The four day work week and how to implement it
February 2020 and, after close to 12 months, we think it now works sufficiently well to implement permanently. We’ve had a lot of interest from others about our experiment, so we thought we’d pass on some of our learnings.
The following comes from comments made by two of our Directors, Anne Stephenson and Kevin Summerhays, who oversaw the project during its initial trial run.
The Initial Objective
When we started, we wanted to keep profitability at the same level but improve productivity by 20%, so we could all enjoy a 3-day weekend and without compromising on client service standards. The benefits of doing the same amount of work activity in fewer days was expected to result in higher employee engagement, which meant we should see:
- Improved job satisfaction
- Improved teamwork
- Better work/life balance
- Improved staff retention
- Fewer sick days / less absenteeism
Planning for the Trial
Given that improved employee engagement was a critical factor in achieving our objective, there was no way we could successfully trial the 4DWW without having the team closely involved in the planning. The very first step was to brainstorm as a team, covering:
- Why have a four day work week?
- What can we do more efficiently?
- What can we stop doing?
- Are there tools (technology) that would take away the drudgery?
- What are the current bottlenecks and how do we remove them?
- How do our customers currently experience our service?
- What do our customers expect and how might they react to change?
- How do we exceed client expectations?
- What are the risks?
- How can we mitigate the risks?
- What does a productive week look like – what has been done?
- Are there any circumstances where we would work on Friday?
At the brainstorm session we agreed that we all wanted Friday off but that we’d be available to clients by email or mobile phone. Provided each person had completed a productive week (defined as having meet agreed targets) then they could take Friday off. There are some exceptions – some clients can only meet on a Friday, so we’d accommodate that and we’d also have our quarterly strategic sessions on a Friday. But as much as possible, everyone would focus on working Monday - Thursday and shift personal appointments to Friday.
We were in a really good position at the start of the trial, having spent a fair amount of time and energy earlier last year focusing on improving teamwork. We’d also shifted from measuring inputs (i.e. chargeable hours) to measuring outputs (i.e. weekly billings), so we had a good idea of what we considered a productive week. The team were all used to being responding directly to clients and being held accountable for their own actions.
We identified some changes immediately, and a few more when the Covid-19 lockdown hit. The biggest changes we made were:
- Buying office mobile phones for the team, linked through to the existing telecommunications system.
- Replacing desktop computers with laptops & docking stations (with rules around downloads)
- Using apps like Karma (team recognition), Polly (internal surveys), and Trello (weekly action plans)
- Creating internal rules of behaviour
- Being prepared for internal meetings (keep them short!)
- Having stand-up meetings
And the Results……..
Lockdown was easier than it would have been. A lot of the planning we’d done for the 4DWW was appropriate when everyone was working from home – expectations were known, systems and processes were in place and understood. Referring back to our initial objectives, we found:
- The team generally felt happier and more relaxed at work
- It took a while before they were prepared to commit Fridays to personal activities, and if they now need to work on a Friday they will try and make it a half day only
- Client expectations were positive - many clients continued sending emails through on Fridays, but were more than happy to wait until Monday for a response
- Co-ordination between the team improved – feeling happier may have influenced this
- Profitability has been generally been close to targets
- Individual planning needed to be improved – this was seen as one of the keys to keeping focused and productive during the working week
- Clients have generally embraced the idea - there have been a few grumbles but they have been easy to defuse
- Interestingly, we have had more sick days this year, but we don’t know if a world-wide pandemic situation may have influenced that outcome.
The 4DWW won't suit every business, there's no doubt about that. However, if you are looking to implement a flexible work arrangement then it is absolutely crucial to have trust between the leaders and employees, with the whole team involved in implementation from the bottom up. So much so, that we’ve also written a blog post on the Good faith that was required during the trial. This is relevant, because it is only since we confirmed we will adopt the 4DWW permanently that we have started looking at the changes needed to our employment agreements.
On the positive side our employees are motivated and feeling happier, productivity and internal processes have improved, and we have also reduced our carbon footprint. All done while pretty much maintaining profitability!
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