Over the past seven months, the pandemic has brought about changes that many workers had only dreamed of in the past.

Daily commutes to the office have been ditched and makeshift home offices have popped up in bedrooms and kitchens right across the country.

But could the pandemic spark even further change – and could now be the time for businesses to take the leap to a four-day week?

Earlier this month the Oireachtas committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment agreed to include the topic in its draft programme, a move very much welcomed by the Four Day Week Ireland campaign.

Joe O’Connor, Chairperson of the group and Director of Campaigning at Forsa trade union said they are calling on the committee to investigate the feasibility of a four-day work week across different sectors in Ireland.

Recent research commissioned by the group, highlights an appetite among both employees and employers for a new model of work.

Over two-thirds of people surveyed said they believe that a four-day week is something that would be achievable in the medium-term.

Three-quarters of respondents felt that this was something the Government should explore the introduction of in Ireland, and around half of employers who responded said they were very open to the idea of a four-day work week.

“I think it shows a real openness among employers to the idea of a different model of work, and I do think that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened that feeling both among workers and employers,” Mr O’Connor said.

The Four Day Week Ireland campaign is advocating a new model of work, which is focused on outputs and productivity, rather than hours spent at the desk.

“If you look at some of the countries in Europe that work the longest hours like the UK and Greece, often they have some of the lowest levels of productivity and then some of the countries like Denmark and the Netherlands which work shorter hours achieve greater levels of productivity,” he said.

Here in Ireland, Mr O’Connor believes a four-day week will replace the five-day, nine to five within the next decade.

He said he expects this will come about in three different ways.

“The first will be businesses showing leadership – firms who take the risk because they can see the benefits for them and their employees.

“The second will be trade unions like ourselves incorporating this as one of our priority bargain areas in the years to come.

“Then thirdly, I think another important element will be the role of Government to facilitate and support companies who want to trial and introduce a shorter working week and also in terms of their own role as a large employer in the public sector and as a very significant contractor of different services,” he said.

One business leading the way in Ireland is the ICE Group, a recruitment and training firm based in Galway, with offices in Limerick, Sligo and a sub-office in Sydney Australia.

They moved their 45 employees to a four-day week at full pay in July 2019.

Margaret Cox, Director of the ICE Group said they wanted to change the lives of their employees.

“We moved from a 39-hour week over five-days, to a 36-hour week over four days, so yes the day itself has gotten a little bit longer but the week has gotten shorter,” she said.

The group structured their week around a three-day weekend, as Ms Cox explained.

“At ICE Group you work either Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and you are off Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or you work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and you’re off Saturday, Sunday, Monday – so every weekend in the ICE group is a bank holiday weekend essentially.”

For the employees at ICE, life has changed dramatically.

Having the extra time to relax has been a game changer for Marketing Manager, Tom Cranley.

“One of my friends said it to me three months into the trial of the four day week that I actually looked healthier. I didn’t know how to take it at first, but I took it as a compliment in the end,” he laughed.

“I was getting that time away from the office, I was going for more walks and cycles and runs – doing things that I wanted to do, like going to visit my friends.”

Before the pandemic hit, Training Manager Lourda O’Dea spent her extra time travelling the world.

“I visited seven cities in nine weekends, it has just been incredible. Post-Covid with the extra time I actually took up a digital marketing course,” she said.

As well as staff being happier, ICE group has recorded an increase in productivity and a boost in sales since switching to the four-day week, as Margaret Cox explains.

“Our sales have increased by 30% and I think the reason for that was the recognition both internally and externally from our clients that this is a very innovative, dynamic organisation,” she said.

Switching to a four-day week won’t be an option for every business, especially those struggling at the moment due to the pandemic.

Mary Connaughton, Director of the HR, learning and development organisation, CIPD Ireland warned that moving to a shorter week is risky for some firms.

“There is a bit of a risk there. You have to consider what will happen if productivity goes down, so you have to have some kind of financial buffer to be able to manage that particular risk,” she said.

Connaughton highlighted other issues we must consider when it comes to a four-day work week.

“If you can’t give everyone a four-day work week, then it really raises equality issues,” she said.

“If you have people who are working part-time, what does reduced hours for the same amount of pay mean for them?” she asks.

While many are currently enjoying a three-day weekend due to the Bank Holiday, only time will tell if it will become a more regular occurrence.