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An increasing number of countries are considering implementing a four-day work week. Picture: 123RF/DMITRYDEMIDOVICH
An increasing number of countries are considering implementing a four-day work week. Picture: 123RF/DMITRYDEMIDOVICH

Tokyo — Four days a week, no meetings, you choose the hours and work where you want. The coronavirus pandemic has sped up a transition into more flexible and diverse working hours around the world, opening up ways of working that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

“The traditional model of how we work has been broken,” Meghana Reddy, vice-president of video messaging service Loom, told the Reuters Next conference.

“I think there’s a real opportunity there to just say, let’s have work fit into our lives in a better way, as opposed to us fit our lives into work.”

Loom has moved to a flexible model where employees may or may not come to the office and even move to live in other places without being penalised for doing so. Meetings have also been reduced to a minimum.

Far from this renowned Silicon Valley model of flexibility, Jin Montesano, chief people officer at luxury toilet maker Lixil, has managed to bring worker-centred policies to one of Japan’s most emblematic companies, navigating traditional “salaryman” culture.

Japan is known for its rigid work structure, where long hours at the office symbolise a strong work ethic. However, in recent years, cases of so-called “overwork” where employees have committed suicide or suffered health issues have forced the country to reckon with its work culture.

Lixil decided to get rid of core working hours and morning meetings, while also revisiting the concept of what an office should be.

“It’s no longer the place to work ... wherever you get work done is where you work,” Montesano said during a panel discussion on the Future of Work. “What we want to do is reimagine the office as a place for communication, collaboration, brainstorming, reconnecting, and having that ability to maybe have a deeper conversation that you just can’t achieve online.”

Spanish high-end apparel brand Desigual introduced a four-day workweek at its headquarters in Barcelona in November, raising expectations in the business and political arena in Europe, where some other pilot trials have been launched.

No employee works on Friday and they can choose to work remotely on any of the four working days. The company has subsidised half the cost of the 13% reduction in working hours, with employees overwhelmingly agreeing to a 6.5% pay cut.

At a time of concern about the resignation of millions of workers from their jobs, a trend known as The Great Resignation, all three executives agreed that their policies are serving to attract new talent.

Reconciling the needs of customer service, or face-to-face shifts in factories or shops, were among the main challenges faced by the women entrepreneurs. But Coral Alcaraz, chief people officer at Desigual, said it is critical to tackle them: “The future of work is not the future anymore.” It has become the present.



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