The 3-Day Workweek is Here, Says Bill Gates. I Agree.

Advancements in AI are making it possible to reduce our workload. So why do we still not have a 3-day workweek? The latest research shows we can do better.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
November 30, 2023
min read

Still working five days?

Read on!

The Need to Know:

  • Transition to Shorter Workweeks: Bill Gates supports the idea of a 3-day workweek as a positive development, emphasizing the potential for AI to handle mundane tasks and improve work-life balance. Current trends already point towards a feasible 4-day workweek, with 33% of respondents in a recent study expressing a preference for it over other work arrangements.
  • AI's Role in Work Efficiency: Our new data shows that Generative AI significantly boosts productivity by taking over tasks like email, data analysis, and research. This increase in efficiency, combined with the reduction of unproductive meetings, suggests a realistic shift towards a 4-day workweek.
  • Future Prospects and Concerns: The rapid advancement of AI could lead to a future where human labor is largely unnecessary, posing challenges in effectively utilizing increased leisure time and addressing economic needs in a post-labor world.  

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The 3-Day Workweek is Here, Says Bill Gates. I Agree.

Bill Gates predicts an AI-driven 3-day work week.

Since my interview with best-selling author and speaker Alexandra Samuel (coming out next Tuesday) on AI creating shorter workweeks, I’ve been thinking about how we can work even smarter, not harder. 

In a recent conversation with Trevor Noah, Bill Gates gave us some good news in this regard: he thinks a 3-day workweek is possible.

And, that it’s a very positive development for those who believe that we don’t live to work. 

“So if you eventually get a society where you only have to work three days a week or something, that's probably okay if the machines can make all the food and the stuff, and we don't have to work as hard.” – Bill Gates

I couldn’t agree more. So how do we get there? 

A four-day workweek is already possible

Before we discuss a 3-day workweek, let’s talk about the 4-day workweek

Earlier this year, our study “What Hybrid and Remote Employees Really Want” already revealed that 33% of respondents want a 4-day workweek, more than extra days at home or being able to work asynchronously. 

And this four-day workweek is entirely within the realm of reality.

Anyone with reasonable control over their work (i.e., those without tyrant bosses) who knows how to use AI should be able to practice a four-day workweek.

According to our latest research paper, “Generative AI at Work,” 81% of current Generative AI users say the technology has improved their productivity, including 43% who say it significantly improved it.

Respondents attribute the productivity increases to AI taking over email and communication, data analysis and reporting, research, and other labor-intensive tasks. 

It’s all the stuff we don’t want to do.

And AI doesn’t mind, shared Alexandra in our upcoming interview:

“We’re on the verge of a beautiful transformation in the nature of work. We’re in a moment where we can rethink how much of our lives is spent at work. And how much of our work is spent on tedious stuff. Because the AIs don’t care about tedious, they really don’t mind.” – Alexandra Samuel, best-selling author and speaker

Combining these AI abilities with the fact that we spend a third of our week in unproductive meetings, it quickly becomes apparent why we can pivot to a four-day workweek.

In my previous article on this topic, I outlined five steps to get there:

  1. Make a cost-benefit analysis of everything you do using the Eisenhower matrix, and throw away the work that doesn’t contribute to your goals. 
  2. In particular, find time savings by cutting down on unnecessary meetings and unproductive time-wasters like chatting and emailing. 
  3. Decide what AI can do for you. Beyond that, what can be outsourced, and what can be delegated? 
  4. Arrange your schedule to fit the remaining work and meetings into four days. AI tools like Reclaim can help to optimize your calendar dynamically. 
  5. Don’t accept Friday intrusions, even from yourself. These intrusions trigger Parkinson’s Law, which states that the amount of work will expand to the time you have. 

These five steps should enable most knowledge workers to reduce their workweek from 5 to 4 days. 

From 4 to 3 days

So that’s phase 1.

Now, how do we get from a 4-day workweek, which again, I think is completely feasible, to Bill Gates’ 3-day workweek? 

As AI-thinker David Shapiro outlines in an intriguing video about “Post Labor Economics,” AI is ramping up quicker than we ever thought it could, gaining new capabilities weekly.

That proof is in the pudding.

Bard can now answer questions about YouTube videos, anyone can create personal AIs with GPTs, and AI generates a game from a simple sketch

All things that weren’t possible even a month ago. 

Extrapolate this logically, and AI in the Workplace will lead us to a point where there is abundant labor. Whatever task we can imagine, AI can do it.

The mysterious Q* (Q-star) developments, reportedly significant in Sam Altman’s firing at OpenAI, could be a breakthrough in AI doing math. 

This could be a significant step towards AGI, the level of AI that can do any human cognitive task.

Iwo Szapar, the co-founder and head of Remote at the Remote-first.Institute, believes this is how AI can lead us to a 3-day workweek or even less, he shared for this newsletter.

“The integration of AI technologies could propel us toward a 3-day workweek—or even less. As AI takes over routine tasks, the emphasis shifts toward strategic, meaningful work, potentially condensing the effective workweek even further." – Iwo Szapar, Co-founder & Head of Remote, Remote-first.Institute

That’s a future we can believe in. 

As Bill Gates says in the interview with Trevor: 

“If you free up human labor, you can help elderly people better and have small class sizes. The demand for labor to do good things is still there if you match the skills to it.” – Bill Gates 

But he also added: 

“Then if you ever get beyond that, okay, you have a lot of leisure time, and we'll have to figure out what to do with it.” – Bill Gates 

That scenario looks bleak. Figuring out what to do with our time?

Yes, because in the “Post-labor” world David Shapiro describes, human labor isn’t required since machines can take over practically everything. (A few industries, like mining, chip production, robotics, and real-life experiences, would remain.)

“In the third Industrial Revolution, we had a revolution of the internet and computers. Communication and number crunching accelerated, but by and large, automation was still relegated to manufacturing processes. With this rise of artificial intelligence, we're looking at labor substitution, where machines can do new kinds of automation. We're able not just to automate manufacturing jobs, we're able to automate knowledge work, which is going to disrupt the employment landscape drastically.” – David Shapiro

This disruption leads to a lot of free time – alongside questions about how we’ll pay for even our daily needs.

But as Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, the first firm that invested in OpenAI, shares, this is still miles better than continuing with how we work now:

“The risks that humanity faces have to be balanced with the basket of opportunity to free humanity from the slavery of really bad jobs where you do the same thing for eight hours per day repetitively for 30 years of your career.” – Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures

The Bottom Line

We can all agree that the way we currently work doesn’t work for most of us. 

We’re overwhelmed, overloaded, and burned out

AI taking over part of our jobs is a welcome reprieve. 

All we need to do is take that first step.

And have our Fridays free to learn even more about a better future of work.

I’ll report on that again next week. Hope to see you then.


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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.