A year ago, we started experimenting with a 4-day work week.
Now that we’ve had some time to think about it, there was a lot we learned over the course of a year that influences how we’ll be moving forward with the four-day work week experiment. At the time of writing, we’re extending the experiment further, moving from around 20 Fridays off a year to over half.
In 2023, for most of the year Switch will work every other Friday, and in the summer months Switch will not work any Fridays at all, just like last year.
Our goal has remained unchanged: to move the agency into a faster, more efficient workplace that only needs to work four days a week, without compromising on work.
Last year showed us we could do it.
Last year showed us where the weaknesses were.
Last year taught us a lot about the benefits.
Here’s a few of those lessons.
Your clients will be a big part of what makes the four-day work week work.
Your clients are your lifeblood. It’s natural to want to keep those clients whenever you make changes that will affect the way the company works. It’s equally natural that you’ll work with a variety of clients: people with a stringent work ethic, people who come up with ideas on the fly, people who are somewhere in between.
Every agency has a few of each type of client – but an understated benefit of picking and choosing which clients to work with is finding the ones that match you on an internal level. The ones who look at your work and get it. The ones where you don’t really need to communicate what needs to happen: they just understand.
We had a year to warn our clients that one day a week was an off day for the company. They responded with grace.
It’s always been the goal for Switch to move towards working with clients who choose us for our output, not our hourly rate. We want to do good work with people that we match with creatively: that’s where the best of the best comes out.
The four-day work week experiment showed us just how much the client work we take in also matters in what we do internally, as a company. Our clients were interested in our four-day work week. They wanted to know how it worked. They adhered to the Friday off.
Heading into the second year, we still have their support, even though it’s now every other Friday that we’re off. They have a deep-seated understanding that the work they give us will be done well, and in time, and the Fridays off are irrelevant to that.
And we have a deep-seated understanding that the trust they place in us is not misplaced.
But say you don’t have clients.
What does the four-day work week mean for you?
It means restructuring. It means deciding whether to shift your workers into a different shift pattern. It means taking into account that you can’t work the same way you normally work.
Whether or not that’s worth it is up to you and your industry.
We found ours worth the effort of the change.
A four-day work week can’t patch existing agency problems.
One of the reasons we can do this is because we’ve put a lot of time and effort into making our agency sustainable without the extra benefits. From the work we take on to the people who work here, the agency works because we’ve taken the time to minimise stress and create an environment where people can flourish.
Most of that work happens internally. It doesn’t go on social media, and we rarely talk about it, but it’s what makes the four-day work week possible: the ability to rely on your team, to know that they’ll pull together to make things work.
Shuttering the office meant we had to work twice as hard to make sure that the feeling of being a team and working towards the same goal remained. It also meant that we couldn’t take for granted what took so long to build – a team that worked together because it wanted to.
According to Rik:
“Building a team that can work 32 hours a week from anywhere in the world takes a lot of work.”
“We believe that it’s worth the effort, everything worth having is, but we understand that the leadership style of a company that’s going in the direction that Switch is going in will take some unconventional twists.
The hardest part of this process, ironically, has been to explain to our peers that you can run a prosperous agency that cares for its people first and foremost?
That was in place far before we started with the Fridays off. It has to come first in a situation like this, where the entire agency relies on each other to keep the balance.
There’s another aspect we don’t talk about much.
Our company already had a certain amount of flexibility even when we worked in the office. You could start at what time suited you best. You could finish whenever you wanted to. Didn’t feel like working in the office? We had cafe meetings and co-working space adventures.
That flexibility made it a lot easier to move remotely. And now, it’s making it a lot easier to switch to a four-day work week.”
Realising that more time spent to ourselves is better work in the end.
Did you know over half of our team has signed up for the Madrid marathon? Since shuttering the agency on some Fridays, many members have gone into new hobbies, and been able to maintain them.
We don’t tend to think, collectively, how much time we spend at work. When you’ve been in the working world for long enough, forty hours a week seems like the standard, a minimum level to achieve in order to really feel useful.
