Microsoft’s 4-day work week experiment: My thoughts

Microsoft Japan recently did an experiment with a 4-day workweek. It led to a 40% jump in productivity along with other benefits like shorter meetings and electricity consumption saving. Given the success of this experiment, they decided to implement the 4-day work week permanently.

This led to a lot of discussions online with the major sentiment being the one displayed in the screenshots below:

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While I personally don’t mind working even 7 days a week for the projects I’m passionate about and during crunch times, I think we need to take a step back and understand the intricacies of the problem here before jumping to conclusions.

1. Culture

India is very different from Japan. What works in Japan might not necessarily work in India. I have worked at 5 companies to date and have usually seen a 5-day workweek work perfectly. As Indians, we are chaotic by nature which leads to more distractions during our work. I believe a 5-day workweek is perfect in India for maximum productivity. This does not mean we could not try out a 4-day workweek and have employees reduce distractions and be more focused. It should definitely be experimented with but we need to keep our culture in mind.

2. Communication

Whether it is increasing the workdays or decreasing them, the expectations and the reasoning needs to be set clear when communicating such decisions to employees. In case of increasing workdays, it is the lack of an explanation which leads to employees not being on-board with the decision and they end up resenting it rather than accepting it. In the case of decreasing workdays, reasoning again becomes important as the employees might end up taking undue advantage of this perk if they don’t understand the motivation behind it. For example, during crunch times, a company might request the employees to increase work days/hours. I feel the employees need to be on board with it if the decision is only temporary.

3. Flexibility

I believe flexibility is more important than the enforcement of workdays/hours. I’ve seen my friends slog on for 12 hours at a stretch for a 5-day workweek. I’ve also seen people slog for all 7 days because their company wanted them too. I strongly oppose any such behavior from any company because what they don’t realize is that they are hampering productivity instead of increasing it. I believe companies need to give work-from-home options, flexible timings, freedom to come on any day as long as the work is getting done at a good pace.

4. Company’s internal culture

If the company’s internal culture is good enough, employees won’t mind an increase in work hours temporarily during crunch times. The company also won’t mind experimenting with different approaches to increase productivity. The problem arises when the company’s culture is not cohesive enough. I believe it is a difficult task to keep a company cohesive when it grows above a certain size. It eventually comes down to each team’s own culture getting defined by over-arching company culture.

5. Analyze before deciding to increase workdays/hours

This goes for the companies when they decide to increase workdays/hours. I believe a 5-Whys analysis needs to be done before such decisions are taken otherwise a wrong cause and eventually a wrong solution ends up getting implemented. If the productivity is low, there may be multiple reasons for it ranging from a distracting workplace, longer meetings, lack of flexibility, improper project management to lesser resources available. It is not necessary that the productivity is low because the working hours are lesser. Employees could smell the lack of analysis in such decisions from a distance which then leads to problems.

6. Feedback loop

Companies need to keep taking feedback from the employees about the decisions and the experiments they are running and decide on the future course of action. Like most of the things, this should be data-driven too and the data needs to take employee morale into account. If the employee morale is affected adversely by any decision, it might be time to change the strategy.

Conclusion

All-in-all, the workplace needs to be a cohesive unit and there needs to be proper communication and analysis between the management and the employees to identify the problems leading to a lack of productivity before jumping to any decisions/experiments. A discussion should definitely happen because the work-life balance is such a sensitive force directly influencing employee productivity and morale and thus, the company’s growth.

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Hacking @sharechat | Previously Worked @wyzebulb and @babajob | Developer | Love to ask and answer questions.

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