HOW TO: Find success with a 4 day week
Deciding to go from a 5 day week to a 4 day week is easy - sticking with it and making it a success is not. In this blog post we will go through our 2 year journey of how we have found a winning formula with our own team and how you can make it work for you.
We firmly believe we are onto a winner with our Learn, Share, Recharge day, let us tell you how it all started and how we got to that point.
Thanks to the overlapping venn diagram of core values at Tracks and Layers, Mike & Tom decided that it would be a good idea to explore the implementation of a 4 day week. There are a multitude of ways you can experiment with the concept and so they began to research and explore what they hoped to gain from doing it and to really drill down into what our motivation was going to be.
It's no secret that a bad work/life balance in our industry is endemic and prior to becoming a business owner, I have witnessed and experienced this first hand . We both firmly believed it would be possible to break this habit and set a new paradigm.
We've always been conscious of the needs and benefits of making time for our team to develop outside of client projects and to have the opportunity to grow and strengthen our bonds as a team. We were increasingly finding it difficult to allow for this in our busy schedules each week.
Armed with the ambition to set a better industry precedent, it was time to look at all the various incarnations of the 4 day week.
The 3 traditional ways to implement a 4 day week
OPTION 1 - You work 4 days and are paid for 4 days
Saves the company money ✅
Results in a complete day off to do anything ✅
It means a pay cut for staff ❌
Reduces output ❌
Unguided spare time ❌
OPTION 2 - You work 4 days and are paid for 5
Staff don't lose any pay ✅
Results in a complete day off to do anything ✅
Lower profit per member of staff ❌
Reduces output ❌
Unguided spare time ❌
OPTION 3 - You work 4 longer days to make up for the missing day
No reduced output ✅
Staff don't lose pay ✅
May not be suitable for everyone due to commitments outside work ❌
Extra hours may not make up for disruption caused by missing entire weekday ❌
Unguided spare time ❌
Even beyond these 3 commonly implemented incarnations of the 4 day week, then you have to consider additional factors such as:
What day of the week is best?
Should everyone take it at the same time?
Should it happen on the same day each week?
How can it be communicated to clients and customers if the days are distributed or change?
Our 1st attempt - "Recharge"
Straight away we knew that this should be seen as an added benefit and not just a rearrangement of hours or a pay cut. Another consideration which cropped up during our research was the clarification on whether this was a normal day off (unguided and free to do anything) or still a day when you are being paid and expected to do something non-work related.
Our original plan for Recharge was to give our team a day in the week that they could use as an opportunity to "Recharge", this could mean working on a personal project, some personal development or simply some time away from their desk, going for a walk outdoors, a bike ride, a trip to the gym or spending time with their family. The thought process behind this was to give everyone space beyond the weekend to ensure they are fully recharged for the week ahead
The first attempt resulted in what was referred to as a "Recharge" day. The formula for this was:
Working 4 days and being paid for 5
Split the days so that 1/2 the team are off on monday and the other half are off on friday.
The day is a day off except you must do something which is conducive to better physical and mental health.
Armed with this plan, we soon experienced various pitfalls or difficulties which taught us some important lessons.
Lesson 1 - Don't become like ships in the night
We opted to rotate who did a monday or friday every 3 months as we felt that this splitting of the days would reduce any impact it may have on responding to the needs of our clients. It didn't take long for us to realise that usually clients ask for a person directly and this asynchronous pattern of shifts was still quite disruptive when it came to working together.
Lesson 2 - Feeling Guilty
Another problem with dividing the team and their recharge days, was a strange sense of guilt
which came from doing something relaxing while being conscious that half the team were very much busy and engaged with their work. Similarly it was difficult to manage how and when it would be appropriate to make contact when something important came up. Inevitably this would happen and made it impossible for the team to switch off and not remain on standby.
Lesson 3 - A license to Chill
Although the intention was for us to give a license for everyone to rest if needed, this isn't always going to be successful. Although it's incredibly tempting to justify that catching up on essential home maintenance or odd jobs will make one feel better mentally, it's likely that they will also feel more physically tired as a result. The pressure from our own individual personal responsibilities can also bias just how much we really do relish these tasks or whether it's more honest to say that it's simply impossible to relax and take it easy when there's plenty to be done around you.
A change of plans - All together now
We made some changes to take onboard what we had learned from our first attempt at our 4 day week.
We modified the plan so that:
We would all take the same day off together, ending the split and rotation
We would try and do some more Recharge days together as a "Team Recharge"
Team Recharge really came about because of the Covid-19 Lockdown. Like many people, we really missed being physically present with each other. Due to travel restrictions we couldn't all be in the same location so instead we hosted a group video call as we enjoyed our time outdoors. This might sound like some kind of corporate nightmare - being unable to escape endless zoom calls - but in reality it was a bit of fun with a huge portion of self awareness.
