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 Microsoft Japan have tried it and reported an increase in productivity by 40% and lowered their electricity costs by 23%.

For 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 also mean a quiet “me day” without the weekend buzz.

With so many successful businesses which have reported lowered operating costs, happier and more productive employees with the four-day work week, why hasn’t it yet 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 Q1 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 which you can use to pitch to your management. Chances are you might even be successful in getting approvals for remote working. 

Manage your own expectations

Before you approach the compressed work week discussion, it is important that you have set your parameters of what you would 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. While you may not have to explicitly state everything on your wish list, it is as important to manage your boss’s expectations, as well 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 is expected of me
  • … not compromise on the quality of my work
  • … ensure that my work is delivered on time  
  • … (to seal the deal, if required) be open to changing my “off-day” plans to 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 in your assessment of how you can manage your time effectively and your commitment to your deliverables, 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 really quite impossible to expect people to be productive every hour, every minute of the day. This also means that wasted time from distractions can be removed.

Talk through with your management on how you are planning to organise 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

Depending on how confidently you can show your commitment to maintaining your productivity on a shorter 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.

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

The 80/20 productivity rule

It’s 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 continually – 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, are not going to be fulfilled within two minutes. The idea here is not about completing the task, but about getting the momentum going by starting it.

Visualize what this future workspace would look like

Your living spaces, whether at work, at home or at play, all require regular housekeeping — a commitment 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, are just amongst several roadblocks that can potentially keep you from maintaining your mental focus and improving your work performance.

To work as efficiently as possible, consider culling tedious routine processes which have often led to frustration, confusion and unnecessary aggravation.

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

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

  • Which manual administrative tasks have taken hours out of your work schedule and necessitate an additional 30 minutes for you to get back “into the zone” of focusing on more productive tasks?
  • How much time is spent 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?

To stay competitive in today’s economy, putting the right tasks on autopilot improves efficiency, saves money, helps employees hone their skills on more challenging tasks, reduces stress, and increases productivity.

Embarking on organisation-wide office automation is a whole lot more manageable than most think.

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

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 financial management automation tool.

By combining two highly time-consuming parts of the expense management process, 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 are able to have a clearer view and better accountability for their cash flow, more so than ever before possible.

More productivity boosters

While we are on the subject of finance, you might also like to consider complementary time-savers and productivity boosters that will help you save time on finance-related tasks. Here are some of the 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, all this paperwork, including the signature itself, can be done digitally. To track the timely return of the signed document, a calendar reminder can be auto-generated to the signee.

Password managers

Applications like LastPass and 1Password helps 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.

What is also interesting for both LastPass and 1Password is that you can share passwords with your team members without actually revealing what it is. LassPass provides a specially sharing folder just for those team-friendly logins while 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

If you are looking for a powerful, user-friendly email ticket management and web-based live chat solution which supports large amounts of emails and provides top notch customer support, check out Zendesk and FocalScope. Both are easy to deploy and features a clean and simple user interface where you can see how many tickets your team has resolved. 

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

About Team Volve

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

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

Always present and always connected in supporting you,  

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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