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We’re trialling a 4-day work week (but with one key difference)

We’re trialling a 4-day work week (but with one key difference)

More and more progressive companies are switching to a 4-day work week as a way to help their team members live more fulfilling lives and become more engaged with their work. Which posed us the question — shall we follow suit? As it turns out, just copying what others do is never a good idea.

In 2022, the companies that are thriving are the ones investing their time, resources and attention towards building a great place to work — one that values their teams’ wellbeing and personal fulfilment as a top priority.

This has brought many forward-thinking companies to challenge old assumptions about the amount of time we spend at work. They introduced new, exciting ways of working that gave back more time to team members to spend outside of work — like the 4-day work week.

At Charlie, we had always taken the Monday-to-Friday work week as a given, the ‘norm’. But after all norms were overturned with the pandemic, was the 4-day work week the way forward?

In this blog, we explain how we decided that a 4-day work week would do more harm than good for our company culture — and how we went about finding a better solution to support our team’s wellbeing as well as their performance.

We hope that sharing the process that took us there will help you find the best solution for your own company too!

If you want to download our adjusted work week policy straight away, you can do this here.

Why we considered changing the way we worked in the first place

Our mission at Charlie is to help every small company craft the culture they need to thrive. What that means for me and for the rest of the People team at Charlie is that we’re constantly striving to create an environment where people can and want to do their best work.

In terms of continuing to craft our own culture at Charlie, in 2020 we realised that introducing a shorter week would be a very impactful way to make work better for our team.

The line between home and work had become increasingly blurred during lockdown, making the concept of work-life balance somewhat outdated. We realised that the challenge was not about finding the right balance between home and work time, but about acknowledging that work is only one part of people's lives.

Split circle with Work and Life and how Work is only part of life

What change to the traditional 5-day work week could we make to give more time and space for our team to live a fulfilled life, also beyond work?

That’s where the journey started — to find the best way for Charlie to reduce the amount of time spent at work while keeping the same productivity levels. Was that even possible?

Fleshing out what we wanted to achieve

We knew that what we wanted, first and foremost, was to find a better way to work — one that would empower our team to do their best work while also boosting our business’ growth and revenue.

But what did that mean exactly?

To set us up for success, we decided to break down this idea into more tangible goals. We agreed we wanted our new policy to:

  1. Improve our team’s wellbeing: we wanted to give everyone more time to spend on other aspects of their life, and that to have a positive impact on their happiness and mental health.
  2. Boost their engagement and motivation: whatever new working arrangement we went for, we wanted it to make our team feel more excited about working at Charlie and the time they spent at work.
  3. Make us more productive: we wanted to test whether a shorter working week would help us streamline the way we worked and be more efficient with how we used our time.
  4. Be inclusive: we wanted our solution to support parents and people in our team with other caring responsibilities. On top of that, we wanted it to be equally valuable for anyone in the team, no matter their role or seniority.
  5. Help us retain our people for longer: we wanted to show our team that we were happy to take risks in order to give them the best possible experience of work.
  6. Allow us to attract the best talent: we saw this as an opportunity to prove to candidates that Charlie is at the forefront of progressive working policies.

With these objectives in mind, we could now start to look for what options were out there that could help us achieve all this.

Weighing up our options — the surge of the 4-day work week

When I started to research shorter working week options, I soon realised there was very little information out there. Many influential people in the HR space were talking and writing about it — but only a handful of progressive companies had actually tested this sort of policy for long enough to be able to report on its success.

This was, on one hand, frustrating, but also very exciting — we had the opportunity to try something really new and have a tangible impact not only on our team, but on the CultureOps space more widely.

We started by collecting all the examples we could find of alternatives to the traditional Monday-to-Friday setup – summer hours, half-day Fridays, compressed hours, Wednesdays off, etc. The most popular option by far was the four-day work week.

As part of this process, back in February 2021 we hosted Nicole Miller, People Ops Manager at Buffer, on our CultureOps podcast to discuss the pros and cons of the 4-day work week. Buffer had launched the experiment back in May 2020, and up until then they not only had their team’s happiness improved, but productivity hadn’t gone down at all.

Adjusted Work Week for the company Buffer podcast

We also talked to CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), who had also given their team all Fridays off and called them ‘CALM Bank Holidays’. They found the 4-day working week to have a very positive effect on their team’s stress levels, without harming their business performance.

All these experiences were very useful, especially coming from companies that shared a lot of our values and beliefs on the future of work. However, we didn’t want to just replicate the 4-day work week other companies were introducing — at least not until we made sure that was going to be the best solution for our team.

Grounding our decision in Charlie’s unique company context

Changing the way that you work as a company is one of the biggest things you'll ever do. So we wanted to make sure that whatever change we considered, it really reflected our needs, and empowered everyone at Charlie to do their best work.

We spent a good amount of time really digging into how the 4-day work week would affect each function and team at Charlie. We involved team leads and the leadership team, and asked questions like:

  • How would product team sprints be impacted by having all Fridays off?
  • Would we need to put a rota system in place for customer facing roles?
  • Who would be there to fix our customers’ technical issues when the team is off?
  • What meetings can we get rid of?
  • Are there any other ways to help people be more productive with less time?

