Deliberate Rest

Designing rest for a busy world

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Advance reading copy of SHORTER!

I was at Public Affairs today for some meetings (I’m reading the audiobook ofSHORTER (US | UK) and we’re starting to think about the marketing and publicity campaigns) and they happened to have just received some advance reading copies. So naturally I grabbed a couple!

The first advance reading copy of SHORTER, which just arrived at Public Affairs today (where I happened to be for a meeting). Very exciting to see the real book.

This is always a great moment, and normally I celebrate these kinds of things by going out to dinner or splurging on something, but since I spent the weekend in Maine with my son, I’m considering that trip the present.

Microsoft Japan’s 4-day week

DSCF8656

One of the concerns that some people raise about the 4-day workweek is that while it might work great at little places that are nimble and flexible, it’s not going to work at larger organizations that have a lot of diverse functions. Size isn’t actually the limit people think: as my book SHORTER (US | UK) explains, there are companies in Japan and Korea that have a thousand people or more and have moved to 4-day weeks or 6-hour days In recent years.

This summer, Microsoft Japan successfully trialed a 4-day workweek for its 2300 employees. During the month of August, the company closed on each of the five Fridays, then measured the impact on everything from electricity use and employee happiness, to paper use and employee productivity to the number of meetings the company held.

It should come as no surprise that the results were very positive.

Scenes from Tokyo

There’s some background that isn’t always getting covered in the English-language press about the experiment that is worth noting.

First, the Japanese government and Japanese companies are conducting a lot of experiments now to find improved ways of working, and to cut back on the notorious culture of overwork. Partly this is driven by the aging of the workforce and other social concerns, and partly it’s an effort to promote remote work before the 2020 Olympics, in order to reduce congestion. The Metropolitan Tokyo government, for example, ran “Telework Days 2019” from late July to early September.

Second, the 4-day week challenge also builds on years of earlier Microsoft programs aimed at creating greater flexibility and work-life balance. Microsoft Japan started encouraging remote work in 2012; two years later their “Telecom Day” had become “Telecom Week,” and two years after that, “Working Style Reform Week.” In fact, since 2015, working hours had been reduced 80 hours per year (about 600K hours across the company). Like at Cybozu, they’re trying to broaden flexibility and choice, and accommodate a variety of different family schedules. Microsoft Japan had also been working on shortening meetings, with the aim of resetting the cultural default for a meeting from 60 minutes to 30, and reducing the number of people who attend meetings.

Finally, the trial was designed partly as a test / demonstration of Microsoft Teams, their groupware product. Of course, there’s a long tradition in software companies of using your own products, as both a way to find bugs, and to prove the value of your product.

Scenes from Tokyo

So what was the trial?

In its barest outlines, the trial was a month-long experiment to measure the impact of a four-day workweek in which 1) salaries were not cut, 2) the company made efforts to increase productivity or become more efficient, and 3) people were encouraged to do things outside work. (This being Japan, that kind of official sanction for extracurriculars does send an important signal to many people.)

August had five Fridays this month, so people have five extra days off. Technically these days were called paid leave, so salaries didn’t go down. The company offered subsidized weekend trips and technical courses, and would reimburse up to 100,000 yen spent on courses or for expenses incurred doing volunteer work. Just under 2300 people were involved.

The project was also meant to showcase the potential for Microsoft Teams to make work more efficient and people more productive.

So what happened? The company talked about a three-pronged approach to improving efficiency during the trial, and reported several measures:

Deleting: This category basically includes indicators consuming or spend less time, money, resources, etc. In this category, they report reductions in the number of working days (-25%), pages of paper printed (-57%), and electricity consumption (-23%). The last two are interesting partly because companies generally don’t try hard to measure these (and I confess I didn’t ask about them in interviews I’ve done). The electricity consumption number is especially valuable because our models of the impact of reduced working hours on energy consumption are based on relatively small data-sets so far, and lots of smaller companies that go to 4-day weeks don’t pay their own utility bill (it’s included in the rent), so the more data we have on this, the better.

Improving: This includes improvements in productivity, adoption of more efficient ways of working and collaborating. Labor productivity, measured by sales divided by the number of employees, went up 39.9%, but there were also increases in the adoption of 30-minute meetings (+46%) and remote conferencing (+21%). During the 4-day week, meetings were cut to 15 minutes, and the number of participants capped at five (though in practice the number of meetings increased slightly).

Satisfying: This is a measure of how people feel about the new schedule, and how their work-life balance changed. Overall 94% of employees reported positive experiences, and 92% were satisfied specifically with the 4-day week. (One partial exception was the sales department, which disliked being out of touch with customers on Fridays.) 55% of employees took summer vacations, and 6% took 2+ weeks off. There was a 3x increase in domestic travel subsidies for 1+ week vacations, and a 1.7x increase in sponsored activities.

