Working four days instead of five

Why we did it. How we did it. What we expected. What we learned.

Karl Karafiat

How We Work

13 December 2017

Experimenting is vital. Paramount to our success. We assume, let it run, adapt, and see where it takes us. We try to work out whether we need to change, rethink, refocus, or what can be done to make the experiment better. Sleighdogs evolve, ask questions, search for answers, then ask some more. We do this by trade. For startups we help to launch, for big corporates we consult on their journey, and for ourselves. We improve what it means to be a Sleighdog; adjust the way we work – one step at a time. A concept company. A place for change rather than a set of limitations. Recently, we played around with working 20% less. Having a three day weekend instead of two. Working four days instead of five. Delivering the same results in less time. Today, we’d like to share what we’ve learned along the way.

The Idea

“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.” – Anna Quindlen

We like tossing them and seeing what sticks – most of them don’t. Great ideas are rare. Working four instead of five days per week is a well-examined topic. Smart minds have written about it, comprehensive studies were, are, and will be conducted. We decided to see for ourselves. Truth be told, it took us quite some time to decide and weigh out the implications, but finally, we posted this:

THE CHALLENGES

It was evident that we’d face some serious challenges. The most striking ones for us were:

  • We provide quality services for our clients. Often, we are a vital partner in their venture; the first responder in case of emergency. We will never compromise on that.
  • Resources are scarce. If we want to do one thing, it often means we can’t do another. There are things we need to do and things that are “nice to have”. For now, working one day less falls into the latter category.
  • We care about each other. A good hiring process with a clear focus on our values ensures that we work with the best colleagues possible. A pronounced puppy period ensures that we are on the same page on how to behave within The Pack. It is a privilege to work with every one of the dogs. We care much more for each other’s wellbeing than for titles or status symbols. Same game, same rules for the whole Pack. The stunt doesn’t make much sense if we can’t ensure a somehow fair distribution of the free time.

The Foundation

Sleighdogs plan before they go on an adventure. We build assumptions which we then try to prove or disprove. Before we set out to work less, we naturally formulated ideas on how it will play out. We also asked each member of The Pack what their expectations and hopes were for this undertaking. That way, we ensured that everyone started off this period consciously, with the right mindset and focus. Here’s what we came up with:

Our Assumptions

  • Working one day less will make us more focused, energized, and happy on the remaining work days.
  • To hold our output steady, we will have to get more efficient. Improve our planning, prioritizing, executing, and delivering. This will make for a nice edge when we revert back to five days. Superpowers for The Pack!
  • Sleighdogs will love it. More time for family and friends, more time for sport and relaxation, more time to improve and learn, and more energy to push for ideas and initiatives.
  • You, dear reader, will take interest in our adventure. You’ll follow us and engage with us. You’ll want to share your take, your knowledge and remarks, and help us get better.

The Pack’s Expectations

Starting with less

We had our foundation ready. Counting down the days until we can finally count with fewer days. On the 4th of August, we pushed the button – the first of the upcoming 8 work-free Fridays.

Normally, at the end of each day, we let the rest of The Pack know what we have accomplished on the given day, and where we need support and input. We kept on doing this on the free Fridays as well, which gave us an insight into how this day off played out for us. Here are some of the things we got up to on our Fridays off:

 

…8 weeks later

As you can see, we had quite a bit of fun on Fridays during this period. After the last Friday off, we sent out a little questionnaire to assess how the adventure went for each one of us. Keep in mind – we are a small company. So the results are not meant to withstand scientific scrutiny but rather give us a hunch for which direction to take in the future, and provide a base for further investigation as well as for discussions.

First Insights & Learnings

The little questionnaire tells us that our individual expectations have been met, for the most part. Our perceived output level seems to have been steady and, most strikingly, The Pack reports to be much happier and focused. From this perspective, our experiment was a success. How can we argue against “more happiness”, “more focus”, “more time for personal development” and even “more productivity”? Well, when digging deeper, we found some things that need to be taken into account while examining the feedback. We still saw ourselves working on average 2.5 days out of the 8 in question.

When looking another level deeper, we found out that the division was not equal. On average, we worked 2.5 out of those 8 Fridays, but most of us didn’t work at all, while others worked nearly all 8 of them. It suggests that we put even more load on our bottlenecks. Our managers and seniors had to communicate with our clients more, monitor the potential side effects of the “missing” day, keep expectations in check, and balance workload more carefully. They had to push harder for a steady output and be vigilant in the goal setting.In the grand scheme of things, everything seemed to have worked out fine, however, zooming in uncovered some serious long-term threats.

