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Alida CEO Ross Wainwright in the company's Toronto office, on Feb. 14.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Alida Inc., a Toronto-based software company with almost 500 employees, is piloting a four-day workweek program for all its staff across five countries, making it one of the largest Canadian companies to experiment with a shortened workweek.

The company, formerly known as Vision Critical Communications Inc., will launch the program starting in July. Employees will be allowed to take Fridays off and keep the same salary and benefits.

Alida’s chief executive officer, Ross Wainwright, said that the decision to experiment with a four-day workweek was a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vast majority of employees signalled that they were burned out from working through stop-and-start lockdown mandates and school closings for years on end.

“It’s not like employees specifically asked for a four-day workweek. But they requested help around addressing the burnout and stress of, for example, being in a 1,000 square feet condo with two adults working from home and two toddlers running around,” Mr. Wainwright told The Globe and Mail.

Alida’s executive team considered various options to address employees’ stress levels, including increasing vacation time and allowing staff to work flexible hours. But they landed on the four-day workweek as the best way to give employees more time away from their jobs.

Mr. Wainwright noted that Alida’s version of the four-day workweek wouldn’t necessarily involve reducing the number of hours employees work in a week from 40 hours to 32 hours. The company expects employees to maintain the same level of productivity, but in a reduced time period.

“This is definitely not about reducing 20 per cent of work hours. This is about providing employees the ability to work smarter,” he said, adding that he trusted employees would be able to deliver on working the same amount over four days.

Alida builds customer management software – programs that help businesses track and analyze online user feedback. A third of Alida’s employees are engineers and software developers, and the others are in sales and administration.

The company, which used to be headquartered in Vancouver, now has offices in five countries – Canada, the United States, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Mr. Wainwright said one reason why the pilot won’t begin until July is because Alida needed time to figure out how to implement the program across multiple jurisdictions, with different time zones and labour laws.

“We want this to become a permanent part of Alida. But of course, if productivity levels drop we will have to reconsider. I don’t think that will be the case,” he said.

The concept of the four-day workweek has gained significant traction in the world of white-collar work during the pandemic, particularly among tech companies. Even so, there are still far more companies – typically large and established ones – that seem worried that employees will work less.

There are two schools of thought about the implementation of a four-day workweek. Under one, employers allow employees to fundamentally reduce the number of hours they work from an average of 40 hours to 32 hours for the same pay, regardless of productivity. The idea is that productivity levels will sustain themselves because employees will learn how to work smarter in fewer hours.

The other, more widely embraced form of the four-day workweek requires employees to maintain the same level of productivity or output, but over fewer days. That could see employees potentially working more hours per day.

“The premise of the four-day workweek is that employees will be more motivated with extra leisure time. And they will express that motivation by being more productive in other parts of the work week,” said Jessica Kearsey, an employment lawyer at Deloitte Legal Canada LLP.

“But it’s important to remember that this idea is not particularly applicable to employees [who] earn hourly wages, whose salary depends on how long they work in a given day, and who may want to work longer hours for that reason,” she added.

A number of other Canadian-based companies – big and small – have recently announced the adoption of a more flexible way of working. 3terra, a Mississauga-based software company with about 25 employees, said last week it would move to a 32-hour work week in response to employee burnout and absenteeism.

In a LinkedIn post, the company’s chief executive, Akeela Jamal, said a lot could be accomplished in “32 focused hours each week,” and we need to “reclaim some of our valuable personal time.”

The accounting and consulting giant KPMG Canada said last week it would give its 10,000 employees long weekends throughout July and August this year, in response to the “physical, emotional and mental toll” the pandemic has taken on employees.

Company spokesperson Roula Meditskos, however, noted that KPMG is not planning to implement a permanent four-day workweek.

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