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This week on the Working It podcast we have a special mini-series, Four days’ work for five days’ pay. Everyone, it seems, dreams of working this way — it’s consistently one of the most popular topics we cover in the FT.
The Working It series follows a six-month UK trial of four-day work weeks, as part of a bigger global experiment convened by Four Day Week Global, a non-profit which offers resources and support for organisations wanting to trial the practice.
Around 70 UK companies took part, and the FT’s Emma Jacobs and the Working It production team followed four of them, in different sectors, to get a full picture of what a shorter week means for leaders and staff. In addition to our podcast series, Emma also compiled her findings into a Big Read on whether the four-day week actually works.
Emma went into the experience with an open mind. She says: “The trial is self-selecting, and most participants want it to work, or else it would be a huge upheaval for nothing. But I was struck by how much work — and energy — it took to plan for a company shift.
“The biggest surprise for me was that the interviews with staff taking part in the trial made me think deeply about the nature of time and our relationship with it — what should we prioritise at work? We can’t do everything, and the four-day week forces people to be explicit about the trade offs.”
Do you think the four-day work week will take off more widely? Has your company participated in one of the global trials? Let us know in the comments below or write to us at [email protected]
Next week we talk business books — what to read and what to gift this Christmas — with an on-location recording at the FT Business Book of the Year Award. Featuring the FT’s senior business writer Andrew Hill and literary editor Frederick Studemann. (Isabel Berwick)
Getting anxious about money? Join us on December 12 for an hour of practical money tips for young people in the cost of living crisis, moderated by FT consumer editor Claer Barrett. Register for your free pass here.
Top stories in the world of work:
Why HR needs to go back to basics: HR departments are burnt out and facing an existential crisis. Perhaps it’s time for HR to do less.
The unexpected perils of sabbatical leave: People who take a break from work aren’t slackers. Sabbaticals often propel people up the corporate ladder, or shoot them off in an entirely new direction.
What really helps workers’ wellbeing: New research shows that while work-related stress is on the rise, workers who have supportive managers and flexible hybrid work are more satisfied with their jobs.
European Business Schools, ranked: FT’s annual rankings come at an important moment for European business schools as Covid, the war in Ukraine and competition for students have piled pressure on institutions.
Business Book of the Year: Chris Miller’s Chip War, a timely account of the global battle for semiconductor supremacy, has been named the Financial Times Business Book of the Year. Roula Khalaf, editor of the FT, called it one of “the biggest economic and business stories of our time”.
How to actually improve your meetings
As we end the year and reflect on how to start afresh in 2023, it’s worth taking stock of your diary. How many of your regular meetings are actually necessary?
A survey by video communications tool mmhmm found that 42 per cent of workers felt that at least a quarter of their meetings were a waste of time. And 79 per cent of those surveyed admitted to multitasking during meetings.
Phil Libin, co-founder and chief executive of mmhmm, is on a mission to get rid of as many meetings as possible — not because they’re inherently bad, but because there are often more efficient ways to collaborate. We share information in three main ways: face to face, over video calls, or through asynchronous methods like recorded video or email. Phil believes that each of these has its own strengths, and they don’t make good substitutes for each other.
Face to face time is good for building relationships and sharing experiences; video calls are good for back-and-forth interaction, clearing up questions and referring to screenshots and diagrams; and pre-recorded video is best for presentations, because viewers can rewatch to digest complex information.
If a meeting is structured around one or two people talking at everyone else, experiment with sending these talks as videos instead. Sending out recordings might, however, make people worry that others won’t watch their presentation. “I feel for that, but it’s sad,” Phil says. “This comes down to the most important divide I see happening — it’s not between in-person and remote. It’s between high trust and low trust.”
That preference to have everyone in the same meeting at the same time could be a sign of a low-trust culture. In a culture of high trust, people can be confident that their video will be watched. Teams might have to book a meeting later to ask follow up questions — but not to review the material in the video itself.
So how can you ensure that a meeting is both justified and productive? If you need participation from a group, that’s when a meeting makes sense. “The best meetings aren’t perceived as meetings — they’re perceived as conversations,” says Phil.
Jim Szafranski, chief executive of video communications company Prezi, adds that if you can’t put together a simple agenda for your meeting, it’s probably not worth having. Prezi found in a recent survey that people who attended larger meetings were more likely to report that those meetings were highly productive.
Meetings aren’t more productive just because they’re bigger. Jim’s hypothesis is that when people know more of their colleagues will be watching, they’re more motivated to better prepare — for example, by designing structured agendas to keep the meeting running smoothly. That structure and preparedness, rather than the size of the meeting itself, is a clue for how to improve any meeting. Form an agenda, time-cap each of the agenda items, and make the agenda visible for participants during the meeting.
“Just because a meeting is small doesn’t mean it’s not high stakes or that people’s time is less valuable,” says Jim. (Sophia Smith)
As workers return to the office, managing sound levels has become an art and a science. Will we finally see the death of the open-plan office as businesses rethink floor plans and layouts?
Reader EnglishRose, who has worked as a lawyer for nearly 40 years, points out several reasons why workers might want a bit of privacy throughout the workday:
Working in an open plan office would be an absolute deal breaker for me. It is not enough that you can wear headphones. It is about food, smell, noise, personal space, privacy rights and just having a space to put your stuff. In the 80s I had my own small office with a wood door, so no one could even look in — that makes things easier if you are adjusting your bra strap, checking your breast milk, doing some yoga movements or stuffing your face with the wonderful breakfast foods I used to get from nearby the office. People’s needs are no different today.
Reader John_CEE is a middle manager at a company that’s transitioned to “hot-desking”, in which desks are shared on rotation or otherwise unassigned. He shares his experience:
Everyone and everything feels temporary — no desk, no mug, no friends around you — so identification with the company drops. And no typical office worker feels responsible for ‘temporary’ desk upkeep. In time everything is half-destroyed, with missing cables. Some people, like parents of newborns or junior staff with too-small flats, are OK with the arrangement because they just don’t have other options. However, to me, this looks like 19-century worker class exploitation: you’re poor so you need to work in substandard environments.
Several readers, including TH, pointed out the hypocrisy of bosses who require everyone to return to in-person work — but who themselves have private offices:
The big boss who’s decided we’re going to have open-plan hot-desking likes to sit out on the floor at one of the open plan desks. It’s completely performative. He still has a lovely big, quiet office he often retreats to for focused work or confidential meetings. The rest of us have to fight it out for the few quiet spaces left.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
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