Regarding Microsoft Teams usage during 4-day week, the highlights were replacement of email with chat (which theoretically is more efficient, though I’m skeptical of this, given the complaints I’ve heard of Slack overload); “time reform” to reduce waste; and support by Microsoft’s AI MyAnalytics, about which no one is saying very much.

It also sounds like Microsoft was working on helping employees build in time for concentrated work or “focus time” into the schedules.

Microsoft Japan says it will implement its own work project “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Winter” this winter, around theme ”Rest smartly, work in short time, enjoy the challenge.” Which could have been the subtitle of my next book.

To me, what’s significant here is that the experiment shows that a large company can implement (albeit temporarily) a 4-day workweek across a number of offices and functions; have substantial, measurable improvements; and create a prototype that they can continue to refine, and maybe make permanent, in the future.

Covers!

As we march towards… well, March and the publication of SHORTER in the US and UK, the covers are now up on the Public Affairs and Penguin Web sites.

Here’s the American edition.

Shorter: US edition

And here’s the UK edition.

Shorter: UK edition

Not only is the art different, but they’re going with a different subtitle– the first time that’s happened to me, but not an unusual thing in publishing.

I find it flattering that I’m identified as “Author of Rest.”

We’re also starting to work on launch events. More on that soon, but things will be happening on both sides of the pond!

It’s ALMOST like the problem isn’t just technical: Contractors target homeless people and BET awards in quest for more non-white faces

As anyone following the state of facial recognition and other automated identification systems knows, these systems suffer from bias problems: some have trouble recognizing facial features or detecting motion if a user has darker skin. The answer, we’re told, is obvious: make the databases bigger. Yet this amazing New York Daily News article by Ginger Adams Otis and Nancy Dillon describes a near-cartoonish level of deception that occurs when a company tries to deal with the problem.

When building the facial recognition system for its new Pixel 4, Google wanted to improve its facial recognition system, so it hired a contractor whose “teams were dispatched to target homeless people in Atlanta, unsuspecting students on college campuses around the U.S. and attendees of the BET Awards festivities in Los Angeles, among other places.”

“It was a lot of basically sensory overloading the person into getting it done as quickly as possible and distracting them as much as possible so they didn’t even really have time to realize what was going on,” he said.

“Basically distract them and say anything. ‘Just go ahead and hit the next button. Don’t even worry about that.’ That kind of stuff. Really just move it along. ‘Let’s go. Hit all the next buttons,’” the former temp said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

It’s almost… almost as if the problem isn’t just with the technology, but somehow runs deeper.

Rest helped me “manage the balance sheet and navigate my part in the P&L through the” crash “in such a way as we made money.“

Banker and portfolio manager Greg McKenna writes in the Australian edition of Business Insider that “As summer approaches, here’s some good news – rest more, work less and get more done:”

Pang said that some of the world’s most creative people… used the restorative properties of rest to “restore their energy while allowing their muse, the mysterious part of their minds that helps drive the creative process, to keep going”.

I myself – one holiday in Yamba in the early days of the global financial crisis (GFC) – had the time to sit on the beach and on the couch to read David Hackett Fischer’s “Great Wave – Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History”. Sure, it was a history of inflation, but it was also coincidentally a history of the economy and banking crises for 800 years.

It set me up perfectly as treasurer of a small bank to manage the balance sheet and navigate my part in the P&L through the GFC in such a way as we made money.

All simply because I took the time to rest, relax, restore, and read.

A great example of how rest is essential and generative even (or maybe especially) during a crisis.

6 reasons why it’s more productive to work less

A while ago I had a piece in CEO Magazine (which I believe is published in Australia and New Zealand) offering “6 reasons why it’s more productive to work less.” I just saw tonight that the piece, which was behind a firewall when it first came out, is now available for free.

Today, overwork is the new normal. A 2015 survey by EY found that half of all managers worked more than 40 hours a week, and 39% were working more hours than in 2010. We treat rest as uninteresting, unimportant, and even a sign of weakness.

There are many reasons people feel the need to put in long working hours, and cultural norms that encourage overwork, but a small army of neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and engineers have shown that overwork is counterproductive in the long term.

They’ve found that regular breaks, outside hobbies, holidays and sabbaticals, sleep, and even daily naps make you a better worker. Why leaders should pay more attention to rest, and encourage the people who work for them to embrace it, too.

Reading it now, some of it anticipates the issues I talk about in my forthcoming book SHORTER (US | UK). Odd how these ideas run around, only semi-recognized, until they turn into something!

4-day workweek is #1 “emerging perk,” according to sketchily-sourced survey of millennials

Yarat workspace
YARAT, Baku

The Global Recruiter reports on the results of a survey by Seatfrog about millennial attitudes to perks.

[T]oday’s young workers are looking for more than just fun or unusual perks to brag about to their friends when starting a new job. While on-site table tennis, a free bar and unlimited snacks has become de rigueur in the war to attract top talent – especially in the technology sector – three in five millennials are dismissing perks as nothing short of a gimmick.

So if foosball tables and a kombucha cart are out, what do they want?

