Fridays and telework

Lucy Kellaway, a Financial Times columnist, came up with a great idea in her column earlier this week.

In Britain they are cutting about a million jobs. In France, they have axed the Bastille Day garden party. All governments are looking for ways big and small to cut spending. But there is a better way that no one has yet considered: cut Fridays.

By making Thursday the last day of the working week, 20 per cent would be cut off the wage bill, yet, miraculously, productivity would hardly fall.

She continues with some scant evidence that productivity falls as the week progresses, reaching virtually zero by the end of Thursday. (She tells readers the evidence is scant so a good research project for someone). When I googled 'what weekdays are workers most productive?' what popped up was the report of a survey by Robert Half International

After getting over the Monday blues it appears that Tuesday is the most productive day for employees, according to a recent survey by Robert Half International.

The company polled 150 senior executives about their most productive day, and almost six in 10 listed Tuesday as the day they get most work done. As expected, the least productive day was Friday,

"In addition to serving as a 'catch-up' day after the weekend, Monday is when many regularly scheduled meetings occur, which can decrease the time available to complete tasks," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. "Many view Tuesday as an opportunity to focus their efforts and establish momentum for the rest of the week." This survey was done in 2008 so I wonder if things have changed?

The reason I'm interested in Fridays is on two counts. 1) People in the office I'm currently working wtih are asking if we can have a 'dress down' policy for Fridays 2) There is a telework policy and most people telework on Fridays. So here's the question – do we need a dress down policy if most people are off site (and presumably dressing down, if at all) while they're teleworking?

My next question is – if people are not productive on Fridays should we be allowing them to telework that day – would it be better to have them sitting in the office under close supervision on a Friday in which case a dress down policy might make them feel better about coming in on Friday – or is Lucy Kellaway's point correct that people can do their five days work in four ?

If this is the case a) we could run a four day week and/or b) we could have a dress down policy that was for a different day of the week c) we could allow people to telework only on the day that was also the dress down day, and one of the most productive days (it turns out this is Tuesday).

But then there's the question of telework. We've started to ask whether we should change the telework policy so people can telework more than the 'allowed' one day a week. There are several views on this and I was interested to see another report – this one on teleworking commissioned by Microsoft and published in March 2010. It says:

Despite high costs for maintaining acres of office cubicles and the attendant facilities expenses, many U.S. companies are still skeptical that employees can be as productive working from home as from a regulated office environment, according to a new study.

Microsoft commissioned the online survey (available here as PDF), which found a sizable disparity between workers' and managers' viewpoints.

"Sixty percent of respondents to the Microsoft Telework survey — conducted among 3,600 employees in 36 cities nationwide — say they are actually more productive and efficient when working remotely," said a statement accompanying the survey results.

So now I have an emerging idea, establish a 5-day productivity baseline (how comes later), run a four day week with no teleworking at first and see if it matches or exceeds the 5-day baseline, then introduce one or more days teleworking, and again measure against the baseline.

We may end up working a three day week being as productive as in a five day week – especially if we're wearing whatever clothes we feel most productive in.