The effect the pandemic has had on people’s mental health has been well documented. Many people have been juggling work, a home, a family, a relationship, as well as elderly relatives they haven’t been able to see, or daren’t take the risk of seeing.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has changed attitudes to work and life, with millions of people now saying that they would accept a shorter working week – and less money – in exchange for a better work/life balance.
But is that possible in the real world? Could people really move to a four day week? Or would that result in a loss of productivity and subsequent blow to the economy that would prove to be too much?
An experiment has taken place in Iceland which suggests that a four day week may well be the way forward. The trial took place between 2015 and 2019 and was run by Reykjavik City Council and the national government – so comes with the caveat that it largely concerned public-sector workers.
The trial covered 2,500 workers – around 1% of Iceland’s total workforce – and saw them move to a four day week with no loss of pay. The working week was reduced from 40 hours to, typically, 35-36 hours. The trial was hailed as an ‘overwhelming success’ with workers reporting less stress and burnout, better health and an improved work/life balance.
Similar trials are now taking place in countries including Spain and New Zealand. Whether a four day week could be applied across all sectors of the economy remains a moot point. What is clear is that the pandemic has unquestionably changed working patterns and what people want from work. It seems clear that employers would like the majority of their staff back in the office: it seems equally clear that millions of people prefer working from home – spending more time with their family and less money on commuting – and want that to continue.
A story published in mid-July suggested that staff may win the work from home battle. Zoom – which has become a staple of so many people’s lives over the past 16 months – has bet billions on hybrid working continuing, even as the Government urges us to return to the office.
Zoom has struck a £10.7bn deal to buy cloud-based call-centre operator Five9. Zoom boss Eric Yuan says it will allow customers to “re-imagine the way they do business” as Zoom prioritises its cloud-calling product Zoom Phone and the conference-hosting Zoom Rooms.
Whatever happens – and employers are going to find it very difficult to insist that people come back to the office – one thing is certain. The pandemic and the relentless march of technology has changed the face of work forever.