Microsoft’s Japan offices recently experimented with shorter work weeks, and the results provide a glimmer of hope that large companies can alter the workweek and save us from collectively burning out.
In August, Microsoft introduced the “Work Life Choice Challenge,” during which the Tokyo offices were closed every Friday. The company also pressed workers to limit meetings to 30 minutes or less or to avoid meetings altogether by instead holding remote group discussions on an internal chat app. During the month of three-day weekends, workers got their regular paycheck. As CNBC reports, the “challenge” gave 2,300 employees the chance to experience a healthier work-life balance.
The notion of a 4-day workweek has been gaining momentum in recent years. Last year, 240 workers at the New Zealand trust management firm Perpetual Guardian worked for only four days a week in March and April. After observing a 20 percent increase in productivity, the company permanently implemented the policy last October. But Microsoft Japan is likely the largest company to trial the concept since business leaders like Richard Branson began advocating for flexible workweeks.
Microsoft Japan recently shared the results of its trial, which showed that during the month of short workweeks, productivity was 40 percent higher than it was during August of last year. That percentage was based on sales per employee.
The report showed that 92 percent of employees were happy with the short workweek. The company also noted other benefits—59 percent fewer pages printed and 23 percent less electricity used.
Microsoft Japan announced it plans to hold a similar exercise this winter. A Microsoft spokesperson would not tell Gizmodo whether it has any plans to trial short workweeks in the United States, but said the company is “always looking for new ways to innovate and leverage our own technology to improve the experience for our employees around the globe.”
Hopefully that means the company is considering trying flexible workweeks in its American offices. If U.S. corporations are going to start exploring how to institute better work-life balance among employees and boost productivity, Big Tech would be an ideal place to start.