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Insight – would a four-day working week ever work in agency?

In June, the biggest pilot scheme of a four-day working week anywhere in the world will begin in Britain, with more than 3,000 workers at 60 companies taking part in the trial, which will initially run from June to December.

Workers from a host of businesses and charities are expected to take part in the scheme, including the Royal Society of Biology, the London-based brewing company Pressure Drop, a Manchester-based medical devices firm, and a fish and chip shop in Norfolk.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw many people and firms re-evaluate their working patterns, with a considerable increase in hybrid and flexible practices that went against the standard nine-to-five, five-day work week – which, in agency and the property sector, is very often a six-day working week with much longer hours.


The pilot scheme is being operated by academics at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as Boston College in the US, in conjunction with the campaign group 4 Day Week Global, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and the Autonomy thinktank.

Meanwhile, Scotland has been piloting a four-day week trial since January, with no loss of pay as long as productivity remains the same.

The desire is for companies across the UK to adopt a shorter working week, albeit crucially with no loss of pay or lower productivity levels.

Momentum behind this idea has been boosted by the pandemic – which changed working patterns for good, leading to a massive rise in remote working and, in agency, an increase in those opting for the self-employed route for better work/life balance.

Public support for the idea is strong, too, with more than 123,000 people signing a petition to get the UK government to adopt a four-day week to slash the UK’s carbon footprint, while Metro research has revealed that some 72% of office workers would prefer a shorter working week.

The concept undoubtedly splits opinion, though, making some businesses very nervous about potential staff shortages, increased workloads and backlogs, and other possible issues.

To understand the mood of the industry, EAT checked in with a number of high-profile names to get their thoughts on whether a four-day working week could ever work in a sector which has long been wedded to more traditional ways of working, even post-pandemic.

Beth Rudolf, Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association

“There have been a number of studies from across the world which appear to show that a four-day working week is more productive and that it can give employees a better work/life balance. As we have seen, particularly over the last couple of years, that is incredibly important and it may well be that, as an industry, we need to learn the lessons of the lockdown/pandemic and ensure we move to a situation which vastly reduces the enormous amount of stress that conveyancers are being placed under.

“Again, we have seen with stamp duty holiday periods and the like, that the demands being placed upon conveyancers has been significantly ramped up, and that is having an impact in terms of firms being able to keep hold of staff. Firms are already looking at what they can do in this area, and it may well be that a four-day week is one of the options available to them. Clearly, this would need to be incredibly well thought-out and managed because our market is not a four-day week market, far from it. What hours will conveyancers be required to work? What shifts will be needed to ensure there is phone coverage at all times? What might be the cost of doing this? As we know conveyancing tends not to be a ‘margin heavy’ service.

“So, while I think such a move would be welcomed by many conveyancing firm staff, it would need to be trialled and tested extensively to ensure it works for all.”

Sam Hunter, co-founder and COO of Homesearch

“Can the four-day work week work in estate agency? My answer; yes, but.

“It’s a probable reality that requires more than a two-word answer. A four-day work week may seem like a radical idea, but we’ve gradually reduced the number of hours worked within a typical work week since the late 19th century.

“The advent of mobile communication, new technology and, in estate agency specifically, a customer base that often communicates and does business out of typical business hours means that agents, in theory, could pick and choose the days they wanted to work so long as they weren't letting their buyers, sellers, tenants or landlords (or themselves or their employers) down.

“This is where my aforementioned ‘but’ (and it’s a big one) comes in. Presentee-ism (or open-ism) plays a huge part in estate agency today. It’s a relic of a time gone by where people would ‘walk-in’ rather than now email, WhatsApp, messenger or call in. Agents had to be physically open to meet new people. Now they just have to have the right technology and the right mindset.

“If an agency was diligent and disciplined enough to work as a true team, employed the right technology to handle the non-pound productive work, held open homes rather than repeated and inefficient one-off viewings and managed their diaries transparently with their clients, there’s no reason why the business couldn’t offer their services six or seven days a week, but the agents themselves only work four. That’s a win win for all parties in my eyes.

Sarah Edmundson, CEO of industry charity Agents Together

"When I was asked this question about four day working weeks in estate agency, it really occurred to me that as with most things there are some glaringly obvious benefits, but also some limitations. Fundamentally, it will come down to what an individual business can and is willing to sustain.  

"Some of the benefits might include a broader talent pool, improved productivity, reduced absence for physical and mental health, attraction and retention of talent and an interesting brand narrative. Overall culture and outcomes should improve. 

"Yet, naturally, in estate agency we have become synonymous with six or seven day working weeks given that often people want to view at the weekends, many exchanges and completions happen on Fridays and of course lots of leads to follow up on on Mondays; so none of that lends itself particularly well to a four day working week without careful planning and effective communication with both employees and client base.

"Consideration will need to be made for change management, part-time workers, and contractual impacts around leave. I can also imagine whilst some businesses adopt a four day working week, their competitors are burning themselves out in the desire to prove that they are open and available more and for longer; this means four day working weeks may be embraced more effectively by larger organisations who can ultimately have shift patterns, but it may cause issue for smaller independents unless well-planned. 

"However, by focusing on the customers rather than convention, and with the adoption of the right technology, it is not insurmountable that a business and its people, regardless of size or model, can be available at the right times whilst also maintaining a good work/life balance.

