The importance of a trial

Why your organisation should trial a productivity week model

Perpetual Guardian’s four-day week has been a full-blown success – but the transition to a more productive workplace did not happen overnight. It involved a pre-trial planning phase, a two-month trial and a thorough review before it was finally implemented. This process spanned nine months.

The planning period’s purpose was to determine the measures of productivity to be applied to individual teams and for the teams to plan their programme of work through the trial. I have to admit, before the trial we lacked adequate productivity measures across a number of our business units. Ironically, even if the trial had failed spectacularly, we would have emerged with a greatly enhanced understanding of the dynamics and appropriate performance benchmarks necessary for the efficient running of the company.

The planning period’s purpose was to determine measures of productivity.

The planning period’s purpose was to determine measures of productivity.

I would venture the same is true for many companies; if so, a trial will at least produce a comprehensive picture of appropriate output for each team or worker, which can only be to the advantage of boards and shareholders who are constantly seeking valuable insights about their business or investment. If all parties enter a trial knowing the mandatory outcome is the maintenance of standard company productivity, the exercise is much easier for the CEO to defend and for boards to justify to shareholders. When the concentration is on output, and output doesn’t change, there is no adverse impact on the economics of the organisation from implementing the policy.

A second and equally important driver of productivity is the engagement of staff, because only those responsible for output can determine how they will deliver on the agreed productivity measures.

The benefit of an employee-led process is that many of the productivity improvements do not come from changes in process but changes in behaviour. For example, during the initial four-day week trial, we observed that the time staff spent surfing the five most popular websites dropped by 35 percent. Given there was a 20 percent drop in time in the office, we expected a reduction, but the evidence showed a behavioural change beyond what could be explained solely by a lower head count.

A further benefit of a staff-led process is that many of the improvements are too small by themselves to be tabled in a traditional process re-engineering programme, but can collectively have a measurable effect on output. An example from our trial is an employee whose regular data collection exercise took her 90 minutes to complete. The trial, and its push for efficiency, prompted the employee to bring the exercise to the attention of her manager, who had the authority to develop an alternative process of 15 minutes.

It was only the spotlight of the four-day week that drove this time-consuming exercise up to management level, because in the context of overall team productivity, it had not been a material issue. Once it became a key impediment to the employee’s four-day productivity target, the matter was quickly raised, and resolved. Extrapolate that across a business of dozens (or even thousands) of people, and the organisation may eliminate innumerable costly, unproductive kinks its leaders never knew it had.

As business people we are all experienced with the budget cut method of business – slice the budget, reduce the head count creating a solution but also problems. What we have shown is that when we make time the element cut, the space for innovation comes from not only the management, but also the employees. They want the time discount, so where they might have been too scared to identify, or not focused on finding, more productive ways to do their jobs, they will seek these out for you and the business.

My message to anyone trying to make a four-day week work for their organisations is simple: Do a trial first. Had we not done a trial, I believe our attempt at a four-day week would have failed miserably.

I further recommend downloading the free white paper on www.4dayweek.com as a useful resource on productivity in the workplace.

— Andrew Barnes

Andrew BarnesComment