Could a four-day week really work for startups?

If 2020 was the year that the world was forced to dip its toes into flexible working patterns and 2021 was the year that this became standard practice, what will 2022 bring? Flexible work looks to have cemented itself as the new ‘business as usual’, with over two-thirds of UK businesses now reportedly offering employees remote working options, but the changes haven’t stopped there. As business leaders look to satisfy the world’s growing appetite for greater flexibility and freedom, many are now not only reconsidering where their team can work, but also when.

Back in November, UK bank Atom Group announced that it was moving to a four-day week, sparking a notable boost in morale and 500% uptick in job applications. The move allows employees to work 34 hours over four days, with the option of Monday or Friday off. However, though tempting, is a shortened week viable in practice, especially if we work within smaller teams? Can we really switch on our ‘out of office’ notices and launch into a long weekend, without the fear of slipping service levels or greeting a mountain of work upon our return?

Difficulty of pencilling in days off

Perhaps the most immediate priority when considering a shift to a shorter working week is whether the business will adopt a rotation system or move to a standard four days, sticking closely to the working week. However, if it is a set four days, how would you go about choosing the designated ‘out of office’ day?

A mid-week break could work well for some, while others would opt for Friday or Monday (the two most requested ‘days off’ in many businesses). If it is a rotation system – how would this work also? While it might offer increased flexibility to staff, it could also blur the boundaries of communication for clients. This certainly offers much food for thought, especially for startups who often operate with smaller teams.

Dividing hours could divide opinion

It is also crucial that reduced days do not create a divide or encourage feelings of resentment within teams. There is the potential for colleagues to grow bitter towards others who have been allocated a Friday day off for example, if they have been handed a Tuesday.

In addition, while recent discussion may lead you to believe that all are in favour of a shortened week, it will not sound like a great idea to all. Some may be terrified at the thought of squeezing in five days of work into four, especially if they are working within a streamlined team already. This is all to say that businesses should assess the demand for a shortened week before they consider the complications associated with supplying one.

Risk of a disjointed culture

In a similar vein, it is also vital that dividing working hours does not split the cohesion of the team. Would businesses have to cut the informal catch-ups that often boost wellbeing and morale to achieve the efficiency gains needed for a shortened week? A business must have both. An extra day of a weekend is a fantastic perk, but not if it comes attached to an intense week, driven by strict guidelines.

It is clear then that a four-day week can pose a bigger risk to a smaller firm, as they have leaner resources to support activity. Despite this, a startup can and should consider a shortened working week, if it has the internal demand for it. Trends such as a shortened week are useful in opening our eyes to a world of possibilities, but must also be approached with an air of caution. Businesses who enlist the help of a skilled HR professional and allow changes to be driven from the inside, will be able to leverage such trends with the greatest success.