These past few years, almost every industry has rethought what work should look like. One of the buzziest concepts, the four-day workweek, emerged as a popular solution to collective burnout. Office, tech, and creative organizations seemed to embrace the trend the most, declaring some (or all) Friday work verboten. But how are they all doing now? Has everyone achieved the deep sense of inner peace that only an additional day away from Slack can bring? Has work slowly crept back into Fridays? Has anyone quietly decided “nah, this doesn’t work”? We checked in with some companies who have rolled out a four-day workweek. And, if you’re still considering rolling out a shortened week, we compiled their best advice to ensuring it sticks and stays productive.
At Bright + Early, we rolled out a “four-day week every other week” policy back in January, meaning we take every other Friday off. Our intention with this was to encourage days of intense focus as well as days of rest, with the hypothesis that this would produce better (or at a base minimum, equal) quality work. We also just wanted to practice what we preach and be a great employer, enabling parents to spend more time with kids, or people to spend more time on hobbies or simply relaxing; whatever they wanted to do.
The main questions we debated were around fitting in the same amount of work into 4 days, mainly whether we’d be working into the night on “on” days (nope) and whether we’d have to hire more to make this work (again, no). The other big issue we anticipates was our clients having emergencies or last-minute asks on our “off” days; we had the longest debate about this one. We decided to appoint a system where someone would be on call during off days, just in case. In the end, having great relationships with our clients (as well as firmly set expectations and knack for anticipating needs) has meant that we’ve barely had to use it.
We’re now exploring the idea of whether to roll out a four-day week every single week. For us, the debate is now around time together. As a team, we use our “on” Fridays to connect, brainstorm, bring in expert speakers and discuss anything non-client related, like improvements to our own processes and systems. As part of the experiment, we’ve shifted some of these tasks to other days, or into asynchronous processes, and have continued to discuss how they feel and fit. But for now, a biweekly schedule works well for us, and is something to consider if you want to experiment with short weeks yourself.
However, rolling back hours isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Feeld, an alt-dating app with staff all over the world, was eager to roll out a no-working-Fridays policy, asking team members to spend the time on personal growth instead. However, the perk didn’t seem to work for everyone. Time zones made things confusing (when and where does the Friday begin?) and collaboration suffered. Feeld decided to lean into a policy of general flexibility instead, focusing on the results people bring rather than the time they are or are not at their desks. This allows them to structure their hours and days and days off as they please, with asynchronous processes in place to support it.
One client of ours, an innovation design firm, loved the idea of four-day weeks and jumped right in. While staff loved the flexibility, they didn’t consider or communicate much of a plan on how work and goals would be rearranged, which left folks with a sense of confusion. They decided to put the program on pause, put it to a debate and vote, and try again with more defined goals and systems in place.
Sophomore, a creative agency we work with, went the opposite route, cautiously rolling out a step-by-step plan that worked towards four-day weeks. The multi-month plan included beginning with no-meetings days and half days off, with the idea that they would slowly progress up to taking every Friday off. Checkpoints were built in along the way to evaluate work quality, client happiness, and to collect feedback from the team on how it was going. Juno College, a technology college based in Toronto that is also a former client of ours, ran a three-month pilot program that it decided to extend. “We decided to do one Friday off in the first month, two in the second month, and three in the third month. We ended up holding at three Fridays off for two additional months, as we found some teams needed a bit longer to adjust,” said Juno’s chief executive officer Heather Payne. The school made the official switch to a four-day workweek after six months.
Overall, most companies we spoke with were keen on keeping the four-day week, or at least replacing it with an equally flexible concept. All reported higher employee happiness and engagement, lower turnover (who wants to go back once you’ve had unlimited long weekends?) and surprisingly little effect on output. Want to give it a go? Here are our tips for making a reduced week plan successful.
Instead of jumping right in and declaring every Friday a free day off, try taking baby steps like “no meetings” days or half days off. By taking it slow, you can find (and solve) any challenges that came up, at a reasonable pace.
Know your quirks
Though a four-day week won’t be possible for many business models, it may be more doable than you think. As a service-based business, Bright + Early had the challenge of adapting our clients to the new schedule, most of which worked traditional hours. Think about what happens if clients have an emergency during an “off” day. To solve this, set expectations with your clients, shift any scheduled meetings to other days well in advance and focus on anticipating any problems. You may find that clients and partners are more supportive than you imagine.
Model as a leader
Moving to a reduced workweek will challenge leaders to be clear about the priorities and deliverables they expect from their teams. It’s also up to them to model the behaviour they want to see. If employees see their boss sending Slack messages or emails on “off” days, it may break their trust in the program and leave them wondering whether they too should be logging on.
Chances are, your team isn’t working 40 entire hours at full efficiency. Piloting a reduction in work hours can be a great excuse to find efficiencies and automation. Take a look at your team’s regularly scheduled meetings, for example. Can any of them be shortened, done asynchronously, or even eliminated? Can time-intensive administrative tasks be eased with new software or processes? We moved our weekly Friday meeting to biweekly but added a casual (and optional) kickoff chat on Monday mornings to ensure we still felt connected. Another great meeting hack is to provide all the relevant information prior to the call, giving people time to digest and form opinions. Then you can use the meeting time for discussion only.
One mistake organizations make when experimenting with a four-day workweek is not being clear to staff that it’s just that: an experiment. If you’re committed to making it work, great. But, if you’re just testing the waters, be honest. As you learn what works and what doesn’t, timelines and circumstances might change. Let them know.
Check-in regularly with staff on how they’re adjusting. Are they finding they have enough time to get their work done? Are they regularly sneaking in work on days off? This is more common than you may think, and employees might be hesitant to speak up for fear that the perk will be eliminated. If people are struggling, don’t assume failure; try to help them find efficiencies first. You can collect feedback on how the program is going by prescheduling discussions, taking surveys, and showing that you’re open to any and all feedback people have.
A four-day week isn’t for everyone, but it may be less difficult to implement than you think. And the rest, gratitude, and personal fulfillment it can bring to your team may pay you back in spades.