Will the Post-Covid World Include a 4-Day Workweek? As Kickstarter Tests It Out, Some Predict It Will Catch on

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The coronavirus pandemic is breathing new life into the argument for a four-day workweek.

As employees report burnout and many are refusing to return to the office post-pandemic, employers are rethinking workplace flexibility.

For New York-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, one way to address that is the four-day workweek, which it is testing out next year. Despite the reduced hours, workers will still receive the same pay. The idea is that in those four days, there will be fewer interruptions and more focus on work.

"I fundamentally believe that something like this would allow us to be more potent as a group," Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan said.

"It's really about — if our time and attention is focused as best as it can be in those four days — can we have a more potent impact on the things that we care about from a professional standpoint, so that it opens up so much more range for us personally?"

While Kickstarter is the latest U.S. company to announce the move, Andrew Barnes, co-founder of the nonprofit platform 4 Day Week Global, hopes more will follow.

Barnes tested the concept in 2018 at his New Zealand-based company Perpetual Guardian, which manages wills, trusts and estates, after reading an article that said workers were only productive a couple hours a day.

He soon discovered that not only were his employees happier, but productivity also improved. They were doing at least the same amount of work in less time.

"Our profitability has gone up. Our revenue has gone up. Our staff turnover has dropped," Barnes recently told CNBC.

Barnes founded 4 Day Week Global with partner Charlotte Lockhart and has been touting the benefits for the past few years. In 2019, Microsoft Japan tested it out and reported a 40% jump in productivity, in part because it capped meetings at 30 minutes.

The pair recently launched a new campaign to bring more companies aboard.

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"Post-pandemic, we have clearly rethought how we work," said Barnes, who also wrote a book titled "The 4 Day Week."

"If anyone had said two years ago you could run a multinational from your kitchen table and the rest of your staff was working from home, we would have thought that was nuts."

Therefore, in a post-pandemic world, a four-day workweek may give employers an edge when it comes to hiring, Lockhart said.

"There is a young generation heading into the workforce that has a very different view on how they want to engage with work, and the impact that work has on their lives and the planet," she said.

In fact, 63% of businesses said it is easier to attract and retain talent with a four-day week, according to a 2019 report by Henley Business School in the U.K. In addition, it found that 78% of employees with four day weeks are happier and less stressed.

Juliet B. Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College, believes the popularity of the four-day workweek will grow thanks to the cultural shift brought on by the pandemic.

"It has been very rapid, from a culture that legitimized overwork and burnout to one that is critical of it," said Schor, author of "The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure."

She thinks the shift will first be seen with middle-class workers, many of whom had regular paychecks coming during the crisis but had to grapple with balancing work and child or elder care. From there, she thinks it will spread.

To be sure, there are U.S. companies that have instituted or are piloting four-day workweeks, such as Buffer, a New York-based social media software company, and Wildbit, a Philadelphia-based software company. Yet it hasn't been embraced by larger national companies, so far.

Globally, governments are getting involved. For instance, Japan recently proposed that companies allow staff to work four days a week and Spain is trying it out as well. Ireland is also launching a four-day workweek in January, said Schor, who will be doing research for the pilot.

"I think you will see contagion in Europe," she predicted.

Yet, when Sweden experimented with reducing hours at an eldercare facility, from an eight-hour day to six, it came with the increased cost of hiring additional workers. The program ended in 2017. And while France famously has a 35-hour workweek, there have been reports that workers actually tend to work more than that.

Kickstarter's CEO believes the company's outcomes are the most valuable measurement of the four-day workweek's success.

"It doesn't have to simply be about the number of hours that you put in, or the hyper-productivity state you can remain in," Hasan said.

In fact, the pilot is just one experiment on determining the best flexibility options for Kickstarter employees.

"I expect that we're going to be thinking about it and adapting," Hasan said.

"So much of this, the same as the last 18 months has been, is going to be really kind of learning through the process of experiencing it together."

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