The 4-Day Week and Office Design
Are you thinking about implementing a 4-day work week at your company? Do you want to find out if it is right for your company or not, and if so, how to maximise the success of the change? If this sounds like you, then we’re here to help.
The 4-day work week is a controversial topic, and there are a lot of extreme, biased, and/ or ill-informed opinions about it. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what the 4-day work week is (and isn’t), and whether it works (including advantages and disadvantages). We’ll also explain how the 4-day week affects office design, and how you can adapt your space to make the most of the 4-day week.
By the end of this article, you’ll be well-educated about the 4-day week and its impact on your real estate strategy. You’ll be in a much better position to decide if a 4-day week is worth implementing in your company, and how you can set your space (and company) up for success.
What is the 4-day Week?
The 4-day work week is an arrangement whereby staff work 4 days a week, rather than the traditional 5. The concept has exploded in popularity in recent months. The first major pilot scheme ran in the UK from June to December 2022. It was widely hailed as a huge success, but in the months following the trial, widespread adoption of the 4-day week has been slow. This is because there are several key challenges that make it difficult or impractical for many businesses.
While it’s a simple concept, there are many different variants of the 4-day week. The most popular is known as the “100-80-100” model. Staff get 100% of their previous salary, working 80% of their previous hours, whilst maintaining 100% productivity. The reduced hours can either be taken all in one day or across multiple days.
Another popular variant of the 4-day week is known as the “4/10 week” model. The standard 40-hour work week is compressed into 4 days instead of 5. This results in 10-hour working days. Other companies who have adopted the 4-day week have reduced salaries or benefits in line with time reductions.
The key idea behind all the variants is to maintain performance while freeing up time for staff to pursue other interests. Maintaining equal performance means there is no need to reduce salary or benefits. Essentially, the company doesn’t lose out, and the staff benefit – which should benefit the company in the long run.
Does the 4-Day Week Work?
At this point you’re probably thinking “That’s all well and good, but does it actually work? And why should my people get all the immediate benefits of this change, rather than sharing those benefits with my company”. These two questions are the most common reasons that adopting the 4-day work week has not been faster.
Truth be told, the 4-day week is simply not practical for many industries, companies, and job roles. A lot of the media and ‘expert’ attention surrounding the 4-day week is heavily biased. Most articles online present and interpret the data with an unbalanced perspective. To make an educated decision, however, you need an unbiased and objective assessment.
At first glance, the 4-day pilot scheme was a resounding success. Of the 61 companies that participated, 56 are continuing with the four-day week (92%), with 18 confirming the policy is a permanent change. In addition, 39% of employees were less stressed, and 71% had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial. Staff attrition also decreased by 57%.
So why haven’t all companies adopted the 4-day week? The trial showed few (if any) direct benefits for the company. Revenues remained steady, and in some cases, staffing and facilities costs increased. Profitability was not part of the study. Many of the benefits to staff, such as reduced burnout, should indirectly improve company performance. However, measuring their impact is very difficult. Given the uncertain benefits and huge risks of moving to a 4-day week, many companies have been understandably wary of making this huge change.
4-Day Week Advantages
This is not to say there are no company advantages to the 4-day week. Far from it. Depending on how the programme is managed, the 4-day week may reduce your office space requirements and/or operational costs. Staff also save commuting and food costs.
Reduced working hours should also improve the work-life balance of your people. In turn, this will improve their engagement levels, job satisfaction, and productivity. A separate study also found that 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and keep quality staff with a four-day working week. Given that high-performing staff are 400% more productive than the average staff member, the 4-day work week is worth serious consideration.
4-Day Week Disadvantages
However, the 4-day work week does have some serious drawbacks for both companies and their staff. For companies, there could be serious challenges maintaining customer service levels and response times if staff are working fewer hours. This will be especially true for smaller companies. As a result, they may have to hire more staff, increasing costs. Because salaries remain at 100%, cost reductions would be relatively small.
Another factor that will make companies more reluctant to trial a 4-day week is the difficulty of reversing the change if it is not successful. Given the likely popularity of the 4-day week with staff, ending a trial could seriously reduce staff satisfaction and as a result, productivity. This could also cause disruption to your day-to-day business operations.
The premise of most variants of the 4-day week is maintained productivity and reduced hours. This means staff have to become at least 20% more productive in the time they are working, which could result in increased stress and pressure. Their statutory entitlement to certain benefits, such as holiday, would also be reduced.
