A little while ago we posted about why we chose to run our company virtually. It was one of several challenging decisions that we made early in the life of our company. It was not the most difficult one though. The title of most difficult decision (so far) belongs to our decision to adopt a four-day workweek. Today we’ll share how we reached that decision, and what we learned from this experience so far.
How we got here
Decisions that are made during the early days of a company’s life often have a lasting impact on a company’s identity and values. We spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of company we want to be. We have a diverse set of opinions about the right way to build a company, which have been shaped by our various experiences working at startups, large companies, and even for the government. Each experience taught us something about what it takes to build a successful company that people want to be a part of. Without exception, we agree that our company must place equal value on the well-being of its employees, the success of its customers, and the health of our planet. We want our company to make a positive and lasting impact on all three.
It is because of this focus on employees, customers, and the planet that we regularly discuss corporate life, how it’s changing, and what we need to do to adapt. We discuss remote work, attracting talent, corporate accountability, and taking care of our employees.
As with every major decision we make, we examined the benefits and costs of a change with a focus on our three stakeholders — our employees, our customers, and the planet. We asked ourselves whether each of our stakeholders would be better off as a result of this change, agreeing that the change must make a positive impact on all of our stakeholders. Each of our stakeholders is equally important to us, and we therefore cannot harm one for the benefit of another. We must preserve a balance among the three. In this case, we found that a four-day workweek was the right thing to do for all stakeholders, so we moved forward with the change.
Better for our employees
As we alluded to earlier, balance plays an important role in our decision making. Work-life balance features prominently in our discussions. We don’t want our team to work through their lunches (or skip eating altogether), work on the weekends, or miss family vacations. It’s wrong to ask people to prioritize their work over their families and their well-being.
We felt that an extra day off would give our team more time to spend with their families, to exercise, to take care of errands that can’t wait until the weekend, or to just rest. To avoid causing financial stress on our employees, and to emphasize our commitment to our employees’ well-being, we kept compensation unchanged, and we also kept our uncapped time off policy in place. We want our employees to be happy because happy employees are more engaged, more productive, and are more likely to stick around. This change would clearly be an improvement for our employees.
Going into the program we were concerned that less working time would result in lower productivity. Fortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case. In fact, we’ve seen an improvement in employee engagement and productivity across the board. Tasks are getting done on time and the quality is at least as high as it was prior to our change. Our employees report being very happy with having extra time to take care of errands or other personal priorities. We’ve found ways to coordinate schedules to ensure that there is adequate coverage at all times. Overall, this has been a huge win for our employees.
Better for our customers
Our discussions were most energetic when we thought through the impact on our customers, and by extension, our business. The key concern here is that by reducing our workweek by 20% we would adversely impact our customers because our team would be 20% less available for them. Fortunately, we found that by making a few changes to the way we conduct our business we were able to improve our customer experience.
The changes that we implemented focused on maximizing productivity and minimizing wasted effort. The expectation was that by forcing ourselves to be better at prioritizing our work we could accomplish at least the same amount of work in four days instead of five. A focused and efficient team is one that can support our customers better, deliver new functionality faster, innovates more quickly, and fosters more productive relationships with our customers. When viewed from that perspective, there is no doubt that a four-day workweek has the potential to be better for our customers.
Of course, these kinds of changes are not something that we could just turn on with an all-hands announcement. We are all creatures of habit, including bad habits. It takes time to retrain people to think twice about calling a meeting, or how to prepare a clear agenda prior to a meeting. Some people are naturally good at prioritizing their work, but most of us need coaching to learn these skills. Once the habits were built up though, we started to see the benefits accruing. For example, we saw a meaningful reduction in the number of meetings that were called, as well as in the number of people who attended those meetings.
One common retort to our position is that customers are not better off because our team is 20% less available as a result of trimming one day from the workweek. However, in practice we learned to stagger our schedules and to implement processes that ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. We found better ways to improve coordination and communication with each other to make sure that things run smoothly. These improvements help us to better serve our customers. That’s a clear win for our customers.
Better for the environment
A four-day workweek is also better for the environment. A University of Massachusetts study calculated that a 10% reduction in working hours would reduce the ecological footprint by 12.1% and the global carbon footprint by 14.6% annually. That’s a lot considering that the fashion industry’s carbon footprint, which we’re trying to reduce, is 10%. There are also the smaller, but still important, reduction of waste associated with less need for takeout containers, office outfits, wear-and-tear on our vehicles, and probably a number of other savings that we haven’t even thought of yet. A four-day workweek is a clear win for the environment.
Where we go from here
It’s been about a year since we implemented a four-day work week. So far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. We’re thrilled to see the same results emerging from the various (and much larger) studies taking place all over the world. Of particular note are the Preliminary results from largest trial of a four-day work week that took place in the UK has found the approach “life-changing”. Productivity is at least what it was prior to the trial, employees report better work-life balance and mental well-being, and companies are able to implement this approach profitably. These are promising findings indeed!
But, like with any major experiment, we continue to learn and to adapt. If you’re undertaking similar efforts at your company, we’d love to connect and share notes. We can be reached at email@example.com.