We Went to a 4-Day Work Week…Here’s What Happened
We are coming up shortly on the 3-year anniversary of our young company. When you read the stats of small business failure rates and see others around you self-destructing, it is exciting (and humbling) to know that you have created something that has not only survived, but thrived over the last several years.
When we launched V-Squared Creative in January of 2014 I had a very specific type of company I wanted to create…I wanted to build a content marketing agency that hinged on three pillars: High quality work, done quickly, and for a fair price.
Additionally, we had the opportunity to create a work environment that was tailored to our exact specifications and was a combination of several things: fun, exciting, collaborative, creative…you get the idea. After all, it’s one thing to do great client work…what’s more rare is working at a place that you genuinely like and with people you respect and are friendly with. We had a perfect chance to do all that and more.
So, I began reading as much as I could about creating a “dynamic culture”, having “great leadership”, implementing an “open office” layout, and on and on. Introspectively, I asked myself what it was that I wanted or if I were an employee, what would be important to me? After all, I’m human, and even though I know everyone is different, I figured we were all after the same basic things. So, I made a list…
- I wanted to create an atmosphere of collaboration. I wanted everyone on the team to feel like they were actually part of a team. A part of something bigger than just themselves. We needed to feel safe enough and comfortable enough to lean on one another for help and support with the projects we were working on and communicate openly amongst team members without fear of backlash. That also included renting office space that is a big open bullpen where we can speak freely to one another and bounce ideas back and forth when necessary.
- It needed to be a fun place to work. I like to think I’m a pretty laid back boss…I expect a lot from my team, but I also recognize the importance of enjoying what you do and having fun doing it.
- I wanted to create a culture of autonomy. I’m not one to micro-manage. I know I’m in the minority here, but honestly, I’ve always found that in order to garner trust I have to give it. That’s why I give a pretty clear range of parameters for completing work, but as long as my employees stay within those parameters I’m not really concerned about the mechanics of when and how they do it. All I really ask is that it is done to the highest quality of their ability and that they meet the project deadline. Have I been taken advantage of by someone not pulling his or her weight? Sure. But for me at least, the pros have greatly outweighed the cons. (And those people who took advantage of it are no longer with us, so there’s that too.)
- I wanted to pay a fair wage, based on merit. As a young company, cash flow is a constant thorn in my side. Revenues and cash flow have stabilized fortunately, but small businesses are much more susceptible to swings in income than their larger counterparts. However, I’ve always tried to pay my peeps fairly and give them merit-based raises when I can justify it based on revenue. (A rising tide really does lift all boats here.)
- I wanted to be selective about who we work with (and who we don’t work with). In the beginning, like most new businesses, we took on whatever work came our way. This didn’t always lead to desirable results. On a few occasions I had to actually fire clients. I never like doing that, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. Further, this extends beyond just clients and includes team members. On more than one occasion I made a poor hiring choice. The person was talented and did a great job, but they just didn’t fit culturally, had a poor attitude, or didn’t consistently operate within the parameters we had set.
After looking over this list I made it a point to implement every one of these items into V-Squared Creative.
Partly this list of items has helped me get clear on what kind of company it was that I wanted to build. That we did high quality work, quickly, and at a fair price was a given. To me, those were just table stakes.
But, the nagging questions that wouldn't leave me alone were, what else could we do to bolster our culture? What could we do (besides just offering a monetary benefit) to bring value to everyone on the team?
An Alternative Way to Approach “Work”
About this time I re-read Tim Ferriss’s book, “The Four Hour Work Week” and also another book by a guy named Stephan Aarstol who wrote “The Five Hour Workday” that got me thinking about our workflow and work days…it also got me thinking about our most valuable asset:
It occurred to me that in reality, the type of work we do doesn’t require us to have a set schedule. Sure we have to meet with clients during the work day and generally be available during traditional office hours to answer emails and take phone calls, but other than that I figured we could play with the schedule a bit. In other words, could we figure out a way to give everyone more time to do other things they were passionate about, spend time with their families, or pursue other goals/creative endeavors outside of work?
I wasn’t considering having everyone work whenever they wanted or remotely or anything like that. That wasn’t exactly feasible. Working in the middle of the night or really odd hours, that was out too. A five-hour workday intrigued me, but I ultimately ruled it impractical given the restraints for what we did as a company and client expectations.
