A brand new study predicts a 21-hour work week is inevitable. Dubbed 21 hours, the New Economics Foundation, or nef, study forecasts a major shift in the length of the formal work week as a consequence of dealing with key economic, social and environmental problems. Could the virtual office play a role?

Nef says there are several forces pushing us towards a shorter working week: lasting damage to the economy caused by the banking crisis, an increasingly divided society with too much over-work alongside too much unemployment, and an urgent need for deep cuts in environmentally damaging over-consumption.

“So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume. And our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources,” says Anna Coote, co-author of the report and Head of Social Policy at nef.  “Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better careers and better neighbors. And we could even become better employees: less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.”

Could a virtual office help? I think it could. A virtual office can cut down on commute time, for starters. Even if the workweek doesn't shrink to 21 hours, employees and business owners could save 10 hours a week – or more – dressing and commuting to work. People can also cut business overhead costs with a virtual office space, from the bricks and mortar under which they work to the costly lunches at local restaurants.

Virtual offices may not ultimately lead to working fewer hours on the actual job, but virtual office technologies can make employees more efficient. Greater efficiency could lead to the need to work fewer hours – or the ability to take more time off. Even if you go in to work early and work late, a virtual office still offers more freedom – and more work-life balance.

We'll look into more of the implications of nef's new study in tomorrow's post.