Categories
work

How we switched to 4-day weeks

We recently made a landmark decision at my company. Starting from Friday, 1st January, 2020, all Fridays are now part of the weekend. We’ll be working Mon-Thu all year round.

This is still considered an “experiment”, because we don’t know if it’s something we can commit to long-term. But honestly, I can’t imagine going back.

Oh, and we didn’t cut salaries. In fact we plan a nice bump for next year.

Inspiration

I’ve been fascinated by companies like Wildbit (they switched to 4-day weeks a few years ago), and Basecamp (they do 4-day weeks during the summer). But how can I convince my co-founders to do the same? Wouldn’t it hurt our productivity? How do we structure this thing? would we still be able to take decent holidays?

Corona

The main opportunity kinda jumped on us out of nowhere. Coronavirus. My son’s Kindergarten was one of the first in the city to close (or maybe even the whole country). A couple of weeks before the general lockdown. It was stressful. We were already a 100% remote company, so it wasn’t a huge change for us. Once the dust started to settle, I noticed an interesting pattern. Pretty much everyone on our team cancelled their holidays. I had some planned for March. Nope. Then May. Unlikely. Others did the same.

That’s when I had a bit of an Aha moment!

If everybody cancels their holidays, we’ll end up at the end of the year with everybody taking holidays at once. We’ll effectively shut down for a few weeks (our holiday policy allocates 45 days off per person every year. More on that later).

Experiment time

But what if we do an experiment for a few months? let’s switch to 4-day weeks during the summer and see how it goes. We ended up with 16 Fridays off between May and Sep for the entire team. Each person had to give up 13 days of their holidays, but got 16 Fridays off back. Still a win.

We also decided that rather than each person taking a day off whenever they wanted, we all keep our days off in-sync. Fridays are off.

First of all, it simply extends the weekend. But more importantly, when nobody works on Fridays, then Mondays are just so much better. No emails to catch-up on. No tasks that were assigned when you were off. We end the week earlier and start fresh the next week.

We run our company with 6-week cycles, with 2 weeks in-between (also stolen from Basecamp). So we had two full cycles for the experiment.

The results?

We looked at our productivity and happiness during those 2 cycles. It was a little challenging some time, but overall we achieved the results we were expecting. And we didn’t plan less than we normally would for each cycle. Pretty much everybody across the board felt happier and less stressed.

For me personally, it was more than just one day off. It was pretty much the only day I had for myself. My son returned to the Kindergarten by then, so I was completely free. I don’t get that much freedom during the weekend. By Monday, I was eager to get back to work. It really was a different feeling.

Planning errands for Fridays was the most logical choice, and it also meant that our team was more available during the week. They all had Fridays to take care of stuff. It was truly liberating.

2021

So how did take the leap from 16 Fridays off in 2020 to 52 in 2021?

It was a little challenging, because we couldn’t afford giving everyone 45 days off + all Fridays off as well (97 days off per year is pretty insane). Let me quickly explain the 45 days off though, because it already sounds a bit crazy.

45 days off holiday policy

Since we’re a remote company with people from different countries, we figured it’s going to be tricky to accommodate the national public holidays in different places. So instead, we decided to give people days off, and let them decide when to take them. Those 45 days include all public holidays you might need. Some people prefer to work over some public holidays, but each person can choose what works best for them. For example, I don’t celebrate Christmas, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to me to take this time off. I preferred saving my days off for other times.

And in case you’re wondering, everybody is expected to take their holidays. We keep track of it on a spreadsheet, so people don’t burn out and we are actively encouraging everybody on the team to use them.

More flexibility? or bigger quantity?

How many days off our team was willing to forego in order to get Fridays off? Those Friday offs are not as flexible as other holidays, but you get the benefit of everybody else taking them with you, which means no work backlog. It’s easier to plan as well.

We worked out a couple of options, but ended up with all Fridays off for 2021 (52 days off) + 20 flexible holidays for each person. Considering that a work week is 4 days long, that’s 5 full weeks of holiday per year. In total, each person gets 72 days off per year. Pretty great, no?

It’s hard to predict how this experiment is going to pan out, but I’m very optimistic. Working 4-days during the summer was so so amazing that I can’t wait for 2021 to kick-in. And hey! 1st Jan, 2021 is a Friday :)

2 replies on “How we switched to 4-day weeks”

Small typo in the last sentence: 2021 instead of 2020.

Nice experiment! How do you handle customer support? Do you have an automated message telling people you will be back on Monday?
I also wonder if this would be legal in my country. Your employer can ask you to work on a public holiday but they have to pay you extra.

Thanks Fran. Fixed the typo.

Re customer support, it’s a great question! it’s still something we need to work out. We do still have freelancers that are not tied to the same work schedule as the full-time team members, and some of them cover support. We do have an automated message over the weekend, so we might extend it, but waiting for 3 days for a response isn’t a great experience, even though our service isn’t exactly mission-critical.

As for the legality of it, we don’t force anyone to work on public holidays. Or any day of the year. It’s their choice. We provide enough holidays to cover public holidays and more. There might be some technical challenge there, but I hope it won’t deter us from doing the right thing. I believe our team understands it as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.