Is the office 5 day work week outdated?

Narau team

Before the pandemic, the idea of an alternative to the office 5 day work week would have seemed pretty unattainable. Office culture has meant that for the better part of a century, productivity has been measured predominantly by physical presence in the workplace, as opposed to work output. But the tide is changing - as the pandemic comes to a close, firms are starting to consider the future of work and how (or even if) remote working methods can be incorporated to maximise productivity, improve employee retention, and save money.

When did the 5 day work week start?

But first, let’s look to the past. While we've all become accustomed to the Monday to Friday, 40 hour, office-based week, this wasn't always the way things were. Before Henry Ford (yes, that Ford) introduced the 5 day week in 1926, the concept of a weekend was pretty rare, with the first recorded mention of the term occurring in an English magazine in 1879;

“In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week’s work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance, he is said to be spending his week-end at So-and-so.”

Saturdays were given as a half-day of work, while Sunday was meant to be spent in prayer (though most 19th century Brits would be more often found drinking and gambling down the pub than at Mass). Ford’s 5 day work week - with 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation, and 8 hours of sleep per day - was instituted not only to give employees more free time (and thus improve their mood), but as a business tactic - more time off would mean more opportunity to travel, meaning more cars would be purchased, meaning ultimately more money in Ford’s pocket. So the 5 day work week was really the world’s most effective marketing ploy (eat your heart out Don Draper).

What does the future work week look like?

With the advent of remote working technologies in the face of the pandemic, more and more employees are calling for change as the traditional office-based 5 day work week is fast becoming out-dated. But the future is still uncertain - while COVID has shown that it’s possible to do most office jobs from home, some employers are resisting the permanent move online. 

Apple recently saw a very public pushback from staff who spoke out against CEO Tim Cook’s plans for a widespread return to the office. In an open letter to Cook and the senior Apple team, employees wrote, “without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our wellbeing, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple.” 

Cook’s reasoning for encouraging a return to work is understandable; he said he missed the “hum of the office” and the feeling that he was not alone, a challenge currently facing many other leaders.

3 case studies for the new work week

But when the 5 day work week is all we know, it’s hard to consider any other option. So today we wanted to take a deep-dive into 3 case studies to see what else the future of work has to offer (and show you how Narau can help you have the best of both worlds).

The outdated model - Goldman Sachs

David Solomon, Goldman Sachs’ Chief Executive, has long criticised the pandemic-induced work-from-home model, insisting it is an “aberration” rather than the “new normal”. The firm has been forced to operate with just 10% of its 34,000 strong staff in office for the past year, something that he claims is not conducive to the “innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture” of the business.

However, the view from the employee side is much different. A simple Google search of Goldman Sachs will show that the press has been littered with stories of young bankers being encouraged to work 80+ hours a week (with an average of 95 hours per week according to a recent internal survey of employees). All of this has a negative knock-on effect on employee mental health and wellbeing, as well as their personal relationships, with one employee even saying the current system was “worse than foster care” and others threatening to leave their jobs if things didn’t change.

So clearly, there is a disconnect between what the senior team and their subordinates want, something that will only continue to worsen rates of employee retention if unresolved.

The fully remote model - Twitter

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have those companies that are choosing to let their employees work from home permanently. Twitter, for example, told staff in an email in 2020 that they could work remotely “forever” if they wished and if they were in a role that made home-working possible. This also wasn’t a decision made entirely based on the pandemic, as CEO Jack Dorsey had previously entertained the idea of fully remote working in 2019.

But the permanent WFH model doesn’t cater to everyone’s needs either. A recent article from The Atlantic, spoke of some of the downsides of remote work, highlighting the biggest ‘losers’ as entry-level employees in less established positions, extroverts who thrive in office environments, and of course, landlords and brokers responsible for leasing office spaces. 

Working-from-home can also hamper productivity and thus reduce performance thanks to the way our brains are wired. For example, seeing a full laundry basket when you’re trying to focus on answering emails or finishing a report triggers a stress-related response which takes us out of that working mindset and into a home-based one. It’s what neuroscientist Dan Levitin has called “a traffic jam of neural nodes trying to get through to consciousness.” 

The hub-and-spoke model - Narau

Now we know we’re a little biased, but if each of these models were a bowl of porridge, this one would be ‘just right’. Hub-and-spoke, meaning companies would have one main ‘hub’ and several other allocated ‘spoke’ offices, combines the traditional 5 day work week with WFH to create the perfect hybrid - and it’s exactly what we here at Narau are trying to implement.

Having that traditional centralised office location gives those extroverted or entry level employees for whom workplace socialisation boosts performance the option to have a physical hub (as well as allowing employers to hang onto some semblance of past working styles). The additional spokes, usually serviced office spaces designed to maximise productivity, are near home so as to reduce commute times (and thus carbon emissions), but not familiar enough to make the mind drift to unfinished dishes or dirty laundry.

Narau, or the AirBNB for workspaces as we like to think of it, has launched an app that connects employees to flexible desks and meeting rooms, to give you (or your staff) the option to work-near-home. With Narau's simple pay-as-you-go booking system, you don't have to worry about being tied down to subscriptions or sneaky overheads. All we want is to change the future of work for the better, and say goodbye to the outdated office-based 5 day work week.