How We Make A 4-Day Work Week Work

There’s been a lot of conversation over the past few years about the four-day work week, and it’s not lacking controversy. A recent survey by The Workforce Institute revealed that while 72% of employees are in favor of a four-day work week, 37% also said they can’t finish their tasks even when they have a five-day work week. Treehouse, a technical education platform, received a ton of coverage in 2015 when they implemented a 32-hour work week; however, they rolled the program back one year later, citing a sharp decline in work ethic.

This begs the question: is a four-day work week realistic, especially in an industry where client needs often require tight turnaround times and undelayed communication?

We say yes…with a few caveats.

We implemented a 4-day work week program (known as 4DWW) in January of this year. We used Q1 as a pilot period, and after almost nine months, the outcome has been decidedly positive. That said, it’s important to acknowledge the reality of a program like this and the necessary stipulations that come with it. We’re an agency – it’s not realistic for us to offer our team a true 32-hour work week without it impacting our client results (and our bottom line). Here’s how we structured our program so that it makes sense for the business while simultaneously offering our team the flexibility they deserve:

  • You’re still required to work a full week’s worth of hours over four days (this is not a 32-hour work week program). The intention is to give you the choice between working a typical schedule (5 days on, 2 off) or a modified schedule with longer days and longer weekends (4 days on, 3 off).
  • The program is completely optional. All team members are eligible, regardless of role, after six months of full-time employment with UpBuild.
    • Eligibility can be revoked on a temporary basis if use of the benefit is impacting the ability to serve clients.
  • At least half of each team (Leadership & Strategy) must be working and available at any given time in order to maintain adequate coverage for our clients. Each client has 1-2 team members assigned to their account for support in addition to their main Upbuild point of contact, and this ensures that they’re still able to receive the service they deserve should any unexpected emergencies pop up.
    • If there is a conflict where too many team members request the same day off, tenure is the tiebreaker.
  • 4DWW is not available during weeks when there’s a company holiday or when you’re using PTO (this sometimes means that if a team member uses Monday as their 4DWW day off, and then has to take unexpected PTO, like a sick day, later in the week, they have to use PTO for that Monday as well).

This is definitely a “cherry on top” benefit rather than a core benefit that we offer (like PTO or 401k matching), but since it was important to several team members to have this option, we’re happy we were able to structure it in a way that works for them and works for the business. Here’s what our team has to say about the program.

Michelle

What impact, positive or negative, do you feel a 4DWW has on your productivity?

10 hour work days can be tough. I think they work better for specific people who don’t mind sitting at their desks all day working for that long. However, I need a lot more breaks and I can’t focus for that long. 10-hour days usually end up being 12- or 13-hour days due to the number of breaks I end up taking in order to continue my focus. Most weeks I’d rather work five 8-hour days.

Will

What do you enjoy most about 4DWW?

My evenings and weekends are generally very busy with music stuff – rehearsals and shows – so the extra day off that 4DWW gives me is essentially my one and only true day off in the week. I use those expansive Fridays to write songs, hike (when the weather permits), have picnics with my wife (when she’s free), or just get lost in a book. It’s dreamy.

What impact, positive or negative, do you feel a 4DWW has on your productivity?

It’s a positive impact, for sure. It’s much easier for me to stay focused for another hour or two on a given day than for a whole other day in a week. And the extra hours I put into each of my four work days tend to come at night when incoming emails and other distractions are few. Those tend to be very efficient stretches.

Laura

What do you enjoy most about 4DWW?

4DWWs are like an awesome bonus weekend day. They let me get all of my boring adult stuff out of the way so that I can have more time to enjoy the rest of the weekend unencumbered.

What’s challenging for you about a 4DWW? How do you overcome those challenges?

For me, Fridays are often meeting-free so they’re typically extremely productive. In order to make up for that time, I always need to tack on uninterrupted chunks of time to the rest of my weekdays.

What impact, positive or negative, do you feel a 4DWW has on your productivity?

I find it to be extremely motivating. As with most things at UpBuild, we have ample flexibility in the way that we work, so ensuring that I get all of my 5 days of work completed in 4 days is plenty of motivation for me to ramp up my productivity. Work smarter, not harder.

Ruth

What do you enjoy most about 4DWW?

It’s really nice to have that extra flexibility. I live far away from my family, and being able to take a 3-day weekend to visit them sometimes without having to use PTO has been great.

What’s challenging for you about a 4DWW? How do you overcome those challenges?

The main thing is finding the extra time in my day. I already work from the time my son goes to daycare until he comes home, so when I’m taking 4DWW that usually means working a bit in the evening after he goes to bed as well. I don’t mind doing that on occasion, but that’s the main reason I don’t take it every week.

Mike

What do you enjoy most about 4DWW?

The flexibility to structure my work week around what I have on my plate. I love three-day weekends as much as the next person, but sometimes I find that getting into a groove for a really long workday to be particularly beneficial. I find 4DWW to be even more beneficial to my work than it is to my personal life.  You see, I need to time each day to ramp up and get into super productivity mode (I love blocks of meetings for the first half of each day for this reason) and it’s more efficient to ride that uber-productivity wave as long as possible and reduce my required ramp-ups from five times per week to just four.

What impact, positive or negative, do you feel a 4DWW has on your productivity?

It’s very positive! As I said above, once I’m 4 or 5 hours into a day I become super productive. On a normal day, that usually means that I have ~3 hours of uber-productivity. With the occasional 4DWW, I can keep that going for 5+ hours. That’s ~15 hours of super productive time during the week vs. ~20 hours in fewer days.

Anything else you’d like to share?

As much as I like 4DWW, I rarely do it. I’m still working to overcome the feeling that everyone needs me all the time, so it can be a little nerve-wracking to plan on just not being around for one day per week.

Ryan

What do you enjoy most about 4DWW?

It’s like an added layer of flexibility on top of PTO, and I can take a 4DWW in situations where I’d otherwise reluctantly take a PTO day. For example, this Friday I’ll be on flights all day going home to New Mexico. Having to use a PTO day for that doesn’t necessarily get me excited, so being able to take a 4DWW instead is awesome.

What’s challenging for you about a 4DWW? How do you overcome those challenges?

I very rarely take a 4DWW because I’m much more productive when I work in shorter stints. I’d rather work 5-6 hours a day, every day of the week, than 9-10 hours a day, four days a week. When I do participate, I typically overcome this by starting early in the morning (around 6 am) since I’m more productive then vs. in the evening.

While we might be shamelessly idealistic, the reality is that a 32-hour work week isn’t in the cards for most companies at this point; however, that doesn’t mean you can’t design a unique program that works for your business and your team. Focus is one of our core values, so it was important for us to offer the team the flexibility to modify their schedules according to when they’re most productive. We’ll certainly have to adapt as we grow, but that’s another challenge we’re looking forward to solving.

Written by
With over seven years of operational experience, Ryan is responsible for optimizing agency operations so that the team is fully supported and UpBuild continues to be the best place for technical marketers to do their best work.

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