50% list a 4-day workweek as their top “emerging perk.”

Much as I would love to be able to take this at face value and describe it as a Trend Among The Youth, the article doesn’t say anything about the methodology, and Seatfrog is a startup that makes an app that lets you bid on train ticket upgrades, so I’m not sure how this survey connects with their core business and competency.

Kings Cross
Kings Cross Station

So it’s interesting as a straw in the wind, but I’d love to know more about it.

Danish municipality trialing a 4-day week

Odsherred Municipality, a rural peninsula an hour north of Copenhagen, is trialing a 4-day week, according to The Local:

The northwest Zealand municipality’s 300-strong staff is to be given Fridays off, beginning this week, its HR head of department Kirsten Lund Markvardsen said.

A three-year trial of various new initiatives at the local council is the basis for the shorter working week.

Another change brought about by the trial will enable local residents to contact the municipality outside of traditional opening hours on working days.

“Members of the public will be able to call earlier and later in the day in return for us being closed on Friday,” Markvardsen said.

“That should enable us to provide better municipal service whilst giving our staff an extra day off,” she added.

In my forthcoming book SHORTER (US | UK) I talk a little about rural areas or small towns in the UK, Korea, and Japan that are experimenting with shorter workweeks. Sooner or later we’ll start to see places like Odsherred bring together local government, businesses, and schools, and coordinate a shift to a 4-day workweek. As a way to distinguishing itself, to attract people and businesses, and to guarantee that companies and families won’t have to deal with he problems created by having conflicting school and business schedules.

It sounds like the trial will last three years, which is a pretty generous period, and should give me plenty of time to get up there to do some interviews!

The Drum’s 4-day week

London

The Drum, which covers the marketing industry in Europe, has released a video about the 4-day week at The Lab, a London agency works a 4-day week with a 10-hour day. “‘Thursday is the new Friday’ is a phrase that we’re all familiar with but it’s now becoming a reality for workers at companies that are adopting a four-day week,” Drum CEO Diane Young says.*

It’s a good video, as you’d expect from a media company that follows the marketing world, and it does a good job talking about the benefits and challenges of shifting to a 4-day week. As founder Jonny Tooze explains,

I think one of the key things… is that because we are working slightly less hours, and those hours are compressed, we’ve had no real choice but to to improve process and become more efficient. And as a result, actually, the business is a better business.

Later, he expands on the benefits:

Having a workforce that is super-engaged is fundamental to the success of a business. The 4-day working week does improve engagement in business, there’s no two ways about it. If you’ve got higher engagement you have high productivity, you’ll get better work from people, you get more discretionary effort, people will love the business more, and love being part of it more. That will also increase profitability for the business.

And also it will give you a chance to have some time off as leaders…. In my day off, you know, I do a lot of thinking about the business. One of the things that I found, and one of the things I really hoped to find, was boredom: I’ve actually found periods of boredom back in my life…. The natural human reaction to boredom is to get creative, and it forces you to be creative as a person– and that is where life really is, right, that’s where the essence of life is, when you’re in a creative space. If you’re hectic and busy and you know write on emails and social media and running around doing this job and that job and that job, you are just absolutely not creative whatsoever. When you’re sitting, then you’ve got a shitload of time to do whatever the hell you want, and you get inspired; you can be creative and you can just do some amazing stuff of your life.

And that’s what people are doing right now. You’ll find that in the business… the stuff they’re doing is immense and really fun.

Young also interviews several people at the company about how they use their extra time, and how a 4-day week changes daily work. As one person explains,

It’s longer days because we still work the same amount of hours…. It’s more intense as well, but in a way it’s good because it helps you prioritize really on what you actually need to do. So then you focus on the stuff that you actually really really need to get done within a week, and you don’t have as much time to get sidetracked by email… or slack messages coming in all the time. So you just keep your focus where it needs to be.

*As is so often the case, the automated transcript is garbage; for some reason, Scottish accents remain impervious to artificial intelligence. I spent some time in Glasgow and Edinburgh interviewing companies for my new book, and I use an automated service to create transcripts; it’s almost always awesome, but it chokes once you go north of Hadrian’s wall.

Marx on “What is a working-day?”

Capitalism is Boring
Oxford, 2008

From Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1:

“What is a working-day? What is the length of time during which capital may consume the labour-power whose daily value it buys? How far may the working-day be extended beyond the working-time necessary for the reproduction of labour-power itself?” It has been seen that to these questions capital replies: the working-day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose without which labour-power absolutely refuses its services again.

Hence it is self-evident that the labourer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour-power, that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and law labour-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital. Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfilling of social functions and for social intercourse, for the free-play of his bodily and mental activity, even the rest time of Sunday (and that in a country of Sabbatarians!) — moonshine!

But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its were-wolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential.

It is not the normal maintenance of the labour-power which is to determine the limits of the working-day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory, and painful it may be, which is to determine the limits of the labourers’ period of repose.

Capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power, that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

[Paragraph breaks added for ease of reading.]

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