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You don’t have to introduce a four-day work week to become more productive. Start small and focus on your meetings.

Time is Ltd. team

Dinah Spritzer

June 1, 2021

4

min read

Hint: If a company finds that the four-day work week reduces wasted time, that means the company CEO wasn’t managing time well to begin with.

Everyone is doing it.

Spain announced in March that it would “trial” a four-day work week in a pilot program for companies.

“Working more hours does not mean working better,” tweeted Spanish legislator Íñigo Errejón regarding the experiment.

Sanna Marin,the Finiish Prime Minister  has jumped on the four-day-work-week bandwagon as well. “This could be the next step for us in working life,” she predicted.

Unilever moved to the four-day workweek in New Zealand, with plans to expand the approach if it proves successful. Many other firms are following suit in the hopes that 35, 32 or even fewer hours per week will increase productivity, improve workers’ well-being, and even  reduce global warming.

So is this the best way to solve our productivity problems? Not exactly.

It’s seductive. But for many companies, the four-day work week will frustrate the internal and external collaboration that drive business. Just imagine how much more complicated scheduling a meeting would become if you would need to take into account that your colleagues are in the office during a different four days than you are? And will your clients’ schedules match the four days of your sales team? Do you want to take that gamble?

There’s an easier, less disruptive way to save your employees time and boost productivity.

Parkinson’s Law and your meetings

According to “Parkinson’s Law,” work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

And what do employees tell us is their biggest waste of time at work? Meetings. A whopping 71 percent of senior managers say meetings are unproductive and inefficient. A four-day workweek doesn’t fix that problem.

We mindlessly set the length of our meetings to few values like 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes. In line with “Parkinson’s Law,” we can assume that a meeting’s work expands to fill whatever amount of time we allot to it. So how do we get our wasted time back?

Fig. 1: Once the meeting is scheduled, the human imagination and the “fear of voids” ensure that it will be filled with some/any activity. (Source: Dilbert by SCOTT ADAMS)

Tip 1: In his book The Surprising Science of Meetings Steven Rogelberg recommends that managers plan the length and size of meetings based on the meeting’s goals, the meeting’s agenda, people invited to the meeting, feedback from attendees, and analysis of past meetings.

Tip 2: Rogelberg suggests that all meeting times should be cut 5-10 percent by default. Thinking of setting up a one-hour meeting between marketing and sales? Your default time is 50 minutes maximum.

Tip 3: When analyzing our clients’ collaboration data, we repeatedly see that multitasking during meetings is a common behavior among meeting attendees. Given that this behavior significantly contributes to the low productivity of meetings, it makes sense to avoid distractions by agreeing on and following rules that specify which behaviors are allowed during the meeting and which are not.

Tip 4 : Another relevant issue we can see in our clients’ collaboration data is the scheduling of back-to-back meetings. This practice causes late arrivals for meetings and contributes to collaboration overload and exhaustion as participants have no time to rest before their next meeting. One way to avoid back-to-back meetings? Don’t schedule them!  And as noted previously, shave off time from all meetings as your new default approach to scheduling.

What’s the ROI?

hours/year
USD/year

All of these practices sharpen attendees’ focus and interest and free up their time. If you follow these tips, you will save roughly 30,000 hours of work hours a year in a 1,000-person company, where there is an average of 20 meetings per employee a month. That’s roughly $872,00 in savings. (Much of the time saved is due to all the people who weren’t invited due to better meeting planning).

In fact, many who were captivated by Microsoft Japan’s 40 percent boost in productivity during its experiment with the four-day work week missed the fine print. The company also cut all of its 60-minute meetings in half, and capped attendance at five participants.

We looked at our own company to see how we could also benefit from meeting reduction. We spent 6,193 staff-hours in meetings between March 2020 and February 2021 (Fig. 2). That equals approximately $180,000 USD. Now imagine that we would implement only two of the tips mentioned above; we would make meetings 10% smaller and 10% shorter. That’s 5,016 staff-hours spent in meetings, a savings of 1,180 staff hours, or  $34,000.

Fig. 2: Graph from Time is Ltd.’s collaboration analytics platform showing the number of staff-hours spent in meetings between March 2020 and February 2021.

Fortunately, we don't have to introduce big changes like the four-day work week or if we want to positively affect employees’ productivity and well-being. We can start small and simple with policies that are maybe not so bold and “sexy” but are backed by science and quite easy to implement. Examples of such policies could be simple and evidence-based recommendations on what to do before, during, and after meetings to enhance meetings’ productivity and meaningfulness.

Do you think the four-day workweek is for you? Or would you like to learn easier techniques to reduce your costs and raise your productivity? Get in touch, we’d love to hear about your experiences! You can also download our latest case study on how to start enhancing employee performance and retention.

At Time is Ltd., we measure digital collaboration and productivity, without ever sacrificing employee privacy. We provide an advanced analytical SaaS platform that delivers a holistic view of an organization collaboration patterns. We measure your team’s digital footprint to improve communication, productivity as well as save precious time. Our approach only aggregates meta-data from a variety of data sources, to show how your teams work with your collaboration tools so you can get them more productive and motivated.

wRITTEN BY

Time is Ltd. team
Dinah Spritzer