Beyond 4-Day Workweeks and 5-Hour Workdays: Flexible, Dynamic Guardrails

Last week multiple people have asked me, “What do you think about Microsoft’s 4-Day Workweek.” Whenever this happens, I’m reminded why these stories strike a chord.

People respond enthusiastically to this and other “work reimagined” successes, including one in which a German company instituted 5-Hour Workdays, because it’s inspiring to see an organization try something new, even if it isn’t perfect or doesn’t last forever.

Such changes or pilots acknowledge what many feel — the traditional model of work is, at least, outdated and at worst, broken.

But the answer isn’t to implement another rigid, one-size-fits-all work schedule.  

Before I explain what I mean, let’s look at the highlights of the two resets mentioned above:

Here’s what I think:

It’s less about a shorter workweek or a shorter workday, and more about reimagining work within a new set of flexible, responsive guardrails. 

Those guardrails aren’t just hours and days.

Leveraging time with strategic intention is important (because as the experiments above have shown, less can be more). But it’s also critical to consider how you are optimizing tech tools, space and place, process and pace to get your job done well and manage life. The “how” and “where” get lost if the sole focus in on “when.”

That’s why I’m always fascinated when companies boast how they’ve reframed the traditional model of work, when all they’ve done is implement an equally rigid, albeit different, one-size-fits-all, time-based solution.

Instead, organizations need to reimagine work within a set of guardrails that are based on shared principles and a decision-making process, not rules.

These guardrails provide the structure that helps answer the question, “what do we need to get done and whenwhere, and how do we do it best?”

The principles and process are consistent enough to keep everyone moving in the same direction but broad enough so that the way work flexibility, technology, and workspace are leveraged adapts to the ever-changing needs of a particular job, business, or person.

That’s high performance flexibility.

As Microsoft probably discovered and Digital Enabler found out, everyone may not be able to operate consistently within the same rigid time boundaries. Leaders end up addressing and managing all of the exceptions that don’t fit the rule.

Alternatively, they could have positioned their four-hour workweek or five-hour workday as one of the primary principles, or guardrails, for when work can be done instead of a mandate when work must be done. This supports responsive, real-time flexibility.

It’s about the Work+Work Fit and Work+Life Fit

One of the main drivers for both companies was a better work+life fit for employees.  But leveraging time and tech, space and place, process and pace, also allowed the companies to optimize the work+work fit for the business. They hired and kept the people they needed to do the work.  Meetings were shortened.  More work was done in less time.  Technology was used more effectively.  Utility costs were reduced.

Yes, it’s important and noteworthy that people improved their personal satisfaction and happiness; but, it’s the business results from a more flexible and responsive work+work fit that will ultimately ensure continued support from leadership.

These experiments with a one-size-fits-all 4-Hour Workweek and 5-Hour Workday deserve headlines for their innovation and impact. But the real news is it’s time for companies to reimagine work within a new set of dynamic, flexible guardrails that not only optimize when we work but where and how.

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