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Closing the office saves money and boosts morale. The time is now.

September 16, 2009, 07:20 PM —

The magazine NewScientist makes a compelling case for the four-day workweek in the current issue.

The article points out that companies and government organizations that have explored the idea found savings and benefits for companies and employees alike.

The State of Utah, for example, found energy consumption dropped 13 percent, and that 70 percent of employees were happier. And healthier. Requests for “sick days” dropped significantly.

NewScientist suggests that there are two ways to achieve four-day workweeks. The first is to add two hours to each workday, so everybody works the same number of hours per week, but crammed into four days instead of five.

The second approach is to cut actual hours, and cut pay as well. This approach is seen as a better alternative to layoffs, both for the companies facing budget crunches, and for the employees who would otherwise lose all their pay and benefits.

According to NewScientists, a majority of employees would prefer one of these schemes to the conventional five-day-workweek.

However, I have a proposal that I think is better than both these approaches. Why not embrace a three-day workweek, and have the other two workdays be work-at-home days?

That means the office is open — and everybody’s got to show up for work — on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. But on Thursday and Friday, employees all telecommute.

In-office client meetings, internal meetings, face-to-face collaboration can all take place in the office during office hours, then work that doesn’t require office equipment or meetings can take place remotely.

The benefits to the company include lower energy costs, fewer sick days, and a more energized staff.

And, of course, employees benefit by getting back that commute time — 40 hours per year saved, on average. Employees also have to spend less money on gas, dry cleaning, day care and a host of other items associated with showing up to an office every day.

The only major objection to this for most companies is that employees need to be “supervised” or they’ll goof around and not get any work done. But this isn’t a legitimate concern in most cases.

First, it’s trivially easy to goof off right in front of the boss. Slacker employees might be sitting at their computers, but how do you know they’re not playing online poker or checking their Facebook profiles?

Second, people work at home unsupervised all the time. Taking work home is nearly universal now. Anytime staff work on reports, or answer business e-mail at home, guess what? They’re working from home, unsupervised.

In other words, personal stuff happens at work, and work stuff happens at home. Trapping employees in an office guarantees nothing, and allowing people to work at home isn’t as risky as it sounds.

It’s time to embrace the three-day workweek. It saves money, boosts productivity, and improves everybody’s quality of life.