Dell trials 4-day workweek, massive UK pilot of shortened week begins

Hopes to tap into pool of tech workers who aren't keen to be tied down for 40 hours per week

Dell employees in the Netherlands will be able to work four days a week from this month, a director of Dell Technologies Netherlands has confirmed to The Register.

The news comes just before the biggest ever 4-day working week trial begins in the UK.

Isabel Moll, newly appointed vice president and general manager at Dell Netherlands, told us the part-time pilot has already been rolled out by the Dutch and Argentinian operations.

"On April 1 we welcomed our first starter, and we're currently in the late phases of the interviewing process with [another]. We're hoping to welcome many other candidates in the near future, once the word spreads more and more."

She noted that the scheme was also open to existing employees, with pay corresponding to hours worked.

Speaking to local financial news daily Financieele Dagblad, Dell GM Moll described the April Argentinian and Dutch pilot as addressing both the issues of scarcity in the labor market and a way to bring in a more diverse group, including women and younger people, who are no longer interested in working until "they drop" or have other obligations.

She said such people often end up leaving the sector, to its detriment, or use their technical skills in other sectors which have less intensive hours, telling the paper: "Working harder won't pay off, because the pond is empty..."

As for scarcity in the market, the Netherlands has a large pool of part-timers to draw from. According to data from The World Bank, the part-time workforce in the Netherlands is over 55 percent, with Dell noting this went up to 60 percent for women in the Dutch labor force. This compares to 43 percent in Germany, 41 percent in the UK, and just 28 percent in the United States, although these figures are not broken down into business sectors. For the Netherlands, then, it's an opportunity to make hires from a group it wouldn't usually have access to when trying to fill a five-day-a-week role.

Moll told us she knows from her network in the IT world that other American tech companies who have bases in the country, including Microsoft, are watching the pilot closely.

She told The Register via email: "Other big American tech companies in the Netherlands did not adjust their KPIs to the amount of worked hours up until now and are looking at our pilot with warm interest."

The US is one of the top 10 countries for most overtime worked, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Latest figures from the US bureau of labor say that around 33 percent of developers and IT professionals work overtime, clocking an average of 7.4 hours extra (declared) per week.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, for a period of six months stretching from June to December this year, 3,000 workers across 60 companies will work for four days instead of five with no loss of pay, among them workers from Canon's UK arm.

According to the Guardian, the UK trial is being run by Autonomy (the British think tank, not the software company controversially acquired by HP), Boston College in the US, the British universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the campaign groups 4 Day Week Global, and 4 Day Week UK.

Crucially, Dell Netherlands' four-day work week trial will avoid cramming five days' worth of work into the four days, with Moll stating: "For now we're piloting four days a week of eight hours. However, it's a pilot, so three days of eight hours will definitely also be an option in the future."

Other working hours experiments have condensed five working days' worth of hours into four days using the so-called "4×10 schedule," (four 10-hour shifts) tested by Atlassian, among others.

According to one of the broader studies of the past few years, performed from 2015 to 2019 in Iceland, productivity gains made up for fewer working hours [PDF], although it is worth noting that test subjects still worked more than four days a week. Some 2,500 people took part in the study, which again was backed by Autonomy along with Icelandic NGO Alda. In the study, the working week was reduced from 40 hours to 35 or 36 hours and 40-hour pay levels were maintained. Productivity either stayed the same or improved, the research found.

Critics say that the idea is expensive to implement, and that hand-offs between shift workers can affect business continuity, with clients of four-day workers potentially impacted as they switch between staffers and teams. On the question of expenditure, the "cost component" is "actually a bit more complex and nuanced than just saying it's a 20 percent saving," Dell's Moll told us.

Retaining and attracting new staff

Separate from the working hours issue is the question of in-person, hybrid, and fully remote work, which – similar to a reduction in working hours – is being seen by some as an antidote to the Great Resignation. Software companies appear to be adjusting their product sets for a post-pandemic world where people work from both their homes and the office.

Microsoft and Google have continued to push productivity software services via cloud, with Redmond promising something called "Windows 365 Offline."

Microsoft, incidentally, has productivity software as part of its Workplace Analytics platform called Week in the Life that discerns levels of collaboration among workers, among other things. It looks at aspects like "meeting hours" and "email hours" as well as "after-hours collaboration hours" – although it notes that the intended purpose of monitoring "after-hours activity" is to "help identify employees who are at risk of getting overworked or have an unsustainable workload."

Meanwhile, the popularity of remote tools like VMware's Horizon virtualization platform is making them a target for opportunistic attackers.

Even as countries loosen COVID restrictions, HP has just spent $3.3 billion on office telco firm Poly, seen by many as a bet on the future of remote and hybrid work as the tech will help enterprises turn their meeting rooms into hybrid-capable spaces.

The fact that business is selling into the trend doesn't mean that executives have fully bought into the idea, though. A 31-country, 31,000-person survey last month showed a clear disconnect between the needs of managers and employees, with half of the leaders in IT roles reckoning their company needed full-time in-person staffers in the coming year while over half of the staffers already performing "hybrid" work (some in-office, some WFH) were actually considering a shift to fully remote work.

Dell said in August 2020 it anticipated 60 percent of its 160,000-strong workforce would not return to an office permanently after the pandemic ends.

Reg readers seem to feel that being given the ability to work from home is a good motivator, with most saying they preferred two days in the office, three at home. Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri, meanwhile, is in the other camp, and has said that "one or two days is a good amount" of "family time" and "perhaps five days is too much." We wonder why he would say that.

While a shorter working week and hybrid work are both creative ideas to address chronic staff shortages and issues with staff retention, we have to mention there's another method of persuasion: a bit of a salary top-up. What's your biggest motivator? More free time to enjoy what's left of your life; working in pajamas with a 30-second commute; or cold hard cash? Have your say in the comments below. ®

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