Everyone in America knows what Fridays “feel” like. For some it may seem exciting because the weekend is just around the corner; others may feel a little rebellious because we all know that Friday is a day to take the load off. Our favorite bosses go easy at the office and our favorite teachers play movies in the classroom. Fridays have become a sort of reward for working hard Monday through Thursday, but does an easy Friday really motivate anyone to work harder on the other days? Does the extra day of work create enough productivity to make it worth showing up?
At the beginning of this year, we adopted a four-day workweek. It wasn’t an experiment or a temporary shift. We did it because we’ve seen the science and we believed that given a choice to spend more of their time how they choose, our colleagues would show up in even more meaningful ways on the days they carve out for work. We also did it because we believe that in today’s economy, we can do meaningful work and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We wanted to be pioneers who lead a new way of life for workers in America.
When I wrote about our transition earlier this year, a few people asked me to provide an update on what has changed for our company in the time since. This is an attempt to provide that update. While it will be difficult to tease apart which outcomes would have presented with the natural progress of business, which came as a result of the pandemic, and which are a result of switching to a four-day workweek, I hope our story helps others to better grasp what it might look like if they were to adopt a similar shift in their own organization.
The Truth About Work in the Information Age
In an effort to set honest expectations, it’s important to acknowledge that in the Information Age, many Americans don’t really ever leave work. Their email is in their pocket at all times and for many, the boss’s Slack messages still vibrate after 5 PM. For some this is by choice, for others, a hyper-competitive workplace may have foisted this upon them in order to take on competitors or gobble up more opportunity. Technology has driven these shifts and while some complain that it pushes the boundaries of work life into personal life, I would argue that it opens the door to more work flexibility.
As an entirely remote team, we have staff in different time zones around the world and some people are working when others are sleeping. Clients email with urgent needs that, at times, really do need to be addressed on the weekend. Our client-facing team members are at the ready to review requests for urgency, and our tech team responds when things break no matter the day of the week. With that caveat in mind, we extend the flexibility to work when you want so long as you are available to your clients and team members during standard working hours. Technology makes this possible, so we view it as a positive, not a negative. It just takes acknowledging that the standard work day isn’t necessarily what’s best for every worker or team and identifying what will work for your organization in order to strike the right balance.
What Outcomes Have We Observed?
So far, 2020 has been a wild ride. I imagine just about everyone is having this experience, but for our organization, healthy growth has been a consistent theme throughout. One of the outcomes that we anticipated as a result of the shift was that we would be just as productive, if not more so, in four days than in five. While we did not install a solid metric to determine our progress on this front, our growth has demanded shifts in how we operate. In addition to growing our team size, we’ve implemented new software, adopted new processes, and reshaped how teamwork unfolds within our organization.
These changes alone have reduced chaos, allowed for information to flow more smoothly, and allowed team members to focus on creative and strategic work, not busy work. The numbers will be the proof, and so far, so good. In the first seven months of the year, our revenue has grown by 29% over the same period in 2019 and our profitability is up 266%. Cashflow, which has been one of our consistent challenges to date, has also stabilized as our processes have improved.
In addition to growth in revenue and profit, we’ve also grown our team size. Since April, we’ve DOUBLED our team size in order to meet the growing demand and reduce the load for our more senior team members. I have no doubt that our philosophy on work, being a remote-only team, and offering new hires a four-day, 32-hour workweek while also delivering a competitive salary and benefits has been a catalyst for us attracting extremely skilled, talented, and experienced people to our team.
The level of enthusiasm on the team has also enjoyed a boost. Between seeing that a four-day workweek can work and enjoying the extra time off, senior team members have expressed a boost in energy and motivation when working (and when not working) and have also reported sustained available capacity after eliminating a day of work from their schedules. New team members have injected more enthusiasm for the existing team as they observe strides toward a healthier, happier, and more productive company. In addition to existing staff, new team members report a high degree of confidence in our company’s direction and express elevated levels of inspiration as they interact with others on the team and begin to take on more responsibility.
What About the Boss?
