Yes, times are changing. The notion of an eight to five workday, Monday to Friday, is being contested. Across industries, businesses are beginning to see the value of a shorter 30-hour workweek where staff work in concentrated bursts.
Amazon is the latest firm to investigate the merits of the idea and I firmly believe it should be embraced at large.
My background is in advertising, where I have 20 years of experience in South Africa and abroad. I have long held the belief that working long hours for the sake of it not only hampers productivity, but produces inferior work — irrespective of the business. There’s no reason staff can’t work six hours a day and contribute to a massively successful company.
So, why do many companies work long hours? It’s an ingrained way of doing business that pre-dates the Internet when it was necessary to group people in a room together for a set number of hours a day.
Worse, it’s self-fulfilling. A staff member confined to an office nine, ten or more hours a day relishes the opportunity to subject junior staff to the same treatment years down the line. We invariably want other people to ‘go through what we’ve gone through’ and many businesses abuse their power, subjecting staff to late hours at short notice.
In another sense, long hours spent in an office are an easy way to claim productivity. But that’s of course a fallacy — and we all know it — because for many of us, large parts of a workday are spent waiting for emails and not tackling what’s important.
No one is necessarily at fault. The fact of the matter is that staff drag their feet when they’re watching the clock. But flip the equation around — by placing the emphasis on fewer hours but increased productivity — and the difference is night and day.
No matter your industry, these are a few ways you can cut the fat from your workday and reap the benefits.
Encourage staff to manage their time
Whether you’re selling a service, a product or something in between, encourage workers to get their work done and get out into the fresh air, and you’ll see productivity sky-rocket.
Choose your clients carefully
Business tells us that clients are everything — but be careful of bending over backwards for them. Some clients completely understand the importance of a strong relationship and put the correct reward structures in place. Other clients dangle financial carrots and promise to buy your work, but always net you a large financial loss.
Control your overheads
We all love fancy offices but they come at a cost. With most meetings taking place at the client and increased use of Skype/Google Hangouts, consider moving your premises further out of town and making it more employee-focused. The money spent on meeting rooms and an expensive reception can be better utilised elsewhere.
Increase the freelance ratio
Businesses don’t use freelancers enough. With a smaller full-time team, you’ll reach internal goals faster while freelance help will enable you to scale a project. (Admittedly, it’s more difficult for larger multinational companies to accomplish this but a rigorously streamlined approach still holds merit.)
Pay a fair salary — but don’t overpay
There’s a lot of competition for jobs nowadays and sometimes you have to get the cheque book out to get the person you want. This is great, but don’t be held to ransom. Attract talent with your big picture thinking and reward employees with a bonus structure based on performance and business success.
Choose your employees carefully
A focused and self-motivated person can deliver more work in six hours than an unfocused staffer can in 12. But not everyone will buy into this way of thinking, so don’t try and push the idea onto them. Concentrate on finding talent who see the importance of a healthy work/life ratio and will maximise their output when they’re in the office.
Steer clear of an ‘always available’ attitude
Unless you’re a corner shop, why should you be open all the time? Make sure your clients understand the hours of the day they can contact your firm and stick to it.
Remember: Productivity declines the longer the day drags on
With any luck, your staff will not only be more productive — they’ll be happier too.
Making a shift
Our best ideas come when we’re at home, relaxed. In the end, you’re paying people not only for their time in the office but also for the ideas you can extract from them when they’re doing anything but work.
I believe a 30-hour workweek can work anywhere in the world, and it’s already being trialled in Scandinavian Europe. In fact, I believe we should strive for the goal. We’re only as good as the people who work with us, and to attract good people, we need to change with the times: Young talent is placing a higher emphasis on a favourable work/life balance than ever before.
Some people still get a buzz from working 12-hour days, but for many of us, spending all our lives at the office seems counter-productive and, worse, downright unappealing.