Dreaming of a balanced week— 5 min
As an engineer by heart, I sometimes think of social engineering challenges. Or rather, how to approach some social problems with out of the box thinking.
This time, I want to reflect of some ideas on how to solve the problem an unbalanced work week creates.
# Problem Statement
To understand what I mean by that, lets first describe the current unsatisfactory state.
I think we have a resource allocation problem, and the resource being time. Considering someone who works a traditional nine-to-five (or 10 to 6) job, there are only very limited time slots available to do chores and errands, and leisure time. This leads to the very real problem that grocery stores are extremely congested on saturdays, same as leisure activities such as thermal spas or hiking routes.
These same places are mostly empty on weekdays, when the majority of the population is working. The only people able to enjoy these activities are retirees, school children during vacation, and tourists.
The same happens for traffic, both public and individual. Streets and public transport are completely congested at certain weekdays and times of day, whereas it is not a problem on others. Same for the availability of parking.
As a member of the "working class", I only have the ability to do certain things at the same time when everyone else does. I have always felt uncomfortable in large crowds. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that large crowds of people is not a good thing in general, and should be avoided.
# Lets start with the obvious
So how do we work towards a proposal to solve this congestion and allocation problem?
Lets start with the obvious and reconsider the standard full-time nine-to-five workday. I very much appreciate that multiple european countries are experimenting with lowering the weekly work hours, and introducing 4-day work weeks.
As for myself, my current job is the first one where I work full-time for an extended period of time. Previously I was only doing part-time work, in the range of 20-30 hour weeks.
As I write this article, I wanted to comment on how I’m surprised myself that I cope with this so well considering. But then I remember that I do suffer a bit from the “I don’t have time for anything” anxiety. Not to mention that the time I spent on recreation the past 2-3 years was essentially zero, and my health and fitness suffered a lot.
Suffice it to say, the standard 40-hour work week just does not offer a good work-life balance; and we need to re-think it. Also, with less hours per-person, we can hire two people to do the job of one. Which creates jobs, and is a good thing. It also helps increasing the Bus-factor.
# Everything, Anytime
Once we move from a 5 day work week to 4 or even 3 days, the next step is to more evenly distribute that time. The current congestion problem comes from the fact that everyone has weekends on the same days.
Along with less working hours, we need total freedom to chose when to work. The goal here is to have everything available, anytime of the week. You can go hiking, do groceries, or visit a spa, or museum any day of the week.
It also means that work is being done every day of the week. Which is also good for companies.
The freedom to chose might not work as well for the education sector which needs a more rigid framework. For this to work, I propose to at the very least keep one grade on the same schedule. I also propose to stagger classes, so a first-graders schedule is shifted by one day compared to a second-grader. Depending if we go with a 4-day or 3-day week, you can have friends 2 grades above or below and share 1 or 2 days in common.
# Can we make it?
To be honest, I think this proposal is super simple, and might work. The question is how to get there?
As I started this exploration, I mentioned the thinking outside the box mindset. I think the reason we have this weekday/weekend split is simply because it was always done this way. In christian societies, this might come from the fact that even the Bible said that God rested on the seventh day, and thats why we shouldn’t work on sundays. Well, can we maybe abandon this thinking, as it clearly does not serve us in modern times?
To be honest, I think the only policy change that needs to happen is to lift restrictions, everything else should self-organize. Currently we have restrictions that grocery stores are prohibited by law to open on certain days. And also labor laws restrict people from freely choosing when to work.
I for one would gladly work on a Sunday, if that means I can have any weekday off to do chores and enjoy some un-crowded leisure time.
Lifting restrictions would be step one. Policy makers could also go one step further and mandate that everything works on every day. Things should self-organize in that situation as well. Employers will create financial incentives to encourage employees to work on “unorthodox” days, and thats that.
There are tons of open questions, sure. When should we do meetings? might be a questions. This meeting should have been an email is the obvious answer to that. But okay, in all seriousness, there should be plenty of overlap opportunities.
I think the biggest obstacle is changing the mindset of people. The problem with the it was always done this way attitude is that people can’t even imagine how things could be different. Lets be open to new ideas, and to think outside the box.