The four day work week has been a hot topic for some time now and there are multiple reasons why. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, worker productivity has increased by as much as 5% each year from 1987 to 2015. Despite this, however, compensation has never grown more than 2% annually for that same period, whilst working hours have largely remained unchanged.
Summary = workers are doing the same amount of work in less time and are not being fairly compensated. Until now…
With recent large-scale trials finding that a 4 day work week can improve the lives of employees with no cost to productivity or revenue, we wanted to find out for ourselves. Since the new year, some of the team here at Remote:AF have trialled our very own 4 day work week, documenting both the benefits and positive impacts as well as the challenges and lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Keep reading to find out what these benefits and challenges are, as well as our top tips to make the transition as seamless as possible!
It was Monday morning. The first day of our 4 day work week experiment had commenced and the difference was already perceptible… the weekend was a mere four days away(!!) and the working week suddenly didn’t seem so daunting. As a team, we found this incredibly motivating. We also found that the reduced work week actually led to being less easily distracted; the treacherous rabbit holes we had too-easily fallen into before suddenly seemed much more like dangerous territory now and we couldn’t afford to waste time. This motivated us to better stick to the task at hand.
We here at Remote:AF had not discussed how working hours would change when experimenting with the 4 day work week - we work flexibly afterall. However, as our 4 day experiment progressed, we naturally found ourselves working a 10 hour day instead of the previous 8/9.
This was helpful for two reasons:
1. Getting into the state of ‘flow’ was more achievable. We entered that zone quicker and stayed there for longer, improving productivity as a result. I personally didn’t really notice the slightly extended working hours.
2. Liaising across different time zones suddenly became that much easier. We’ve got a distributed team with a big time zone difference (11 hours between England and Australia!!) and with the shorter work week and longer hours, communication difficulties were somewhat alleviated.
As the experiment continued, we realised that the benefits didn’t just stop there - our weekends were transformed as well. Most of us are busy people with never-ending life admin to get on with eg. tidying the house, paying the bills… the list goes on. If the working week is jam-packed, these life-admin tasks take a backseat and are dealt with at the weekend instead. When working a 5 day week, this always seemed a bit painful… Those precious two days off seemed too special to be spending it completing mundane chores. However, with a three day weekend this was no longer the case - having that spare day to get on with those not-so-exciting-but-necessary tasks was a game changer.
An extra day at the weekend also greatly improved the chances of being able to properly switch off and feel recuperated on the no-longer-daunting Monday morning. All in all, it made us happier, more content employees. And a nice perk? Having a 3 day weekend made it possible to have a reasonable and unrushed weekend getaway WITHOUT having to take ANY time off, saving those precious holiday days for something extra special!
Challenges and Learnings
Any change or new way of working does not of course come without its challenges. The list of learnings/challenges we faced are by no means extensive but are definitely things to note when making the transition.
First off, the shorter duration in a week forces having a plan of attack… if you’re switching to it without notice it can cause a very immediate burnout! Don’t start off on the wrong foot here. We find that setting yourself up for success at the start of the week makes it much more manageable. This can be in the form of setting up a to-do list at the very beginning of the week. Definitely don’t over-commit to anything, even if you’ve achieved a productivity gain. Being as realistic with outcomes minimises that threat of burn-out.
As stated previously, we felt that overall distractions had decreased, probably due to being more time conscious. However, falling into rabbit-holes had also suddenly become more expensive. These need to be avoided at all costs! When falling into one, the best plan of action is to stop working immediately and take 5/10/20 mins (whatever floats your boat) to have a breather and refocus before returning to work - you’ll be grateful later. Similarly, blockers and impediments have a bigger impact now - try and deal with these as soon as they appear instead of letting them stew and living a nightmare later.
Another thing to note is that any unforeseen circumstances really throw the whole week into disarray, more so than before. We’re talking sick days to pet problems and everything in between. Be mindful of these possibilities because I’ll tell you now - that missing work time really does come back to bite you. Similarly, it’s a good idea to be more aware/conscious of public holidays, even more so than usual. A four day work week is not without its challenges but a three day work week is a whole different ball game, especially when you’re trying to be as productive as you’d be in a 5 day work week.
Last but not least, a 4 day work week sucks when you’re trying to work with other businesses or customers still on the traditional 5 day week. Too often working a 4 day work week is just presumed to be working Monday - Thursday with a Friday off, but this schedule might not suit everyone. If your Fridays are classically quite busy liaising with clients and the like, then perhaps it’s worth thinking about moving to a 4 day week in a different way. For example, you could stagger the days taken off amongst team members, ensuring at least x amount of people are working everyday. With the many variations of a 4 day work week out there, there’s bound to be something that works for you and your organisation.
So there you have it; a comprehensive list of our own experiences of working a 4 day week. All in all, if you want a happier, more focused and collaborative team, we would definitely recommend this way of working - just keep on top of those schedules!
And now for a word from our founder, Andrew Blain:
“Given that our team is quite remote (there's at least 1000 km separating each of us) we've always endeavoured to design work around our lives. I like the flexibility that it provides but I was also finding that the team was 'always on'. Moving to a four day week created an explicit policy for the team to organise around. We still don't care when people do their hours, so long as they're doing their best to limit their working week to four days.
I expected to see something of a productivity dip in the first instance while we got used to it, but what we saw in practice was the opposite. On the metrics that matter, we've seen a significant uplift in the business since moving to four days and subjectively the team seems more focussed and engaged. We'll keep monitoring things but from my perspective the experiment has been a resounding success thus far.”