How Does The 4-Day Work Week Change Office Design?
If you do choose to implement the 4-day week, you will need to adapt your office in order to maximise the performance of your staff and company. With the rise of hybrid working, the role of the office has transitioned from the place where staff work all day every day to a collaboration hub for teamwork and social bonding. The 4 day work week will make leaning into collaborative office space even more important.
One slightly unexpected result of the UK pilot scheme was an increase in office attendance. One of the companies participating saw staff attendance increase from 2 days to 3 days each week. Their managing director reported that “Once you get into the rhythm of the four-day week, you realise going into the office makes your life easier. Collaboration is often harder working from home – producing the amount of work required in a four-day week would be really difficult.”
These changes mean that the layout of your space will need to change, as will how much of your space you dedicate to collaboration, breakout, and focussed spaces. Here, we’ll go through the key areas of an office space, and how much space you may need for each.
Collaboration is much more than communication – it’s about working together to achieve a valuable outcome. That’s why collaboration rarely happens in conventional meeting rooms. More informal environments designed for more flexible use by smaller teams are necessary for collaboration.
In most offices we survey, about 10% of the area is devoted to collaboration spaces. Standard hybrid designs often have 30-45% of the space devoted to collaboration. If you are looking to implement a 4-day week, then this should be even higher, about 40-50%.
The second most popular reason for staff to come back into the office is to socialise with colleagues – second only to collaboration. While it may seem counterintuitive, this has real performance benefits for your company. If your space provides opportunities for staff to network and relax together, it will improve their relationships which are so important when working together.
To maximise the potential of the 4-day week, you need to provide an attractive, on-brand breakout space that your people enjoy. Typically, we recommend that such spaces comprise 10-15% of your office space.
Desking areas used to (and often still do) dominate offices. However, this will be very ineffective with a 4-day work week. While collaboration may be the primary reason your people come into the office, they will still need to spend some time on individual deep work. For this reason, focus spaces are an essential part of the hybrid office.
Focus spaces are much more than banks of desks. Other types of focussed spaces include phone and working pods, as well as bookable individual offices. For a company implementing a 4-day week, we recommend 25-35% of your total space should be designated for focussed working, with around half of that used for desking.
Meeting rooms may be inappropriate for collaboration, but they still have a crucial role to play. Sometimes, a more formal environment is appropriate. Meeting rooms can also include hybrid meeting suites, equipped with A/V technology to enable high-quality remote or hybrid meetings.
Meeting rooms are very space-inefficient, and most offices have far too many. For your space to be as effective as possible for the 4-day week working, you will likely want about 5-10% of your workspace devoted to meeting rooms.
Individual offices are another feature that often take up too much space in many offices. They are very space inefficient and are typically used less than half the time. In many cases, individual offices are also located in prime areas of the space such as near the amenities or on the external walls.
In an office designed for the 4-day week, private offices are largely irrelevant. Much of the work that requires a private environment is best done from home. That said, shared or bookable offices can provide a more efficient solution if some individual spaces are needed. These would typically take up less than 5% of your total space. However, certain industries, such as law, may require a higher percentage.
The 4-Day Week and Office Design at Your Company
Despite the attention-grabbing headlines and statistics, whether the 4-day week works is a complex topic, with many nuances. It is very attractive for staff, offering greater flexibility and leisure time with no reduction in salary or benefits. However, there are few, if any, direct incentives for companies. It all hangs on the performance improvements that an increase in staff wellbeing and satisfaction should bring. Given the high barriers to exit and levels of uncertainty, many companies will be reluctant to commit to a 4-day week until there is more concrete evidence as to its outcomes.
There is no one right answer as to whether the 4-day week works. Whether it works, and to what extent, will be different for every company. You need to remain focussed on what is best for your people and company in the long term, rather than get distracted by trends that are not appropriate for your company.
Now that you’re better educated about the 4-day week and its impact on your real estate strategy, you’re in a much better position to decide if a 4-day week is worth implementing in your company, and how you can set your space (and company) up for success.
To learn more about your working model, download our office v remote v hybrid working guide. You’ll get a full comparison of each working model by 7 key criteria, as well as common situations where each working model is best, and guidance on how to choose the best working model for your company. Download it here.
If you’re looking at ways to increase office attendance, read this article about how to attract your people back to your office. You’ll learn why the return to the office is so controversial, and 5 key steps to make a success of increasing your office attendance.