Karl Watts explains how Sunny Accountants is bringing in a shorter week to improve productivity and growth
One of the key lessons from the pandemic for many businesses was the importance of being adaptable. Changing and flexing the business to the needs of your staff and customers will remain just as relevant post-pandemic as well.
That is why, as businesses look to the future, they need to be willing to take risks and improve their agility if they are going to meet the demands of the modern, digital world.
We believe we are taking an important first step for our profession by exploring the feasibility of a four-day working week – something that many of the largest firms in our profession are yet to implement.
Unlike some businesses, which are implementing a hybrid system of remote working, this is not working four long days of work or working the other day from home. This is a genuine opportunity to work just four days instead of five, for the same rate of pay.
While this may seem like we are reducing the time we are available to our clients or maybe perhaps require us to reduce our client base to provide benefits to our team, the opposite is true.
For us at Sunny Accountants, the four-day week is about speeding up our plans for growth and making our organisation more adaptable to the needs of our clients.
To achieve this, we won’t even be closing our office one day a week or reducing our availability to clients in any way, rather we will have more people within the firm to move around to meet the demands of our clients as and when they need us.
This may mean that we have people spread equally over different days so that clients always have a recognisable point of contact and someone who can assist them.
The implementation of new technology, such as online accounting certainly helps us achieve this, but this does not mean we intend to reduce the quality of service our clients receive.
The path to change
The events of the last 12 months have forced both employees and employers at many firms to reassess how they work, initially in response to the pandemic, but also in the long term to reflect the changing needs of society.
From this, an increased interest has grown in flexible working. Whether it is a combination of home working or allowing staff to choose their own hours, many of the world’s largest companies are now implementing radical approaches to work.
As far back as the 1930s, economists, such as the influential John Maynard Keynes, predicted that society would eventually eliminate the need to work five days.
However, nearly a century on and this concept still largely remains theoretical, despite studies by the likes of Microsoft showing that productivity could increase and costs could be brought down.
How does it work?
Many trials have found that people working a shorter week naturally reduce the time it takes them to complete a task by finding new efficiencies, while organisations hold fewer, shorter meetings, with fewer people attending.
The effect of this is that people are more engaged with productive work and waste less time on tasks or activities that do not assist productivity.
Beyond the impact on businesses, the idea of a four-day week brings many societal and economic advantages as well. Several economists have, for example, suggested that a four-day workweek could be an effective way to stimulate the global economy after the pandemic, especially in sectors like hospitality, retail and leisure which have been badly affected by the restrictions placed on everyday life.
While much of the recent news about flexible working has focused on the efforts of the world’s largest corporations, there are also many other firms out there, such as our own firm, that are implementing concepts like the four-day week.
Time to take a risk
Having worked with many entrepreneurs, we know the importance that risk and failure can play within a business and as many successful business owners will tell you, you have to sometimes fail to eventually succeed.
While we don’t anticipate the entire scheme failing, we are certainly prepared for challenges along the way. We know there will be obstacles, but we hope to embrace them and learn from them to create a work environment that fosters productivity, innovation and loyalty.
Where we think we can certainly succeed is in adapting to the needs of both our clients and our workforce so that we continue to deliver exceptional advice and support to our clients. This element of our firm will never change.
Payback in staff retention
As an employer paying someone the same amount while they work fewer hours may seem like a poor deal but taking such a narrow-minded view fails to realise the important balance between productivity, quality and the recruitment and retainment of talented professionals.
If someone works a 40-hour week but for a quarter or more of that time, they are only 70 per cent productive, perhaps because they are tired, distracted or burnt out, then really as an employer you are losing those hours of unproductive work.
You also run the risk of delivering services that don’t meet the high expectations of modern consumers.
However, if staff are incentivised to work harder over four days to enjoy a long weekend, and an altogether better work-life balance, then you should lose nothing but gain a workforce that is motivated to enjoy their time off.
At a time when many firms are finding it hard to attract and retain the right talent, we believe that the four-day working week is a great benefit to both our existing team and new starters.
I suppose, ultimately, time will tell on whether this plan is a success, but we have every confidence that we can achieve, as much, if not more, with our new agile working arrangements.
AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.