But what about a 4-day work week? What if say, we took Fridays off? Would anyone care? Would work suffer? Would we miss deadlines?
There was only one way to find out. We ran a trial period to test it.
The 4-Day Work Week in Practice
At our next team meeting I broached the subject with the team. I made the case for how we would make it work and what we could do to make it a permanent part of our culture. Here were a few of the “ground rules” we talked about…
- Our typical work schedule was Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm. Under this new program we would be in the office Monday through Thursday, 8:30am to 5:30pm. Essentially, we really only cut out four hours of work time a week by doing it this way.
- We absolutely could not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, miss deadlines. If the client work suffered then the program was not viable. Period. I was unwilling to sacrifice hard deadlines on client projects.
- Quality of work had to remain the same or better. We’re always striving to increase our work quality, but if the quality of our work began to slide, we would scrap the program. This too, I was unwilling to concede on.
- Fridays would still be open to work on projects if the deadline demanded it. In other words, although we were technically “off” on Fridays, if an emergency popped up then we would handle it. Further, no complaining or whining about this was allowed.
- It would be subject to a 30-day trial period. I made it very clear that we were running a test and that the results very well could come back indicating that we had made a mistake. That would be ok…I don’t mind making mistakes if they allow us to try more creative things and help us learn.
That was pretty much it. Nothing fancy, just a straightforward, “Let’s try this under these rules and see what happens.”
There were some initial concerns from the team, which to their credit, were more about the clients than themselves. They asked questions like: “Can we stay later than 5:30 if we have to?” and “Does this affect our pay?” (It would not. Part of the point of the program was to give an additional benefit, so pay rates remained the same. In effect, this amounted to a 20% raise.)
There were also comments such as: “I’m worried I won’t get my work done in time” and “I don’t know how our clients will respond to this.”
I reminded them that the 40-hour, 5-day work week was a completely arbitrary practice instituted in the early 1900s by the government, unions, and big manufacturing companies. There is nothing to say that in 2016 we can’t figure this out and make it work for us. In short, their “rules” didn’t apply to us…we could create whatever work environment that suited us best.
Overall, there was air of excitement. We would be trying something that for most companies would be a radical shift in thinking and practice.
But, one our core tenets laid out in the V-Squared Creative Manifesto is “I don’t care how other companies do things, I only care about how we do things.”
So it began.
The first week we tried it there were a few hiccups. For example, we had already scheduled some deadlines for the next Friday and it took a bit of wrangling to move things around and make sure the deadlines were still met. Even still, on that particular Friday, a designer on a project and I had to put in a couple hours to make sure the project was completed. Other than that, nothing major happened. Week 1 was a success.
Week 2 was a bit smoother because we planned a little better the previous week for it, scheduling work only for Monday through Thursday. Interestingly, one of the items brought up in a team meeting recap of the program was the feeling of guilt for not working when they knew there were projects out there that needed to be wrapped up. But no one died, so we counted week 2 also as a success.
Week 3 and 4 followed suit and although there have been some minor rough patches, for the most part it has been smooth sailing. I kept the program under wraps from clients, but to the few I did mention it to, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. They have been both supportive and curious as to how we were making it work.
Speaking of how it works, in reality, the reason is just basic human nature. If I give you 8 hours to complete a task or series of tasks then it will probably take you 8 hours to complete them. However, if I give you the same tasks, but only give you 4 hours to complete them you will somehow, miraculously complete them in the allotted time period.
This is no different. What used to take five days now only takes four because we don’t have a choice. I’ve found that creativity and production have actually increased because we are more focused on the task at hand. We don’t waste time and we operate with a sense of urgency at all times. That keeps everyone on their toes and operating as efficiently as possible.
Further, morale has gone up across the board. Everyone has mentioned to me on several occasions that Fridays off is the best move I’ve made as CEO so far (surprising, right?). There’s more energy, more passion, and more dedication in the office…it’s almost tangible.
My hope is that this will also help us attract high quality employees in the future who value the type of culture we are building. We’ll see.
Obviously, this type of program isn’t feasible or even advisable for every industry or company. But, if you think it may work for you, I’d urge you to give it a try and see what happens. If you have your doubts or would like clarification on how we did it, shoot me an email…I’d be happy to chat about it. tobe[at]vsquaredcreative.com.
Until then, if you need me, I’ll be here. Just not on Fridays.