Is The 4-Day Week The Future Of Work? A Q&A With Joe O’Connor
Can spending less time on the clock increase your team’s productivity?
Joe O’Connor thought so. He’s the CEO of 4DayWeek.com, a company that aims to change our collective mindsets about the traditional 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday way.
It certainly sounds counterintuitive – yet many organizations are willing to give it a try.
In fact, Search Engine Journal is experimenting with a four-day workweek right now.
Joe is currently leading the 4 Day Week Global pilot program, and in the first six months of 2022, 150 companies and 7,000 of their employees participated in six-month, four-day-a-week coordinated experiences.
Joe recently joined SEJ Show host Loren Baker for a podcast episode about helping your marketing team succeed within the 4-day workweek structure.
We had the opportunity to connect with Joe after interviewing him on the podcast and ask some additional questions about how he’s grown in this profession as an advocate for flexible working and an agent for organizational change.
Here, he talks about leadership, productivity, trends, and the skills we’ll need to future-proof our jobs and companies.
Growth in the four weeks mindset
Miranda Miller: What path led you to become the Director of the Global Pilot Program and now the CEO of 4 Day Week Global?
Joe O’Connor: In my previous role as Campaigns Director for Ireland’s largest public service association Fórsa, I organized an international conference on the future of working time in 2018 and founded and launched the Four Day Week Ireland Campaign Coalition in 2019.
She has been collaborating with the leading 4 Day Week Global founders, Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart since 2019 as well.
When I developed a pilot and research project for four days in Ireland last year, it was in line with their plans to develop a global pilot and a major US campaign, so I joined the organization full time in September 2021.
At the same time, I moved from Ireland to New York City with my partner and my spaniel, where I’m also leading a research project on work time reduction as a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University’s ILR College.”
Miranda Miller: Tell us a little bit about what you do. How has this business model changed the way you do your work?
Joe O’Connor: “I’ve learned a lot from this kind of first-hand interaction with a wide range of very different companies that have adopted new and innovative working practices, identified process improvements, and adopted new technologies to make their businesses efficient enough to deliver five days’ worth of production in four.
Not only has this enhanced my ability to support leaders in figuring out how to make this work for their business, but it has also enabled me to implement these strategies to make our organization as lean and efficient as possible.
This is a constant work in progress – the four-day workweek and smart work is ongoing fitness, not a one-time decision.”
Miranda Miller: At your leadership level, how is your time divided between organizational strategy, people management, and other activities?
Joe O’Connor: “Although we are growing rapidly, we are still a relatively small organization with a fairly well-established organizational structure, so I remain deeply involved in implementing our day-to-day operations and launching global pilot programs.
The incredible organic momentum behind the global Four Days a Week movement, particularly in the past six months or so, means we’ve had to get very smart about responding to this fast-moving space.
In recent months, I have been able to devote more of my time to proactively charting our future course. We are building capabilities to achieve our goal of running our pilot program 4 days a week quarterly in every time zone and region by the second quarter of 2023.”
Productivity, Leadership and the 100-80-100™ Model
Miranda Miller: Can you share the top two influencers that shape the way you think about productivity and leadership?
Joe O’Connor: “One of the things that inspired me was my experience with public sector workers in Ireland, where several working fathers – mostly women – collectively told us in a large survey that they chose to work four days or reduced schedules after returning from parental leave, for reasons of balance. between work and life and childcare.
However, even though they were down to 80% of their salary, they still felt like their responsibilities were the same, the expectations of their role were the same, and their output was the same.
This tells us two things: One, we have a huge problem of gender equality in the workplace that a global four-day week could be revolutionary in addressing.
And second, when it comes to productivity, Parkinson’s Law holds true—work tasks will expand to fill the time available to complete them.
Our founder, Andrew Barnes, has also inspired me in this regard. The historic four-day-a-week experiment he led at his company in 2018, Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, was driven primarily by productivity.
By shifting the focus away from the number of hours spent in the office, in the office, or around the clock to the work that is produced and the results that are achieved, he can deliver better business performance while changing the lives of his employees for the better.
The 100-80-100™ model he pioneered in this experiment – 100% pay, 80% time, for a 100% commitment to production – is now changing the world of work, as it is adopted by hundreds of companies worldwide under our guidance. “
Prepare a 4-day week program for success
Miranda Miller: What productivity tips can you share with companies looking to make the four-day workweek campaign part of their culture?
Joe O’Connor: For many companies, the four-day week is already here. It is buried under the rubble of wasteful practices and outdated processes, such as lack of discipline in meetings, unnecessary distractions and introductions to the workday, and misuse of technology.
The four-day week can provide a transformational compulsion function in your company to address these shortcomings and align with the power of the company’s productivity drive while motivating employees for the transformative benefits that an extra day of work can bring.
While leadership must be very clear in defining and communicating the direction of travel, including the purpose, objectives, and metrics for the experience, they then need to empower their staff to know the details.
The world’s most detail-oriented CEO doesn’t know the day-to-day intricacies of each employee’s jobs well enough to redesign them.
The largest and most sustainable productivity gains have been achieved by companies that have adopted a bottom-up approach to execution, enabling employees to make the changes to work practices needed to redesign their work.
Too often, some leaders think about potential problems and obstacles in the executive group rather than asking their employees for ideas and solutions.”
Tips for a future in your career and business
What’s next for the world of work? What are the key trends/practices companies need to start adopting, and how can leaders prove themselves in the future?
Joe O’Connor: “When we started working with companies to experiment with or transition to reduced hours in 2019, the primary reasons were to address productivity issues and burnout concerns.
While both are still important, they have been overtaken by recruitment and retention as the single biggest reason to attract leaders to the four days of the week.
In a highly competitive job market, innovative and forward-thinking leaders know that if they can perform four days a week without sacrificing organizational priorities, they can give themselves a very significant competitive advantage in the war for talent.
While many companies may not be competitive in the top 1% of pay, they can compete in offering among the top 1% of workweeks.
The biggest benefits will flow for the longest time to the early adopters.
Companies such as Atom Bank in the UK have seen a 500% increase in applications for job openings since moving to a four-day week.
Healthwise, a large non-profit here in the US introduced a four-day week last August to combat retention issues and has since seen unplanned employee turnover drop to zero.
Leaders now need to ask themselves: Is my biggest risk trying the four-day week and failing, or is my biggest competitor adopting this new way of working first and reaping the rewards?“
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Featured image: Courtesy of Joe O’Connor/4 Day Week Global