100+1 questions

Currently, we are asking ourselves many questions. Did we get more productive? Are we planning and executing better now? How can we measure or at least approximate that? Can we think of a fairer model? Shouldn’t we seek happiness in our work instead of “buying it” with extra free time? How did it affect our clients and their perception of us? Would we know if there were any negatives effects or did we incentivize to highlight only the positives? Is it worth repeating? What would need to happen for us to repeat/abandon the experiment? We don’t know yet. But we are determined to find out.

As you can see in the final question – our Pack loved it and would love to repeat it. It was also interesting to see that we are not gunning for the “we want this all year long” but more for this to be a seasonal solution. What are your thoughts on this?

Do we have the answers? Maybe some of them…

  • We are not ready to conclude just yet, but we still want to share our main learnings with you now.
  • In general, changing the rules of the game even just a little bit puts a strain on you and your surroundings. A lot of education, care & commitment is needed to balance that out.
  • As a service provider, you need a rock-solid structure to pull this off. You need to have clear responsibilities and high accountability in place, otherwise you will suffer.
  • So far we can tell that the extra day off was mostly used for relaxation and some personal development. It did not spark more immediate initiatives or creativity.
  • Say goodbye to the thought that you can quantify the effects easily. There are too many non-measurable aspects.
  • You will learn a lot. About you. Your structure. Your inefficiencies and bottlenecks. Even if you don’t want to implement it long term, running it as a stress test will yield insights you would have a hard time gathering otherwise.

We don’t conclude fully because the most important part of the assessment is missing so far. This Christmas, we will sit down together face to face in an all-hands meeting, cooking, eating, and discussing the ins and outs of working four days instead of five. Sharing our feelings, experience, and concerns. It will certainly be an interesting one. If you’ve enjoyed reading this article and found it compelling and informative, it would be our pleasure to provide some more insight into our thinking in a follow-up part.

Would this work for you?

At this point, you’re probably asking whether you should give this a try. Whether you should work four days instead of five. Well, as far as we can tell, and drawing from our own experience, this heavily depends on your business, how it works, what your values are, how your team works, and who you work with. However, we’ll do our best to provide a better answer, applicable for businesses like ours, soon, so make sure to check back in.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you tried similar undertakings? Would you like to? If so, why? If not, why? Do you have any insights or questions for us? Let us know. Let’s get talking about this and try to challenge the ingrained line of thinking that the more time you spend working, the better and more valuable your output. Get in touch!

And in the meantime, stay tuned – an article that will shed even more light on how Sleighdogs perceived working one day less is coming your way soon.
Subscribe below if you don’t want to miss the follow-up article on how four-day working week panned out for us! 

Further reading:

How three-day weekends can help save the world (and us too) – An ecologically reasoned concept for four-day working week, includes some good examples.

Would a four-day working week really be such a blessing? – For a bit of a historical context.

10 reasons for a shorter working week – Key arguments for shorter working week: social, environmental and economic benefits.

UK needs four-day week to combat stress, says top doctor – One of Britain’s leading doctors has called for the country to switch to a four-day week to help combat high levels of work-related stress, let people spend more time with their families or exercising, and reduce unemployment.

The experience of Vitaliy Rizhkov – the founder and CEO of Picr Inc.

Ted Talks:

Ted Talk: With the standard paradigm of a five-day work week, leaving only two days for personal time, work-life balance is a mathematical impossibility. Craig Errey explains why we should cut the fat from our workplaces, and give that time back to the employees. Clearing time and space to imagine and create might just save your business, and put more life into work-life balance.

Ted Talk: This controversial talk about the 21-hour work week stirred the public opinion heavily. Moving to a much shorter workweek improves the quality of our life and helps build a sustainable economy.

Research:

In Sweden, an experiment turns shorter workdays into bigger gains.

The research of K. Anders Ericsson, one of the top experts on the psychology of work: Multiple experiments done in Ericsson’s lab have shown that people can commit themselves to only four or five hours of concentrated work at a time before they stop getting things done. Past the peak performance level, output tends to flatline, or sometimes even suffer.

 

Article edited by Daniela Patterson
Visuals created by Boris Turek & Denis Simonenko

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