In the early days before we formalised the current LSR structure, meeting together for walks in the countryside or visiting a local gallery made us realise the value of having a more consistent cadence and pattern to our Fridays. The team really valued the time outside of the office together and had something to look forward to each month beyond completing client projects.
We continued with this setup for some time and found it had some success, but there was still room for improvement.
Lesson 4 - Time to learn
Prior to beginning our 4 day week journey, we mandated 1/2 a day each week for training and development. Since we introduced our Recharge day, the expectation was that any requirement for training could be instead done on this day. In practice however we found that this didn't really happen. Our Laissez-faire attitude had resulted in a noticeable drop in time spent on our courses and personal development. Furthermore we had no real forum to allow the team to share something they had learned with the rest of the team. Such nuggets of useful information would only appear ad-hoc during our day to day interactions.
Lesson 5 - Communication with clients
Despite our convictions and despite the overwhelmingly positive responses from clients or peers when mentioned in passing, we had still yet to formally explain Recharge or advertise it to clients. This created a pressure to be on standby during the Recharge day in case a client expected to be able to contact us. This effect was especially bad for our studio manager, who's job puts them in a primary position for client comms.
The birth of LSR - Learn, Share, Recharge
At our annual budget & planning meeting, both Mike and I agreed that we needed to steer our Recharge day a bit more to ensure it would be successful. We outlined our concerns and worked together to modify the process so that we could build on what we had learned so far and move it forward to something even better. We loved the team recharge days as they were collaborative and gave a more substantial collective license to do something fun and restorative without being pulled into odd jobs or household chores.
We agreed that bringing a focus back on our core values of always learning and being a healthy team was key to its success but were also sensitive to its impact financially on the business. It was important that we maximise the effectiveness of our Fridays by giving our team clear development goals, making them accountable each month by asking them to share their new knowledge whilst maintaining the original ethos of recharge at the end of each month with a team activity or event away from the studio.
Learn, Share, Recharge
The new plan involved a repeating cycle of days where we would do 2 weeks of learning, 1 day of sharing and 1 day doing a team recharge. The full details can be read about in our other blog but essentially it allowed us to ensure that we had mandated time away from our desks, away from our project work and also granted some invaluable time together to share in knowledge. We expanded the share day to include guest speakers, all of which have given fascinating insight into the world beyond our crafts and help us to broaden our appreciation and understanding of our clients and collaborators.
With this refined plan in place, we also felt more able to shout about it to others, ending this stigma of feeling as though we have to be on call when we should be doing something else.
Of course there are rare occasions when we need to dip our toes into project work but these are exceptional moments. We don't take these events lightly and endeavour to make improvements to ensure that we can continue to improve our commitment to LSR.
How can you implement LSR with your team?
As you can now see, there are many different ways you can break free from the 5 day mould.
Whatever you decide to do, it's critical to the success of it that you:
Carefully consider what you hope to achieve, what is the end benefit to the company and the individuals?
Continue to consult everyone to get feedback and personal experiences to ensure that it has a net positive effect and doesn't inadvertently harm or unfairly impact any specific individuals.
Plan at the start how are you going to communicate it with your clients as this will directly inform what you're comfortable with doing and that it's a benefit to your clients and your own team.
Decide how guided the day will be and how you will manage that level of direction.
Be prepared to adapt your processes to ensure long term success.
(Just some of our LSR Adventures)
As for right now, we are in a really great rhythm with LSR. The team look forward to each Friday, whether they are exploring and learning new skills, sharing and learning from the team and our growing community or recharging out in the countryside together. Furthermore, we are really starting to see the fruits of the initiative, the team have new skills that they are applying to client projects and productivity from Monday to Thursday is definitely on the rise!
LSR forces you to think more about setting aside that important time away from the day-to-day of the business to focus on personal development, team building and recharging ahead of the next busy week. Yes, it might mean a hit to profit in the short term but we are more concerned about the long-term health and growth of our business and our team and firmly believe that LSR is a big bold step in the right direction to ensure everyone is happier and more productive as a result.
I think it's easy to just shrug the concept off as a financial hit which makes good headlines when recruiting - but the truth is that it need not be a done at a loss. It's all about where your values really are and your long term belief and commitment to having a better workplace, a happier team and the best possible work life balance. If we are able to continue to progress towards our goal in this regard, we will have truly laid the foundations for what we believe should become the new standard for any good company. If the investment of 20% of time really does result in better productivity, higher levels of training, better sharing of knowledge and expertise and improved health and wellbeing; I say that's an excellent return on investment. The success we have had thus far indicates that we have made the right choices and we are confident that there are many other companies out there who can easily use our tried and tested framework to take the plunge and start making a difference today.