November 26, 2019
Do more with less. That’s the concept that Microsoft took when they set out to test their “Work Life Choice Challenge” initiative in Japan. Offices throughout the country closed their doors every Friday during the test -- providing a three-day weekend for all employees. The results were wildly successful. Yet, while the concept of a four-day workweek sounds great, one can’t help but wonder if it’s possible for IT staff to fully participate as well? After all, technology never sleeps. Let’s take a closer look at Microsoft’s four-day workweek experiment and see if it could be realistically applied to the IT department.
The experiment and results:
Microsoft’s reduced workweek challenge required employees based in Japan to choose from one of two workweek options. The first was a four-day week with ten-hour days or four-day week with eight-hour days. There was no option for a standard five-day workweek. Thus, offices were basically closed Friday to Sunday. During this test, Microsoft noticed significant increases in productivity (40%) despite reducing the number of in-office days by 20%. The company also reportedly lowered operational costs due to reduced electricity consumption and document printing costs.
Another aspect to this test was that scheduled meetings be no longer than 30 minutes in length and that employees use technology to hold these meetings virtually. Thus, it can’t be said that this experiment of moving to a truncated workweek is completely responsible for improved productivity as it’s also been shown that restricting meeting times can do the same. That said, it’s likely that both adjustments had a positive impact on overall performance.
The potential impact on IT teams:
If we were to take this four-day workweek model and apply it to a standard mid- to large-sized organization’s IT department’s service desk team, the results may be different from the Microsoft Japan offices. Looking at the service desk, the question becomes, can they perform their duties with the same quality and responsiveness with 20% less time and with the same number of employees? Possibly, but with a few major caveats. For example, if the service desk is operating on a lean staffing model, members may become overwhelmed with the higher number of problem tickets being fielded in the truncated week. This is even with the support of modern NoOps technologies. Additionally, with the assumption that employees will begin leveraging communication and collaboration technologies to help speed up their productivity in a shortened work-week, it’s likely that the number of support tickets will grow as opposed to shrink.
What about the impact on the IT department’s infrastructure support teams? For those belonging to data security, network, cloud/server and software development teams, the potential for having a four-day workweek is a definite possibility. That said, these teams never truly have “days off” in the first place. If infrastructure components fail, a major security vulnerability is discovered, or a software bug requires patching, these IT employees are commonly required to work nights and weekends to bring services back online. Additionally, one must keep in mind that these employees work very closely with hardware and software technology manufacturers. Because of this, they are often required to work with these partners on their off days. Working long and non-standard hours is simply part and parcel of these employees’ jobs.
So, is it possible for IT staff to participate in four-day workweeks?
If the business is willing to adjust IT first responder staffing needs -- and is willing to take on some risk that response times to resolve infrastructure, application and security issues could increase -- it is possible to have an IT team participate in shortened workweek schedules. Of course, as anyone that’s been in IT for a while will tell you, working schedules can vary drastically from day-to-day and week-to-week. Instead, it all boils down to the operational status of the technology supported that dictates IT employee schedules. Thus, if an IT team does decide to shift to a four-day workweek, one must assume that employees will be required to be heavily flexible and ready to return to the office at a moment’s notice.
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