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How Much Work is the Right Amount?
The answer is always less
Ever since I started working remotely I have started to rethink work as a whole. Traditionally, we were expected to travel to an office, sit at our desk for 8+ hours a day, work 40+ hours a week, and travel home nightly. This leaves little time for us to live outside of work. More recently, a lot of us walk into our office on the other side of our home or walk to our local coffee shop. Some of us have moved states or countries. This saves the commute and increases our energy due to being able to engage with the things that recharge us more often. So why not go all-in on this idea of work flexibility? Why are we still expected to work 40+ hours a week?
Work results might be shown in the form of pixels, but work fuel is consumed away from the workstation.
If we are still thinking traditionally, it is because working more time means more output, right? No, no it doesn’t. Post industrial revolution, when our ancestors were primarily working in factories, this was true. Now, all work is done in front of a computer to some extent. When we pair that with working remotely, time does not equal output. Dare I say, time away from work increases output. If I am away from work for a day and come back energized, I can work faster and at a higher quality than if I sat at my desk for 8 hours straight. Work results might be shown in the form of pixels, but work fuel is consumed away from the workstation.
There has been this idea being kicked around for years now, the four day work week. This idea is being practiced by some and of course, it now has an acronym – 4DWW. The practice of a 4DWW is different in each company. For some, this means working less days, but similar hours. For some, this means working 8 hours less. For others, this is flexible, mainly just working less. This concept is great. It is heading in the right direction. In a recent survey by Buffer, people want this shift.
The 4DWW was the least common policy, but the most desirable. Only 17 percent of people say their organization has a 4DWW while 69 percent say they wished their organization had this policy in place.
Buffer themselves have been practicing this. With great success too!
We’ve been operating on a 4DWW at Buffer since May 2020 and aren’t planning on going back to a five-day work week. In a recent team survey, 91 percent of our team report they are happier and more productive working four days a week. We also approach the 4DWW as a rule of thumb, but not set in stone. Many employees, particularly working parents, have chosen to work five shorter days versus four full days because it offers more flexibility for their families. Further, we don’t schedule any company communications on Fridays, so some people like working a little on Fridays as an “overflow day” if they need to.
I am glad that a company, as important as Buffer, is sticking with this. But why does it need to be 4 days? Why does work have to be defined by days or hours? Like I mentioned above, time does not equal output. We all work at different speeds and capacities. We all work in different roles and industries. Why are we all set at the same working time? The answer at face value is control and predictability, but the real underlying issue is trust. Most employers don’t trust their employees. When you add remote work into the mix, it multiplies this lack of trust.
Most workers, for the bulk of their careers, are adults. Why are they treated like children? If an employer cannot trust their employee to show up, physically or digitally, and do their job, then they hired the wrong person. We, as people, should be shown the respect to do work how, when, and where we want to. If it takes us 40 hours or 4 hours to complete our task and do it well, there should be no difference. If we need more time or work odd hours, because that is when we think best, then there should be no limitations.
Employers have no problem if we work over our allotted hours, so they should have no problem with us working no allotted hours. Yes, there are projects that need estimates, due to deadlines, but the employee should be able to provide those. That will translate 1:1 to how junior or senior they are in said role. If a junior person says a task will take them 40 hours and a senior says it will be 10, that is expected. Instead of the senior having to find more work, they should be empowered to log off. As the junior becomes more seasoned they will also be able to do the same. Becoming a practitioner takes practice. More money is not the only reward when it comes to being more senior, time should be too.
As knowledge workers, specifically knowledge workers in tech, do we always need that extra raise? There is a point where the money is enough, why not fill it with time? Time is invaluable. It is something you cannot get back. We put such a specific number on the time in which we work and allow the time of our lives to be thrown to the wayside. We need to prioritize this time, to covet it.
So, how much work is the right amount? Less. Unequivocally, less. Depending on your role, experience, capabilities, and task at hand – this will vary. But there should never be a minimum.