SA tech firms join four-day workweek trial

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 06 Feb 2023

Several South African ICT firms are among the 29 businesses that have signed up to become participants in the Four-Day Week SA Pioneer Pilot, scheduled to kick-off next month.

SA’s first trial of the four-day workweek will see 500 business owners and employees testing out a reduced hour working week, in a bid to improve workplace productivity, wellbeing, and talent attraction and retention.

ICT firms that have signed up for the local pilot include: ICT security company Precision Vehicle and Asset Tracking, IT software development company Marais Software Solutions, IT services firm Elnatan IT Solution, online recruitment firm RecruitMyMom, online media database Encyclomedia and cloud accounting firm Intigrate.

The initiative is spearheaded by global non-profit Four-Day Week Global, which says it has supported hundreds of companies from a variety of industries all over the world to run successful four-day week trials.

Despite industry insiders expressing concerns this trend may not be feasible for all sectors in SA, Four-Day Week Global says the model − an evolution of remote working − is proven to deliver improved company productivity, efficiency and performance, alongside greater employee wellbeing, engagement and work-life balance.

Four-Day Week SA opened its local office last year, and says it has a growing base of member organisations interested in supporting the idea, as the future of work evolves in SA – shaped by hybrid work models and emerging technologies.

Karen Lowe, director of Four-Day Week SA, says there will be a four-week intensive on-boarding process to get participants ready for the start on 1 March.

The trial will run for six months, guided by experts at Four-Day Week Global, which is conducting trials around the world. It will be underpinned by research before, mid-way and at the endpoint of the trial – conducted by Boston College and Stellenbosch Business School, according to Lowe.

“To have 29 companies joining South Africa’s first-ever pilot of the four-day week is testament to the forward-thinking of business in this country. Pilot participants are embracing the idea that it’s time to change the nearly 100-year-old convention of a five-day week.

“Reduced work hours are a central tenet to the future of work, and they are willing to give it a try. There is potentially so much to be gained and nothing to lose from the experiment,” comments Lowe.

Karen Lowe, director of Four-Day Week SA.
Karen Lowe, director of Four-Day Week SA.

According to Four-Day Week SA, the work structure is premised on a 100-80-100 model, which prescribes 100% of the pay, 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment from workers to deliver 100% output.

The trend began after many businesses that transitioned to remote or hybrid work structures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic discovered the shift was less thorny than expected.

“Research findings from trials across the globe continue to make a clear case for the four-day week. Results from trials run in Ireland, the US and Australia, released in November 2022, showed company performance, productivity and revenue improvements,” says Four-Day Week SA.

Not for everybody

In 2021, ICT experts told ITWeb that South African firms may soon introduce a four-day workweek, as the next frontier of the work-from-home or hybrid work structure.

This, after South African trends-as-business-solution firm Flux Trends became among the first local organisations to adopt a four-day workweek. The company told ITWeb at the time the working model is an opportunity for team members to have “a day solely devoted to personal development and self-care”.

Global companies that have already introduced the trend include Unilever, New York-based American fast food chain Shake Shack, e-commerce firm Shopify and Microsoft Japan.

Several factors said to contribute to more companies adopting a four-day workweek, in a post-pandemic world, include emerging tech tools to optimise productivity. Numerous studies found working over 35 hours per week is the tipping point before productivity declines, according to Flux Trends.

Speaking during a recent interview with Newzroom Afrika, Michelle Austin, financial director of Keegor Group SA, warned the new work structure is not feasible for all sectors and could worsen inequality in SA, if not implemented adequately.

“I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach to the four-day workweek because some people will cope with this model and some people won’t. If a person is not coping, it could result in more stress as opposed to less stress.

“It could work in some industries and lead to massive improvement in productivity, but for other industries I’m really sceptical. It will require a lot of planning from several people within the organisation to make it work.”