially love how Monday.com integrates with Slack, so that conversations translate into action. The 100% customisable, easy-to-use platform easily manages and tracks progress, enhancing work productivity from anywhere.

For client relationship management

Check out FocalScope or the well-known alternative Zendesk if you are looking for a powerful, user-friendly email ticket management and web-based live chat solution. Both support large amounts of emails and provide top-notch customer support. They are easy to deploy and feature a clean and simple user interface where you can see how many tickets your team has resolved. 

Team Volve is especially impressed with FocalScope’s call center system. We also love how easy it is to configure and modify the software’s reporting dashboards to suit our requirements.

About Team Volve

Virtually the entire dynamic and agile team of Volve works remotely.

We have spent thousands of hours working together across different time zones. Therefore, Team Volve can say with utmost confidence “we know what it takes”.

Always present and always connected in supporting you.  

Experience how one single solution can improve accountability, accuracy and efficiency. Test drive Volve today free for 30 days. Volve. Simply a smarter way to work.

Rachelle Lee
Growth Hacker
Prior to scaling next-generation financial services, Rachelle lived out of a suitcase across Asia working on a 3-year research plan gathering customer insights and synthesising consumer decision journeys for global creative agencies, engaging with businesses on growth marketing, brand storytelling and customer engagement models for future business growth. She still drinks too much coffee, doing meaningful work with trailblazers and innovators to bring greater literacy to spend management solutions.

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