"Therefore, I would suggest that genuinely flexible working hours are now vital in modern Estate Agency; for ensuring the attraction and retention of talent but more importantly to fit within a wider well-being strategy that subsequently creates happier and engaged teams who are significantly more productive and deliver increased outcomes.

"Following years of working excessive hours; I personally have a mantra that I have learnt to live by; “focus on outcomes not hours”, and that is working for me." 

Neil Cobbold, managing director of PayProp UK

"While working hours are up to the agency, tech-driven automation gives agents the option to work more flexibly knowing that their clients are still being looked after. We already saw tech-enabled agencies switch seamlessly to hybrid working during the Covid-19 pandemic, something that would have been difficult to imagine five years ago. 

Moving to a four-day week would obviously have to be managed carefully: lettings is a people business, and so reducing availability to clients has the potential to damage relationships with both tenants and landlords. But if shorter working hours prove to be the next frontier in industry innovation, agencies have the tools to make it work by cutting down on inefficient admin without reducing the all-important client communication.”

Craig Vile, director of The ValPal Network

“Agency has traditionally been wedded to a five, often six-day week, with very long hours compared to other industries, but there has been a shift in recent years - thanks to the pandemic - to more flexible ways of working. The wonders of PropTech means that agents can still generate leads and business even outside of office hours, in a way that simply wasn’t possible before, so perhaps the need for being open six days a week is no longer there as much. Even more so when we consider footfall through branches was on the decline even before Covid.

“The concept of a four-day working week splits opinion quite a lot, and hasn't yet been proven on a wide-enough scale. I can’t see it ever being a thing in agency, but more agents have started to go down the self-employed route, fitting work around their life rather than the other way round. So we could see an increase in flexible hours, which seems more realistic than reducing to only four days. What agents should do more of, though, is embrace the tech that can make their lives easier - increasing profits while decreasing workload.”

Poll: Could you ever see a four-day week realistically working in the property sector?


  • icon

    To understand the mood of the industry, EAT checked in with a number of high-profile names…..
    However failed to ask a single agent?

  • Rob Hailstone

    Being something of a workaholic, a four-day working week seems alien to me. However, as Sean Connery said (or was it James Bond), Never Say Never (again). A couple of law firms are already trialing this idea and there is a very interesting podcast available via Today’s Conveyancer: The 4-day working week: The practitioner's experience.

    Having listened to the podcast (which is still available), it would appear that a four-day working week could become a practical possibility.

  • icon

    I’m not sure the conveyancing industry would welcome such an increase in their hours🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

  • Mike Lewis

    I can remember back in the day when some of the new "fly-boy" agents started opening their offices on Sundays, to the horror and utter distain of the old established firms. Needless to say, these fly-boys cleaned up, became respectable and rightly or wrongly, estate agency (both resi and commercial) are now effectively 24/7 operations. If you want to only work a four day week then fine but don't be surprised when you are overtaken by the harder working competetion.


    True but there are more important things in the world that working


    And they are no really 24.7 they have a call centre or BOT which is useless

    Mike Lewis

    True Jan but we have to pay the bills, especially with energy/fuel prices now going stratospheric and set to remain at current levels, or most likely even higher from hereon.
    As to call centres/BOTs, thankfully we don't have to put up with them (nor "prop-tech)" in my sector!

  • icon

    Yes Mike I pay the bills wihtout working 24.7.
    Nor do I Mike but I sometimes deal with agents who want me to do so.

  • icon

    This week we want shorter hours, next week we will want more money hmmmmmmmmm
    You have to laugh.



  • Trevor Cooper

    And so workers are prepared to take a 20% pay cut??
    No, I didn't think so, leaving the consumer to pay more for work that will take longer to complete.

  • Andrew Stanton PROPTECH-PR A Consultancy for Proptech Founders

    Great insights from old people, you need to understand two thirds of the world are aged under 35 years of age - Are they and the generation immediately below who are about to enter work, going to do a 5 day week? their lives are already running on the digital algorithms that influence their thoughts/desires and goals, and retiring at 67 with a gold watch is definitely not on the menu.

    Everyone has viewpoints, but if you take the time to LISTEN to maybe 120 different people a month globally, you might learn more than what is going on in the 17 mile radius that many of us live and die within according to smartphone data, now that is a thought.

    Maybe that is why the Metaverse, that utopian twilight zone where we can exist is so appealing to some - as we get away from the reality of the day to day. I am writing this whilst having a bout of Covid, so if it looks trippy ... it probably is - but being confined to bed for four days lets your mind focus on the big architecture of what is going on, allowing filtering out of the minutia.

    Look, Siemens the largest manufacturer in Europe allowed all employees to to a two day flexi-week for ever, very soon after March 2020, they saw the future and they have a market cap of $101 BN, so probably they know a bit about future proofing.

    And that is why the digital transformation of real estate proptech/fintech is so vital to any anologue agency business, time to tech up and expand or remain in the analogue glory days of yesteryear, no industry can outrun the digital tendrils of cloud computing, client adoption of buying online which is not a fad but a modern necessity and new technologies that will be ever more 'useful'.

    If anyone wants to find out more give me a call in a week or so always happy to discuss what the future looks like, it is not half as scary as many think it will be, and it is prudent to prepare rather than being the last person on the bus who tends to pay a lot more for the ride and gets the worst view.


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