74% of office workers support a 4-day workweek—here's how the pandemic could make it more common

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Given the widespread adoption of remote work during the coronavirus pandemic, many office workers are hoping changes to where work gets done will prompt adjustments to when it gets done, too. According to a recent survey of 2,033 office workers worldwide by the commercial real estate firm JLL, 74% of office professionals said they support a four-day workweek.

Workers' increasing desire for greater flexibility has influenced workplace design for several years now, says JLL chief product officer Cynthia Kantor, such as greater investment in social communal spaces, carving out private focus rooms or providing more wellness resources (from gyms to meditation pods to nursing rooms) onsite. Kantor adds that trends supporting regular work-from-home and flexible schedules have accelerated due to the pandemic and predicts they'll continue as offices reopen.

Companies may be more willing to allow greater flexibility now that they've had no choice but to adjust and have been able to measure productivity outcomes for several months now, Kantor tells CNBC Make It. At Google, for example, leaders noticed a dip in productivity among junior-level employees in the early days of the pandemic, so the company developed coaching programs to help workers shift to the new arrangement more effectively.

"With this grand global experiment on productivity and everyone working from home, we're still able to conduct business," Kantor says. As for a shortened workweek, she adds that it's long been in practice, at least informally: "You see it in the data that there are far less people in an office on Fridays. That's been true for many years in many different industries."

She recommends leaders also consider their employees' ability to perform despite living under the stress of a global pandemic. Some reports indicate workers are logging longer hours due to the challenges of working from home during this time.

"The clear reality is that people are operating in an 'always on' mentality,'" Kantor says and recommends employers recognize "there's a productive way to support employees that doesn't have to center around a 9-to-5, Monday through Friday schedule. How that formalizes in policies or becomes a norm is yet to reveal itself. But there's certainly support for a hybrid work environment as a predominant way of working on the other side of the pandemic."

In the survey, 74% of office workers support the idea of a four-day workweek; 8% reported they already have this benefit; and the remaining 18% believe the arrangement is not appealing and unlikely to happen even with post-pandemic workplace changes.

Several companies have shown success in operating on a condensed schedule prior to the pandemic. In 2018, one New Zealand company adopted a permanent four-day workweek after an experimental period resulted in employees reporting lower stress, improved team engagement, and greater work-life balance — without any negative impact to workplace performance.

And Microsoft's workforce in Japan recorded an almost 40% jump in productivity levels after experimenting with a four-day workweek in 2019 as part of a wider project to promote healthier work-life balance.

"The key learning here that employers need to consider is: It's not about when you work, but what you're producing," Kantor says. "Employers that are willing to be people-centric are going to thrive."

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