The world's largest four-day work week trial goes live, but don’t get your hopes up

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A selection of 70 companies based in the UK are participating in a pilot program designed to establish whether transitioning to a four-day work week would result in a drop-off in productivity.

Organized by a non-profit called 4 Day Week Global, in partnership with a group of UK universities and the Autonomy think tank, the trial will extend for a period of six months.

As part of the experiment, the circa 3,000 participating staff members will receive the same amount of pay for only four days’ work, under the proviso that they are able to at least maintain regular levels of productivity.

The four-day revolution

The move to a four-day work week has long been a subject of debate in the professional sphere, traditionally dividing opinion down political lines. Those on the left are likely to emphasize the benefits from a wellbeing perspective, while those with conservative values fear the impact on productivity and the ability to compete in global markets.

Until recently, the discussion has been just that - a discussion - but the revolution in working culture brought about by the pandemic has delivered the four-day work week to the forefront of minds.

According to Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, there is evidence to suggest that concerns about productivity are unfounded, and that the wellbeing of workers will in fact be one of the key factors determining a company’s ability to remain competitive.

“The UK is at the crest of a wave of global momentum behind the four-day week,” he said. “As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them the competitive edge.”

“The impact of the ‘great resignation’ is now proving that workers from a diverse range of industries can produce better outcomes while working shorter and smarter.”

The hope is that the UK trial (which accompanies similar experiments in New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the US) will provide more evidence to back up these claims, which can then be used to incentivize a wider range of organizations to take the plunge.

Technology troubles

However, there are those that believe the transition to a four-day work week is impossible under current conditions, with technology constraints standing in the way of the necessary gains in productivity. 

New research from document management firm Templafy, for example, found that the vast majority of workers are hampered by manual review processes and often end up having to redo the same task multiple times.

The average UK worker is also said to waste up to 15 hours per week (41% of their working hours) producing unnecessary content, instead of working on tasks that deliver genuine business value.

Separate research from Citrix also suggests that half of global organizations (and 62% of UK firms) believe employees do not work as efficiently when away from the office. Many have gone as far as to install employee monitoring software on business computers, in an effort to keep a beady eye on staff.

So long as businesses remain sceptical about the benefits of remote and hybrid working, and technology issues continue to create productivity bottlenecks, there would appear little hope for the four-day week.

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.