Does Richard Branson's 3-Day Workweek Actually Work?

Employees want flexible schedules and more hours for the rest of their lives. Businesses have a lot to gain by giving them what they want.

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By John Rampton

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Modern employees demand flexibility at work. They want variable hours, work-from-home options and shorter workweeks, but not every employer is ready to shake things up.

As counterintuitive as it might sound, longer weekends and flexible schedules make employees more productive. Richard Branson recently came out in favor of a three-day workweek, arguing that technology makes it unnecessary (and unproductive) to require humans on the job for 40 hours.

Alternative work schedules might scare traditional workaholics, but the facts are clear: Flexible is better. As industry barriers to entry get lower and the competition for customers (and talent) gets stiffer, the companies that succeed will be the ones that adapt to the new work-life standard.

Related: Amazon Has Joined These Companies in Offering Shorter Workweeks

Working for the weekend.

Even the most dedicated entrepreneurs and employees can't run 24/7. Just as with physical exercise, humans need to take breaks between strenuous work times to recharge. People who try to power through are more likely to hurt their companies than they are to gain a competitive edge by pounding energy drinks to keep going.

Employees and employers alike benefit from alternative work schedules. Flexible hours let employees respond to family needs (like doctor's appointments and school pickup) without worrying about their work. In big cities, employees can avoid the rush hour fueled by the traditional 9-to-5 workplace, saving time and gas money while reducing stress.

That extra bit of power goes a long way toward boosting morale. When employees are free to step back when they like (or can look forward to longer weekends), they don't burn out so quickly. That's great news for employers -- and it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Employers who implement flexible work schedules and shorter workweeks enjoy the perks of having happier employees, such as reduced absenteeism and turnover. Companies with modern work schedules also enjoy better applicant pools of talented people who want to work for leaders who respect their work-life balance. Further, companies with flexible schedules can stay open longer to meet customer needs if some of their employees prefer to work a little later or earlier in the day.

Today's business leaders have every reason to offer flexible work schedules to their employees. However, most of those leaders don't know where to start. You can't just chop Friday out of the workweek and expect everything to sort itself out. Follow these steps to create a transition plan that will increase employee morale, boost productivity and make your company a more appealing destination for top candidates.

Related: 6 Ways Adopting a 6-Hour Workday Boosts Productivity by Fostering a Happier Workplace

1. Ask people what they want.

The phrase "flexible work" means different things to different people. New parents might want opportunities to come and go to care for the kids, while older employees might prefer more banked vacation time to go visit family.

Rather than try to solve the problem alone, ask your employees what's valuable to them. Do they want more work-from-home options? A shorter workweek? To keep things exactly the same? Remember, flexibility means you must accommodate multiple work styles, not shift your workers to a strange new schedule against their will.

2. Provide assurances that you mean what you say.

According to a recent survey from Deloitte and Timewise, 30 percent of workers who took advantage of flexible options felt their employers viewed them as less important than their colleagues. Further, 25 percent said they missed promotions because they didn't stick to the traditional schedule.

Flexible work is great, so don't punish people who take advantage of it. Judge employees not on the time they spend in the office, but on the quality of the work they do. Some departments, like inside sales, probably need to have workers available during standard times. However, if you withhold promotions from programmers because they work from home when you said they could, don't be surprised when you lose your best coders.

The easiest way to normalize flexible work is to take advantage of it yourself. Be visible in the office when you're there, but don't come in on Friday if you tell everyone else they don't need to. People will believe your actions more than your words.

Related: The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off

3. Account for your unique circumstances.

Do you have a weekly meeting with your biggest client every Wednesday morning? Does your office traditionally provide lunch on Fridays? Keep in mind that flexible work schedules don't have to be tailor-made for every employee. You're still allowed to ask people to be present at certain times; just don't go crazy with it.

Get smarter about how you schedule meetings so managers don't feel left out. Most companies hold way too many meetings, anyway -- slash the wasted time, and only meet when necessary. If possible, try to block weekly meetings together so people can spend the rest of their time working uninterrupted.

The future of work is flexible. Companies that learn how to operate in this new environment will prosper, while those that cling to the past will struggle to retain their best workers and match the productivity of their competitors. Communicate with your team to design a plan that results in a better workweek for everyone.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

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