Why cutting hours could boost Swedish firms

Why cutting hours could boost Swedish firms
Gabriel Alenius, left, and Jimmy Nilsson. Photo: Background AB
Sweden is famous for its work-life balance, but one startup has taken it a step further. Here, Gabriel Alenius and Jimmy Nilsson explain why a six-hour workday will help their company grow.

The six-hour workday need not be only a utopia. It does not even have to be a political statement.

To us, it's about a conscious investment in the future.

We want to grow as a company, be an attractive employer and have healthy and thriving co-workers. For that reason we introduced a six-hour workday for all staff – with salary levels unchanged – on September 1st this year.

We work at a production agency specializing in digital presentations. It may seem paradoxical that a consulting firm, which charges for time itself, is willing to reduce its working hours.

But we would not be doing this if we had not thought it through properly, and believed in the benefits.

Even though the six-hour workday has been discussed at a political level for several years, no sustainable solution for how to put it into practice has been presented.

For us it is not about creating more jobs at lower wages. On the contrary, we believe that by reorganizing our workdays, we can become more efficient and complete our projects in less time.

And it is going to bring benefits for our customers as well. We do not believe that there is a general solution for all businesses. Each industry and workplace has its own conditions.

The key to us is to locate downtime and bottlenecks, reduce them and plan so that the process becomes more efficient.

Research suggests that it is difficult to stay concentrated at work for eight hours. But if you only have three hours before lunch, and three hours after, it motivates you to focus and be productive.

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We have reduced the need for the ubiquitous Swedish 'fika' breaks, cut office meetings that tend to drag on for hours, and we have also agreed not to manage our own private affairs during working hours.

If you have an active life the private to-do list tends to edge on to the office to-do list, and vice versa. This can create stress. We believe that you feel better by focusing on one thing at a time.

Furthermore, lunch (still one hour long) becomes a more natural opportunity to sit down together and socialize. Any private matters can now be done at the end of the workday.

Does the six-hour workday boost efficiency in the office? Photo: Background AB

At our company, we also plan to work together in groups more than before. More employees will be part of the same project, which will then be wrapped up more quickly. This also makes the project less vulnerable to any staff members claiming sick days.

Working like this, we should be able to provide better service. Projects will have a shorter turnaround time, there will be more frequent meetings with customers, more focus on one customer at a time and shorter delivery times.

Constantly having to refocus consumes time and energy. With our new working hours we are able to focus more on finishing one thing, before moving on to the next.

Our conversion to a six-hour workday is being carried out as a nine-month trial, with meetings every third month to see how it is working internally, financially and with customers.

Our ambition is to grow, generate profit and at the same time find a good balance between leisure and work.

We realize that it is a challenge. But the benefits are too great to not even to dare try.

Gabriel Alenius and Jimmy Nilsson are the co-owners of Background AB, a creative communication agency based in Falun, Dalarna. This is a translated version of a debate article originally published in Swedish by SVT Opinion.

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