If you are a business owner, you may be laughing at the idea of a four-day workweek. In addition to calling Friday the “F” word, I also consider retirement the “R” word because I can’t see myself ever not creating something, and I think creation and work are synonymous. With that in mind, I’m still interested in finding time and space for myself to step away from the work and feel that I can fully alleviate myself from the pressures that come along with it.
The first thing I did when we adopted the four-day policy is to eliminate Fridays from my client-facing appointment scheduler. I also made a commitment to never add a new task with a due day of Friday. Where I have allowed myself to relax this is 1) when I feel like it may be necessary to book a Friday meeting in order to get a conversation in before the end of the week and 2) when Thursday comes and goes and I haven’t finished all of my scheduled work for the week. This sometimes results in a completely booked Friday (as was the case last Friday), but there is something very interesting about these days. They rarely feel like a work day.
In conversations with other leaders, I’ve admitted that I still do some work almost every day of the week. Most of the work I do on the weekends is not scheduled and it’s either to play catch up or to get ahead of something in the upcoming week. Sometimes I allocate time to read, write, or plan something that influences my work. But even on weekend days that I plan to work, I still have that liberated weekend feeling when I wake up in the morning. In my exploration of this work philosophy, I’m interested in finding a way to get the weekend feeling every day of the week. Starting with Friday, we’re charting a course.
The biggest shift that I personally have experienced is a reduction in exposure to chaos and a greater ability to focus on our vision, our purpose and my leadership abilities. As we’ve staffed up and improved processes, I’ve been able to retire many hats. I’ve all but removed myself from production work, I seldom own a support ticket, I no longer personally issue invoices, and only one person reports directly to me (instead of everyone). This article would not be possible without removing those responsibilities from my plate (it still took moving through this transition and six weeks of kicking it down the road to finish writing this piece). Furthermore, freeing up time to tap into my own creativity – I thrive when solving business challenges and creating value – has given me more confidence in my decision making, continually inspires me to keep fulfilling my purpose and gives me hope that all of our dreams can be realized if we focus on the path forward.
I admit that I have a utopian vision for what the future world of work looks like. A big part of our purpose is in spending time thinking about what that future should be and working to introduce change that proves work can be more a part of one’s life as opposed to being something that is so painful that it must be siloed off. Being a trailblazer in this regard comes with serious challenges that should be taken into consideration before planning a transformation to a new work philosophy.
For us, the biggest challenge remains that most of our clients are still working on Friday. That often prompts activity that must be tended to. For this reason, team members sometimes still schedule calls for Friday morning and occasionally a seemingly urgent client request at minimum demands a same-day response.
Aside from writing about our experience in this transition, I have yet to ideate the best way to effectively communicate new expectations to clients. I suspect that addressing this head-on could help to resolve the previously mentioned issue and I also suspect that we already do receive fewer requests on Fridays from clients who know we primarily work on the first four days the week. So far, needing to be on call seven days a week has allowed us to take a less direct approach here, but planning work activities to take place Monday through Thursday has made a true four-day work week the standard for most team members most weeks.
What Happens Next?
We are currently working on a rebrand for ourselves and one of the elements of that branding is our new tagline, “What Happens Next?” This tagline pays creedence to our belief that in marketing, the work is never done; there is always another step that you can take with a prospect, customer or client to create more value for them and for your organization. It is also a nod to our automation solutions as we must always ask what the next step is in any process in order to effectively deliver a better customer experience and remove mindless tasks from human responsibility.
In thinking about our vision and purpose, we’re constantly asking this same question. What must we do next in order to advance America toward a better world of work? In addition to the flexibility remote work offers to our team and the freedom that one fewer work day affords individuals on the team, we’re exploring an unlimited vacation day policy. While I know this will not work for all businesses and organizations, I believe that for our organization, it is the next best step we can take. I’ll save the details on our thinking here for another post, but so far, the pathway to that reality is fairly clear. For now, we just want to allow enough time for our recent changes to shape our own world of work and gather insights as to how those changes have enabled our growth, health, and sustainability.
Are you interested in effecting monumental shifts in how work looks in America? Share your ideas in the comments below and share our story with others on your team to start the conversation. Everyone can’t be a pioneer, but it will take all of us to make a new world of work a reality in America.