It was also very important to us that our new way of working would still support Charlie’s 3-year goals around attraction, retention, high-performance and engagement — or at least not be an obstacle. A ‘better way to work’ ultimately had to be one that made us more successful as a business.

As with all situations with so many elements at play, it was hard to decide when the time for research and speculation was over. But we ultimately realised that if we wanted to be real thought leaders in the HR space, we had to be brave enough to be on the front line and put all this research to the test.

So, we decided to launch our own version of an ‘adjusted work week’ in October 2021 with a vision to run it for at least six months — Charlie’s 9-day fortnight was born!

Charlie’s 9-day fortnight — and why we decided against a 4-day work week

The 4-day work week was one of the main frameworks that guided our research, but we finally decided that it wasn’t the right solution for Charlie. Let’s have a look at why:

  • Customer-facing teams would have become isolated and out of sync. Our HR Advice and customer teams need to be available Monday to Friday to support our customers. With 4-day work weeks we would have had to put a rota system in place and give a lot of time off in-lieu. The risk was to end up operating almost as two separate companies — HR Advice and Customer Support on one side, and the rest of the team on the other.
  • Product team sprints would have been disrupted. Because of the way our product teams work, with 4-day work weeks they would have struggled to be productive — their sprints would have been too short to get any substantial work done. And we didn’t want them to work longer hours for the sake of productivity.
  • In terms of our team’s mental health, it would have done more harm than good. If this was a wellbeing exercise, how beneficial was it going to be to have every Friday off? We didn’t want people to come in on a Monday and already be anxious about the amount of work to be done by Thursday EOD. Speaking to our function team leads, we realised that cutting our working hours by 20% with a 4-day work week was potentially going to put teams into a lot of stress. And that would have written off all the potential benefits.

These risks moved our attention to 9-day fortnights as a more efficient way to make work better for our team, one we believed we could reap more benefits from. These are the core elements of what we called our ‘adjusted work week’ policy:

  • We work 9-day fortnights: in other words, we have every other Friday off.
  • Team members are not expected to work longer hours to make up for that extra day off (we don’t believe in ‘compressed hours’).
  • We won’t make any changes to salaries based on the reduced working hours.
  • Our holiday allowance will also remain the same
  • We introduced Deep Work Wednesdays to keep meetings to a minimum and be as productive as we can be week on week.

You can download our full adjusted work week policy here, in case you’d like to use it as a template to create your own.

For us, deciding for a 9-day fortnight instead of a 4-day work week was about making sure that the new solution was fair for everyone. We wanted everyone to be able to make the most of it, no matter their seniority or the team they were part of:

  • People in customer-facing roles will still be able to spend the large majority of their time working in sync with the rest of the business — feeling more a part of the wider Charlie team.
  • With only every other Friday off, people will still be able to maintain a level of productivity that they feel rewarding, with very little disruption to their team’s specific way of working.
  • We felt that if the team had every Friday off, people might be more likely to end up working a little bit on that day, whereas, if it comes by every two weeks, it feels more of an occasion and more likely to be respected.
  • Everybody will be able to get used to this new way of working, gradually. We think a 9-day fortnight will allow our team to adjust the way they work without too much sudden disruption — so that they can reap the wellbeing rewards without them being overshadowed by stress or anxiety.

This doesn’t mean that we will never switch to a 4-day work week. But we believe that testing the combination of 9-day fortnight and Deep Work Wednesdays for the next six months will give people a chance to raise concerns and get a feel for things — before we make any more drastic changes.

How are we going to measure success?

The hardest challenge was still to come — how would we measure if we’re successful at all of those things? Success metrics are absolutely not a nice-to-have for us as a company, for two reasons:

  1. We want our six-month trial to help us decide whether an adjusted work week is something we want to become a permanent part of Charlie.
  2. On the other hand, this trial will inform the type of advice we give other small businesses, including our customers. We need to be certain that a 9-day fortnight is a viable solution before we can recommend it to other fellow SMEs.

Coming up with success metrics for our adjusted work week was hard. We worried that at the end of the trial, if we simply asked the team what they thought about it, they’d say that it all went great (even if not truly convinced) — because who would want to go back to working 10-day fortnights?
So we took a step back and defined success as proving that we, as a business, are just as effective — if not more — with an adjusted work week. And effectiveness for us is made of two complementary elements: wellbeing and performance.

Graph with Team Performance and Team Wellbeing make for an effective company

So at the end of the trial, we’ll be measuring our effectiveness with metrics that look at both our performance and our wellbeing. And to avoid getting biased answers from our team, we’re not sharing our exact metrics until closer to the end of the trial — at least six months after the new policy went live.

Then we’ll get to see whether our 9-day fortnight made us happier and more efficient as a business. We’ll keep on sharing our journey and what we learn along the way with you — so watch this space (and subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop) !

If you're looking to find a better way to work for your small business, it's worth checking out our HR Advice service. Our advisors work with you to create bespoke company policies built for your unique business context. To find out more, you can book in a call now.

Book a call with our HR advice team today

*UPDATE* Our results for the trial we ran are now available – go and check them out in our new blog post to find out whether we decided to keep our 9-day-fortnight trial or not.

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