As employers reimagine the workplace post-Covid, a four-day work week may become a new perk.
Last month, technology company Bolt became one of the latest companies to jump on board. Earlier this year, New York-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced it would pilot a four-day workweek.
There’s a campaign now underway from 4 Day Week Global to get more companies to sign on. The platform is launching a six-month coordinated trial starting in April 2022.
“We are changing the model of work away from measuring how long you are at the office, and moving that towards what are people actually producing and what outcomes are we trying to achieve over the course of the week,” said Joe O’Connor, global pilot program manager at 4 Day Week Global.
To be sure, there have been some bumps along the way as employers work out how to maintain productivity while employees work fewer hours. The companies below ran pilots last year after the pandemic hit, and, after seeing positive results, made the four-day workweek part of their culture.
Before Unchartered co-founder and CEO Banks Benitez instituted a four-day workweek, he and his team first figured out how to adopt the program, which meant reimagining work norms. Then, starting last summer, he gave employees Fridays off, canceled or downsized meetings, and had to learn to deprioritize.
“There are so many parts of the workweek that are just a waste of time,” he said.
“It has been a great forcing function for us to think differently, like taking a smaller suitcase on vacation,” he added. “We have to make trade-offs.”
The Denver-based company maintained the same level and quality of work, despite the fact that employees were working fewer hours. At the same time, employees were happier, Benitez said.
“There was a reduction in work stress,” he said. “There was a reduction in burnout.”
In fact, Benitez now views the four-day workweek as a recruiting tool.
“We are a small business,” he noted. “We aren’t going to be in the top 1% of compensation, but we will be in the top 1% of workweeks.”
To be sure, there are cultural headwinds to a four-day work week, he said. Many take pride in working long hours and there is a pressure to be constantly available. Yet the four-day workweek draws clear boundaries between work and non-work time.
“Disconnecting hours worked with work output is really critical,” Benitez said. “Then you begin to say, ‘What is essential work?’
“In some ways it is a good management tactic,” he added. “Think about what really drives the ball forward.”
For Mike Melillo, co-founder and CEO of outdoor technology company The Wanderlust Group, the decision to switch to a four-day workweek was an impulsive one.
After having several stressful weeks during the initial Covid shutdown last year, he had enough.
“It was a Sunday afternoon, I was sitting there and I distinctly remember emailing my founders saying, ‘I’m done. I’m canceling Mondays tomorrow,'” he recalled.
Wanderlust, based in Newport, Rhode Island, didn’t cut pay, downsize any goals or increase the hours during the working days. What it did was reconfigure the time spent at work. Melillo chose Mondays because the day was always jammed with meetings.
“The real drag on our productivity before was the endless meetings people were in, and their attitude and energy,” he said.
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Now, the quality of the meetings and the communication has improved drastically, he added.
Productivity is also up. The company has seen a 136% year-over-year growth in gross merchandise volume processed in the second quarter and a 100% year-over-year increase in second-quarter reservations, the company said.
The experience has taught Melillo the importance of trusting his employees, good communication and being flexible.
“At the end of the day, trying to take a step back, and not jam a square peg in a round hole and fit the old models, is something that I’ve learned from this process,” he said. “You’ve got to constantly be reevaluating what’s in front of you.”
Software and data analytics company Elephant Ventures has a different approach. Instead of working fewer hours, employees still put in 40 — just over the course of four days instead of five.
The company’s management had to take in logistical considerations of its clients. They also talked with employees before the pilot was implemented to make sure everyone was on board. In addition to having a four-day workweek, the company became fully distributed — it gave up its New York headquarters and employees work remotely.
With workdays being 10 to 11 hours long, lunch and other breaks are strongly encouraged. Employees start the day at 7 a.m. ET and gain uninterrupted time without client service interaction, which boosts productivity, said Art Shectman, president and founder of Elephant Ventures.
The three-day weekend really gives employees time to recharge.
“Your brain is reset,” Shectman said. “You’re super well-rested and you’re just ready to go.”
To be sure, the concept doesn’t work for every client. Employees working on those projects work a five-day week.
Shectman is also not ready yet to decrease hours like those in the 4 Day Week Global cohort.
“Longer-term, as our company evolves and we get better data on long-term profitability working in this model, we have aspirations to reduce the hours of work in the workweek,” he said.
“We haven’t we haven’t seen enough data quite yet to really understand the long-term impact on profitability.”
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.