In 2022, Culture Foundry is going to make a run at the 4-day workweek.
We leaked this news in promoting a recent job posting, and it’s sparked a lot of questions: How did we arrive at this decision? How are we planning to implement it? And why are we “making a run at it” instead of just declaring it outright?
How did we arrive at this decision?
The evidence is everywhere: The world of work is due for a significant — maybe even massive — refactoring.
Across industries, this has manifested as “the great resignation.” It’s as though workers everywhere woke up one day and said “I didn’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic to spend my days dealing with this ______.” (Insert your own greatest work frustration in the blank.) People have a renewed appreciation for the fragility of life and the value of time.
At Culture Foundry, this general environment was exacerbated by delivery challenges in 2021 that, while met, left some real burnout in their wake. Burnout is the beast that stalks our industry, and verbal proclamations that THIS is the time we’ll eliminate the problem are typically a flimsy bulwark against the demands of the next great delivery push. Checkins with other agency owners (we all talk) revealed we were not alone. We needed to get more aggressive on this front and make some fundamental, structural changes to architect a more sustainable workplace.
We also needed to replace the benefit that had once been among our most powerful competitive advantages in hiring: a remote workplace. Two years ago, few offered it. We did. Today, we’re still a remote workplace but in the wake of COVID-19 so is everyone else. What would be the next great evolution in the world of work that we could adopt as part of the leading wave?
Assessing the state of the industry and ourselves, we seized upon the answer: the 4-day workweek. It’s been trialed, studied, and is quickly gaining steam. But would it work for us?
How are we planning to implement it?
The idea of a 4-day workweek is inherently appealing, but that’s all the more reason to put it through its paces in terms of modeling and budgeting to see if it actually proves viable. On our first model runs, it didn’t.
We made some early calls on key details. Swapping five 8-hour days for four 10-hour days seemed like a shell game more than a genuine benefit, and it’s well understood that any given workday has a limited amount of truly productive hours anyway. We decided this would be a move to a 4-day, 32-hour workweek. We also decided to keep compensation at current levels rather than package this change with a commensurate pay cut, for much the same reason. We had also considered making this an “opt-in” program (again with a commensurate pay cut) but concluded that would invite opportunities to game the system (we also offer unlimited vacation) and create separate camps of “4-dayers” and “5-dayers” within the company. It was important we all be in this together.
Our first model runs returned the result “are you crazy?” It wasn’t hard to figure out why. There are numerous financial models for digital agencies, but most of them boil down in some form to billable hours. A 4-day workweek takes 20% of the inventory right off the table. Getting over this obstacle required three separate adjustments to our model.
The first adjustment was to ensure our 4 working days maximized opportunities for deep work and minimal interruptions. This meant going after meetings: making them shorter, creating more “meeting-free” days, and often just letting standing meetings lapse to see if we actually missed them when they were gone.
The second adjustment was to accelerate our move to more value-based pricing, a move that was already underway. If we deliver a great strategy document or great design, the client cares much more about the value delivered than the number of hours it took to produce. Moving development work to this model is more challenging, but we’re going to keep looking for opportunities to move in that direction.
The third adjustment was to start our move to a 4-day workweek as a structured trial in which we adopt the 4-day workweek every other week for the first six months. This made the “hit” in the model small enough that we could still build a viable company budget, bought us six months to learn as we go, and guarded against us overreaching with the idea and having to walk it back in what would certainly be the worst team meeting ever. Having team members take their “off day” on alternating weeks also means our availability to clients shouldn’t take a noticeable hit.
Why are we “making a run at it” instead of just declaring a 4-day workweek outright?
That last adjustment is a big piece of the answer, but the other is that proving a 4-day workweek viable will take a team effort, and every person on the team will need to bring their best, most focused self on those 4 days for it to work.
Our bet is that good work is far more about engagement, focus and collaboration than raw hours. The payoff for everyone if it works will be expanding the 4-day workweek from an alternating-week to an every-week reality at the end of the six-month trial.
The trial starts January 1, 2022. We’ll let you know how it goes.
Update: We made a trial run at a 4-day workweek. Here’s what happened.
Culture Foundry is a digital experience agency that helps our clients elevate their impact with beautiful technology. We provide the expertise and insight at every layer that makes a great digital experience for websites and applications possible. If you're committed to elevating your digital experience, contact us and we'd be happy to schedule a chat to see if we're a fit.
(Psst! We also happen to be a great place to work.)