A colleague recently shared an article about the increasing popularity of the four-day workweek and I was curious if it would say anything new. Nope. Seems like most humans still don’t love sitting at their desks for a prescribed number of hours each day and, when given the chance, will ramp up productivity to increase their freedom. “Given the chance” is the critical factor here, as these experiments with shorter weeks only look at competitive talents, such as software engineers. Hourly workers who must be available in specific spaces at certain times will not have that choice extended to them from senior management.
In my experience, the way we work has never fundamentally changed. Or maybe it’s never really stopped changing. Is post-pandemic work really going to be all that different?
Maybe the biggest change will be that change itself is no longer driven exclusively by the choices of business leaders. It’s being forced by factors beyond the stock market and automation. It’s a bottom-up change in the way we live—in many cases literally being forced by remotely schooled children underfoot. Working from home, working from anywhere, working when we’re physically able and not otherwise caring for ourselves or others, became an option for many more workers. Leaders can no longer argue that granting more flexibility would be disruptive—that’s been proven wrong, if business leaders are willing to accept it.
A recent Gartner study found that 64% of managers still believe that people who work in the office are higher performers, even though research shows the opposite.
In spite of everything we’ve learned this year, a recent Gartner study found that 64% of managers still believe that people who work in the office are higher performers, even though research shows the opposite—full-time remote workers are actually more likely to be high performers than those who are in the office full time. But according to the same report, women are more likely to opt for working from home, once again leaving women to be more productive while suffering from a bias that rewards behavior more typical of men.
So perhaps work really will change in that flexibility is no longer considered impossible. But the results—a gender wage gap and low flexibility for low-wage employees—will be the same.
It’s unfortunate, as this means work is unlikely to undergo real change any time soon—even though we know the 40-hours-in-the-office model not only limits worker satisfaction and performance, but cuts down on businesses’ ability to meet their own goals. However, as slow-to-adapt businesses remain mired in a 1960s mindset, smarter, more flexible companies can grasp this opportunity to move ahead.