Benefits include increased productivity and improved recruiting. Here’s how to think through–and successfully implement–this new way to work.
When running a business, sometimes you’ll hear a knee-jerk idea–you know, the kind that makes you say, “Impossible. No way we could ever do that.” That’s what a lot of people say when they hear about the movement to reduce the typical workweek from five eight-hour days to four, for a total of 32 working hours. But ever since the pandemic, the four-day workweek has been growing in popularity. Now–like remote work–it’s not a crazy idea but something that companies are adopting to great success.
I’m a big believer that there are no crazy ideas–just ideas that haven't been modeled and tested yet. When we went fully remote with Summit back in the early 2002, plenty of people said it was impossible; but really, it just required planning, patience, and an open mind.
Recently, I sat down with someone who has in-the-trenches experience with the four-day workweek: Morgan Witham, CEO of COLAB, a digital agency that designs websites through an iterative process.
I wanted to hear about how she moved from a “that’s crazy” response to the four-day work week, to a “let’s figure it out” perspective. Here’s what to keep in mind if you’re interested in the four-day workweek–and how to make it happen so that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
What is a four-day workweek and why is it trending?
A four-day workweek is not a condensed schedule: it’s a reduced schedule that can boost productivity, creativity, and organizational health. The logic behind it is that our brain needs to actively create new neural pathways to do its best work. We can’t be “Go! Go! Go!” all the time with client meetings. If our brains can’t rest, where do we find the time to connect the dots?
With increased levels of burnout and a tight job market, companies are looking at ways to improve quality of life and become more competitive. That could look like increasing salaries, providing unlimited PTO, offering a flexible, hybrid or remote schedule – or a four-day workweek.
It’s obvious how that benefits employees: they get more time for their families, their other obligations, and their outside passions.
But when done correctly, it can be a win-win–and not just because increased employee satisfaction improves recruiting and retention. It can actually lead to increased billings as well.
This happens by reducing non-billable activities like unnecessary meetings and switching to value-based billing. That switch is an important piece of the puzzle. It encourages companies to help their employees increase productivity in two different ways: first, by providing them with more resources so they can work more efficiently; second, by giving them more free time which increases their bandwidth and creativity during the shorter workweek.
Steps to take when considering a four-day workweek
1. Start with your ‘why’
A four-day workweek is a philosophy, not a set of rules. Before you get to the how, you need to figure out if it’s right for your company. That means knowing what your goals are – for your financials, for your people, and for your client-relations.
Is the purpose of a reduced workweek to give your employees time to catch up on research and development or other non-billables–or to have time off? Is it to retain more talent? Is it to provide more flexibility?
The more you dig into these questions, the more options you’ll find. It’s not all or nothing. There are a lot of ways to achieve these goals, whether it’s Fridays off for everyone, a flexible schedule, or increasing PTO. Get curious–and the details will come later.
2. Involve your whole team
Once you have a sense of your objectives, dig into what the data says about other companies that have successfully implemented a four-day workweek or other policies you’re weighing. That will give you the backbone for your elevator pitch to bring to your leadership team.
Ask your team to hear you out before voicing objections–but then listen to what they have to say. No one person can think through all the potential complications of a major policy change. And, just because data says it worked in another company doesn’t mean it can be a one-size-fits-all.
With leadership on board, the next step is to bring the proposal to the whole team. Involve them in the process. Start a running list of every possible challenge a four-day workweek could cause–particularly the biggest what-if. If the pilot fails, will the whole team mutiny if we go back to a five-day week? Then, as you move towards a rollout, use the concerns as a checklist to work through, one at a time.
If you’re letting the team help create the policy rather than presenting it to them fully baked, you succeed or fail together. But you’re more likely to succeed, because you’ve got their buy-in, along with their in-the-trenches perspective about potential problems – and solutions.
3. Model and pilot it
For a four-day work week to be financially viable, you need to know your billable target and work back from there. Then you can look at every non-billable item on your calendar and do an exercise of “keep, kill, combine,” to streamline your work day. You also want to determine which KPIs to use during the pilot, so you have objective ways to assess whether it’s working.
Whenever you implement a major change, start small. A phased-rollout gives you a chance to get your backend processes in place before you introduce the change to your clients. They’ll have questions like, “What happens if I have an emergency on a Friday?” and you’ll be ready with the answer.
The pilot will be a time of trial and error–especially if your business is going through other changes, whether it’s onboarding new employees or clients, or transitioning your systems. So be patient: If your data isn’t telling a logical story–yet–consider extending the pilot until you have enough metrics to be sure you know enough to move forward.
4. Write the final policy
Once your pilot is complete, look back on the hard data and employee self-reporting to see how you’ve done.
As you write the final policy, you may want to tweak your holiday calendar or how many days of PTO you offer. You may also need to look into ways to re-introduce any lost connective tissue for teams who now spend less time together. (At Summit, we balance the remote work environment with regular, in-person retreats.)
Writing a new policy is never a one-shot deal, but if you’ve got data and team buy-in, you’re more likely to come up with an approach that works for the company overall.
It’s not crazy or impossible - but it’s not a silver bullet either
Talking with Morgan as they get close to the end of their pilot, I wasn’t surprised to hear how positive their results are. They were so deliberate, inclusive, transparent and open-minded in their planning and execution that it makes sense they’re reaping the rewards: significant decreases in stress and burnout levels (almost 20%), along with increases in personal satisfaction (25%) and rock solid financials. In terms of recruitment, their statistics speak for themselves: Every single one of their new-recruit respondents said the four-day workweek influenced their decision to accept a job at COLAB.
But she did share one surprising thing she learned from her experience: A four-day workweek is not a magic fix that prevents all people-problems. You still have to focus on all the other aspects of management, client relationships, and professional development–anything that can cause burnout or dissatisfaction.
Morgan left me with a final thought–and I couldn’t agree more: When your knee-jerk reaction is, “It can't be done,” ask, “Why?” and see where that takes you.