The four-day work week has clear appeal – who doesn’t want every weekend to go long? – but what about working seven days a week? Employees at design consultancy Arup can work any day of the week, but it doesn’t mean reverting to pre-industrial revolution working schedules. Instead, Arup’s 6,000 UK-based staff can choose to work their weekly hours whenever suits them – even on a Sunday, if they need days off during the working week.
Arup first trialled the seven-day idea in Liverpool in 2019 and Queensland, Australia in 2018. In Liverpool, 82 per cent of staff flexed their hours, with a third choosing to work on the weekend at least once over the three-month trial. It worked, with nine in ten employees saying their productivity improved while giving them a better work/life balance.
Employees make use of the flexibility for personal reasons such as childcare – Jerome Frost, chair of Arup UK, India and EMEA, takes some afternoons off in order to spend time with his partner, a shift-working NHS employee. Andy Pennington, Liverpool office leader, says most of the weekend work was to complete projects on a deadline. “Traditionally, weekend working builds resentment, as you know you’ve got another five days of work ahead of you – it becomes a burden,” he says. “Taking the Monday or Tuesday off lets them have downtime to rest without guilt.”
The benefit isn’t just for staff, but also Arup’s clients. “Our UK business is very international – it’s all over the world,” says Frost. That already meant shifting work to meet local time zones and customs, as in much of the Middle East the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. “That was probably the primary motivator, but that came together with changing demands,” he says.
The Liverpool pilot was guided by three principles: considering the impact on clients, colleagues, and staff. “If you’re working on a project with someone and didn’t tell them you were taking Friday off, they’d be left high and dry,” says Pennington. On the flip side, if someone does take an afternoon off, be encouraging rather than making a snide remark suggesting slacking. “You try to be positive and supportive,” he says. “Making a negative comment can mean they feel guilty.” It helps, he adds, to have leadership visibly embrace flexible working to show it’s really okay.
Arup isn’t the only company embracing a seven-day working week. Design agency BrightCarbon has long offered such flexibility, though none of its 87 employees regularly work on the weekend, says director Richard Goring. “Sometimes they might change their schedules for a deadline, but people generally want more weekend, not less,” he says. Instead, most people worked longer hours to cut their week to four days, with Monday, Wednesday and Friday the most popular days to take off.
At gaming startup Stakester, all employees have made use of its seven-day flexible working policy, but certain roles tend to flex the most. “We find that those whose work is more focused and project-based, such as the more tech-based roles like developers, tend to work in evenings or weekends in irregular working patterns,” says CEO Tom Fairey. “Those with more customer-facing or managerial roles seem to naturally prefer working in the daytime with other members of the team.”
While managing people’s working days is an additional burden, basic technology helps. Arup simply uses scheduling tool Shifts, built into Microsoft Teams, while BrightCarbon has staff mark which days they’re in the office using Outlook and Teams. Goring says it’s worth the extra effort, as staff are happier and equally productive, and he believes it’s good for retention. Do people take the piss? “If someone is trying to alter their hours to avoid oversight or management, you’ll know,” says Goring. “If you treat staff like adults, they act like adults.”
And there’s nothing more adult than working a few hours on a Sunday morning so you can hit up the pub on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, after all.
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