Is the Current Crisis the Perfect Time to Adopt a 20-Hour Workweek?

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Across the globe, everyone who can work from home is being urged to do so. This unexpected and unprecedented push into remote work is forcing businesses to rethink what work is and reimagine what it could be.

In order to succeed in this brand new environment, companies need to get creative. You can’t simply take what works in a traditional office setting, put it on Zoom, and expect to get the same results.

Adjusting to fully remote operations is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to explore new types of schedules and job structures that can be of benefit not only in the near-term disruption of our daily lives, but also over the long haul. As managers and teams grow increasingly comfortable with the realities of distance working, now may be the time for companies to consider embracing the 20-hour workweek.

Under normal circumstances, offering a 20-hour option is a way to tap into a hidden pool of talented candidates who can’t or don’t want to work in traditional roles, including people caring for children or parents, people returning to school, and people who simply want a better work/life balance. In our current pandemic conditions, a 20-hour workweek  becomes even more valuable, as many more of us are juggling home and work demands and looking for ways to regain some sense of control over our schedules.

The Productivity Logic of a 20-Hour Workweek

If you’re thinking about offering 20-hour workweek options at your company, it is first important to note that this isn’t about cutting an employee’s hours in half and expecting them to deliver half the work.

On the surface, it may seem that moving to a 20-hour workweek means you’ll need two part-time workers to do what one full-timer could, but we’ve tried 20-hour workweeks ourselves at WorkReduce, and we’ve found that isn’t the case. In fact, with the right people in these new 20-hour positions, you may find your employees are actually getting more done per hour. It may seem counterintuitive, but professionals working just 20 hours a week are often more focused and more efficient. One effective part-timer can easily accomplish the same amount a full-time worker might accomplish in 30 hours.

The reason is that, with less time in their schedules, these employees are motivated to get right to the task at hand. They’re focused on getting the work done and aren’t simply filling time and looking busy while waiting for the end of the day.

Think about your own work patterns: Do you ever really do more than four or five hours of deep work in a single day? Hardly. That means the rest of your workday is spent on superficial filler work. Who hasn’t experienced the phenomenon of the job expanding to take the time allotted for it? Workers with less time are less likely to give in to distractions.

The Economics of a 20-Hour Workweek

While you may have to hire a few more staff members to make sure everything gets done in a 20-hour workweek, the cost of these extra hires will be offset by long-term savings.

When people have flexible jobs that accommodate the needs of their personal lives, they are more likely to stay put. That’s doubly true if you can offer health insurance and other benefits often limited to full-time roles. Overall, your higher retention rates will mean less money spent on recruiting and onboarding new employees.

There’s also the benefit of continuity, which keeps projects moving along without (costly) disruptions. That translates to greater client satisfaction, which supports business growth.

Finally, if your part-time workers are remote, you’re also saving money on office space.

Unleashing the Potential of a 20-Hour Workweek

A 20-hour week isn’t the best option for everyone. There are those who do better with the structure of a traditional job and who prefer full-time work. However, a 20-hour week is an attractive option for those who have a lot to offer your company but need a certain work/life balance.

The key to unleashing the potential of a 20-hour worker is in how the job is structured. This isn’t about job sharing per se. It’s about creating distinct, well-defined roles for individuals who will be putting in 20 hours per week. You need to be clear about what each employee should be accomplishing with their time, and then let the employee determine how it will be done. Micromanagement does not work well with a 20-hour week.

You’ll likely get even better results if your employees can work remotely and put in the hours on their own schedules. Even if the nature of a job requires certain set hours, giving people some measure of schedule flexibility allows them to take advantage of their own biorhythms to improve productivity.

It is also crucial to not burden a 20-hour role with unnecessary meetings and endless demands for communication. It is important to stay in touch with employees to ensure they know what needs to be done and to keep tabs on their progress, but that can be done without intruding too much upon your employees’ work time. Consider taking advantage of online team management tools and instituting clearly defined times and methods for communication.

Adopting a 20-hour schedule can not only strengthen your company during times of uncertainty — such as our current climate — but also position your organization for success well into the future. Take the sudden plunge into remote work as your opportunity to redesign your approach to work. Embrace new technologies and the shifting preferences of talent, and you can become an employer of choice for a long time to come.

Brian Dolan is CEO and founder of WorkReduce.

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Brian is the CEO and founder of WorkReduce, a data-driven services platform that provides the people, services, and software to drive efficient and accountable media operations, analytics, and strategy. Using AI-driven screening, transparent dashboards, and an open API combined with white-glove service, WorkReduce is a smarter way to staff media-buying jobs. WorkReduce is committed to diversity and inclusivity and is the No. 1 source for personalized, high-performance talent to job matches in the media sector. Prior to founding WorkReduce, Brian worked in software engineering and product management roles at Boston advertising technology startups including DataXu and Enpocket (acquired by Nokia). Brian is a graduate of Dartmouth College.