The 'future of work' is five-hour days and four-day weeks, says top US businessman Jack Kelly

The founder of a successful recruitment company is advocating for five-hour days and four-day weeks, saying the COVID-19 pandemic proves we're able to adapt to new ways of working.

In a piece for Forbes, senior contributor and Wecruitr founder Jack Kelly said last year's lockdowns "shattered the myth" we need to be in the office every day.

He says it's "high time we confront other work taboos as well" - including the requirement to work eight-hour days and five-day weeks.

Kelly urges employers to consider carving three or four hours from each work day, or a day off a week. He also advocates for flexible work schedules that allow people to come and go from the office when it's most convenient for them.

He is hugely critical of workplaces' obsession with meetings as "nothing gets done" at them, and believes long work days just encourage tardiness and distractions.

"It doesn't have to be for everyone," Kelly writes. "For those interested, the tradeoff is that they will have to get in on time, work diligently without any internet shopping searches and remain dedicatedly focused.

"If you are able to produce what is expected or exceed expectations, you're out by around 2:00 p.m."

Kelly references an article by Tower Paddle Boards CEO Stephan Aarstol, who implemented a five-hour work day and said it has managed his employees' energy more efficiently and incentivises them to make better decisions on how to manage their time.

While Aarstol was initially a major advocate for reduced-hour days, however, he later revealed his workers lost their attachment to the company and one another after he implemented the change, and some of them left.

Kelly says businesses waste time holding meetings at which "nothing gets done".
Kelly says businesses waste time holding meetings at which "nothing gets done". Photo credit: Getty Images

Tower Paddle Boards' five-hour work day schedule has now been scaled back so it's only available in the summer months, but Kelly argues that while it wasn't a roaring success, "you have to start somewhere".

He also points to the success of a four-day work week trial at Microsoft Japan - in which productivity increased 40 percent - as proof that truncated work schedules genuinely work.

Kelly even quotes Kiwi Nick Bangs - the managing director of Unilever New Zealand, which is trialling a four-day week - as saying he hoped it would see the company "embrace ways of working that provide tangible benefits for staff and for business".

At the very least, however, Kelly says businesses should be open to flexible working arrangements.

"It could change our entire society," he wrote. "People will become more relaxed. They'll have a greater say and control over their lives. They won't feel imprisoned in gleaming skyscrapers, surrounded by crowded, dirty cities.

"It would help both the workers and management. We all know that we hit a wall after staring at a computer screen for hours on end. There comes a point of diminishing returns.

"We'd be better off getting into the flow, do the best we can, then call it a day and come in fresh the next morning or afternoon."

Last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern encouraged businesses to consider a four-day work week in a Facebook Live, saying COVID-19 had taught businesses that productivity can be "driven out" of flexible working hours.

Quizzed about it again last week following the release of a University of Otago report recommending four-day weeks, Ardern said while it's not something the Government is looking into, she was open to hearing from organisations that have trialled them.

The four-day work week concept has been popularised by Silicon Valley tech firms like Microsoft and more recently European nation Finland, whose progressive Prime Minister Sanna Marin also wants to implement six-hour days.

Kiwi trustee services provider Perpetual Guardian made headlines in 2018 for introducing the policy, and founder Andrew Barnes says the results have been remarkable.

"Our productivity has gone up, our profits have gone up, our staff retention has improved, our stress levels have dropped," Barnes told The AM Show last year.