Could a focused six-hour working day be the key to keeping staff energised, efficient and productive? Bethany Whymark spoke to a Norwich company which has embraced the Swedish concept of lagom – doing 'just the right amount'.

Eastern Daily Press: Inside Norwich creative marketing agency Made. Picture: ANTONY KELLYInside Norwich creative marketing agency Made. Picture: ANTONY KELLY (Image: Archant Norfolk 2017)

Nowadays people are often being asked to do more with less.

Businesses are expected to increase production with fewer staff and stretched budgets. Retailers are attempting to drive up flagging sales while staff are swept from the shop floor. Deadlines are getting tighter as our constantly-connected world gets more impatient.

Many of these actions are to chase an elusive rise in productivity – but research by the Smith Institute shows overall productivity growth in the UK has made minimal progress since 2012, despite many workers feeling they are putting in more hours.

So is there a way to simultaneously reduce input and increase output? The Scandinavians may have an answer.

Lagom – a Swedish word meaning 'just the right amount' – is the latest technique in the quest for contentment which the Danish concept of 'hygge' has dominated in recent years.

The concept of using only what is necessary could be a solution to the productivity struggles many firms are experiencing in a time of diminished workforces and company finances – and a Norwich firm thinks it is among only a handful in the UK to have caught on to its potential.

Eastern Daily Press: Inside Norwich creative marketing agency Made. Picture: ANTONY KELLYInside Norwich creative marketing agency Made. Picture: ANTONY KELLY (Image: Archant Norfolk 2017)

Made, a creative marketing agency based in Orford Place, has been operating a lagom-inspired work system – including a six-hour working day – for the past five months.

Director Mark Merrywest said the idea came about during a company rebrand.

At the time he was finishing an MBA with the University of East Anglia, during which he had studied organisational motivation and HR processes.

'One of the first big things I suggested in our team meeting was going down to six-hour days,' he said.

'We had grown into people doing things at different times of the day, taking different breaks, working different days, and that was the first clue that we needed to do something different.

'I thought this would help with a vast number of things we go through and it is such a cracking idea that I don't understand why more people aren't doing it.'

Eastern Daily Press: Inside Norwich creative marketing agency Made. Picture: ANTONY KELLYInside Norwich creative marketing agency Made. Picture: ANTONY KELLY (Image: Archant Norfolk 2017)

The company's nine staff sought ways to be more efficient during the decreased work day, including not disturbing each other or checking emails between certain times and not checking personal devices at their desks.

It operates a strict working day structure, which incorporates periods of solid work, allotted time for checking emails and running meetings, and a full one-hour lunch break – which sees them in and out of the office in seven hours.

'The whole benefit of that is that you also have time to do other things and to concentrate on family time. We come into work less tired, happier and more motivated and as a result we work harder,' Mr Merrywest said.

A fierce critic of the new system was Made's business development manager Emily West. 'I was quite sceptical. My job is client relations, talking to clients all the time, so I didn't know how I would cope with an hour and half when I could not answer emails, but I have never had a complaint from people about not answering their emails quickly enough,' she said.

'Businesses have put out the expectation that everything is instant. But I would say things have got better because we have a time where we tend to our clients. They are waiting for a quality response.'

Made's end-of-year review took place in December and the verdict is in: with productivity up and clients unaffected, the six-hour day is here to stay.

Mr Merrywest said: 'Our designer says he is more creative with this way of working, and our developer says he has got more done in six hours than he ever did in eight.

'The staff say their productivity is up to 100%. We have not made more, but we have made better in less time.'

Miss West added: 'Your director knows you are working as hard as you can in those six hours so there is no pressure to have done more.'

The Office for National Statistics said its main measure of labour productivity, output per hour, rose by 0.9% between July and September 2017, up from a 0.1% fall the previous quarter. This productivity growth was driven mainly by a 0.5% fall in the total number of hours worked.

In a list of the world's most productive countries, compiled by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the UK ranks 15th – behind France, Germany, the United States and Australia – but only three of the preceding 14 countries work more hours a week than our 31.9-hour average.

How to make a six-hour day work

Making a six-hour work day work requires a regimented structure. Here's what a typical working day at Made in Norwich looks like:

9am: Arrive at the office. Shut down Facebook and switch off your personal devices.

9am to 10.30am: Get to work on a project. No checking emails and no interrupting your colleagues during this time.

10.30am to 11am: Time to check and respond to emails, from clients and colleagues.

11am to 12pm: Get on with work again – a more relaxed hour when staff or client meetings can be scheduled.

12pm to 1pm: Lunch break. Everyone takes an hour off to eat, talk, exercise, and check personal messages and calls.

1pm to 4pm: Time to get your head down and work again. Emails can be checked during this period.

4pm: End of the working day. Everyone leaves the office promptly – staying late isn't really an option.

Are we working hard enough?

Working harder – and not 'smarter' – may be key to productivity, according to research by a UK think tank.

A report by the Smith Institute in 2016, surveying 7,500 employees, found 68% felt they were working harder than two years ago, while almost half thought they were more productive.

However, a substantial minority (27%) felt they were working harder with no change to or even a drop in their productivity.

The highest proportion of employees (41%) felt they were both working harder and more productively, causing the report to conclude that the buzz-phrase of 'working smarter' may not be a panacea to productivity problems.

Awareness of the issue of productivity was found to be high, with most (79%) thinking their employer measured staff productivity.

Work life balance was rated as an important influence on productivity – particularly by employees in time-hungry professions such as retail and media and communications.

Best Employers

This feature forms part of the coverage for the Best Employers Eastern Region initiative, which is striving to find the best companies to work for in East Anglia.

It aims to create better places to work for the benefit of employers and employees, through understanding and discussing workplace culture. Its ultimate ambition is to enhance the reputation of the eastern region as a place for ambitious people to build successful careers.

It is a partnership between recruitment company Pure, Archant, the publisher of the Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times, psychometric testing experts Eras and regional law firm Birketts.

Companies take part in the free programme by asking staff to complete a confidential survey, and then receive a full report explaining how they can improve. They are then supported through the process at a series of events.

Find out more and register your interest at www.edp24/business/best-employers