What Microsoft’s Productivity Test Means for Our Work Schedules

A recent experiment conducted by Microsoft’s Japan arm tested the effect of a shorter work week on employee productivity. The results speak for themselves. In a recently released report, productivity jumped by 40 percent during this experiment.

All other working conditions during this abbreviated work week remained the same: the employees were still paid the same amount, and they still had to perform the same amount of work. Overall, the result was a positive win — even the electricity bill was lowered by nearly 25 percent due to the office being less populated by the end of the week. The experiment also reduced the length of meetings, from 60 minutes to 30 minutes.

Would this approach work for employees in the U.S.? For some businesses, this may already be happening. For those working for themselves or as contractors, this may already be the case as well. But bringing a more traditional four day format to the work place for more Americans may be the trick to boosting productivity overall.

The truth is, productivity in the U.S. is declining. Despite the best efforts of companies to automate processes and eliminate extra steps, productivity showed its first decline in almost four years in Q3 of 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. So what gives? Technology is at its highest point and continuing to advance every day. More companies are focusing on workplace perks and a better work life balance. And yet, productivity has seemed to slow in recent months.

Perhaps introducing a jolt of fresh motivation into the national workforce would help with this. Of course, not every industry can afford to take a full day off of operations — but what if employees were given the option to work shorter weeks? By overlapping these employees’ schedules, it might be possible to still provide that boost without sacrificing production from the company.

Microsoft says it plans to conduct another test of a hybrid or shortened work week in the winter, and the findings from this experiment may yield some positive changes for many industries here in the U.S. And they aren’t the first to think of the idea, to be certain. Another example of a company in New Zealand that tested a four day week model also showed positive gains in employee productivity and workplace morale after making the switch.

It well may be that businesses in the U.S. are behind the times, and this wouldn’t be surprising for some. Many other companies have embraced different types of work schedules than what are commonly found in the States. And while many say that the always on, hustling culture of the U.S. is what sets the country apart, an increasing number of people are beginning to seek life beyond work. This may, in turn, lead to more pressure on more traditional businesses to explore their workplace culture as crops of younger companies enter the workforce with newer, fresher ideas and, purportedly, happier and more productive employees.