This is a flawed way of thinking. And it’s a way of thinking we’re trying to change by working less hours, doing the same amount of work, and having more opportunity to rest.
Last year, we mentioned this: even if you love your job, your job will weigh on you.
That’s especially true the more the years go by. Things are getting more complicated, not easier. New technology adds new facets to our daily lives. Time spent online is increasing. The opportunity to take a break, and rediscover what we like doing, occurs less frequently.
Unless you make it happen.
And it isn’t as though a Friday or two off doesn’t have benefits for work. Because the team is well-rested and soul-satisfied, their work reflects that. Because the team is happy, their work is even better than it was before. Because the team has more opportunity to do what they like, the work we take on takes on different facets.
It’s not a case of skiving off. It’s a case of taking a break – a much needed one.
Lisa says, “I use my extra weekend day in 2 ways – either I slot in chores and errands that would otherwise clutter up my actual weekend or I use it as a pampering/exercise day, I take in a longer run or go to a class or take it easier at the gym and schedule stuff like hair or massages on those days to make it extra relaxing.”
Meanwhile, Ganna states: “A 4-day week has basically allowed me to be more in control of my time, and gives me the flexibility to enjoy simple things like going out for a coffee during the day rather than having to ‘make time’ (if I manage) during an already errand-packed weekend. I do most of the same things, but I do them at a healthier pace, not like a crazy maniac trying to get to a shop before closing time during rush hour or trying to clear up the garage at 9 in the evening. It’s also nice to be able to deal with appointments during the week as practitioners are definitely less busy than on the weekend. It’s more about achieving a better balance than anything else.”
Kim has a slightly different view. She says, “For me, I’d say that the 4-day week has allowed me to have a different perspective on both work and life in general. For one, it has allowed me to appreciate the culture we have at Switch, but beyond that, knowing I have 4 days of work and an extra day off to spend however I want has made me feel like I’m allowed to have a life beyond my desk and my laptop. Of course, we’re still allowed a lot of freedom in the way and the how we do our work, so adding onto that by having more time is huge. The extra day off, in my eyes, isn’t something that is necessarily spent on hobbies or personal projects or this or that. I like to have time off to relax, take my time, and go about my day with more ease. Sure, I sometimes use it as an opportunity to venture out into the world and to be more relaxed with my chores and gym schedule. But otherwise, considering that most people work on Fridays and aren’t available to hang out anyway, it’s an extra day of rest, a day I’ve gotten back to myself to do whatever I want.”
Ed states, “we’re alternating between four-day weeks and regular old five-day weeks. Four-day weeks are an incentive to plan that little extra, to sneak in a project I wouldn’t normally have time to, to run that route that’s too busy on the weekends, to catch up with reading, and to do stuff at home that I normally would have every excuse to postpone. It is also a more restful week. As counterintuitive as it sounds, knowing it’s just four days makes every one of those days a little more productive without it feeling stressful. As a person who loves alone time, having a weekday as a day off is perfect because there are fewer social ‘obligations’ to keep up with.”
Some people won’t appreciate it. If you’re used to the constant 24/7 hustle, having that extra day off isn’t going to make your life better: it’s going to complicate things, and make you feel worse. That might be something you need to consider before you embark on your four-day work-week experiment.
The Four-Day Workweek: Worldwide
We’re not the only ones changing the way we work.
Just in December, the results for one of the biggest studies into the four-day work week were published. From April to October, over 900 employees from companies based in both the United States and Europe took part in a four-day work week initiative.
What they found isn’t surprising.
Burnout went down.
Performance went up.
97% of the participants wanted to make the four-day work week permanent.
The Cambridge Study also showed a lot of promising research: 61 organisations went for a four-day work week.
They found that 71% of employees reported lower levels of burnout, 39% reported they were less stressed, and there was an overall 65% reduction in sick days and a 57% decline in staff leaving the company – all in the same period of time.
Company revenue didn’t drop. Company culture didn’t suffer – in fact, 92% of the companies that took part are keeping the four day working week.
This is the way the world is turning.
Your company – whether it’s interested in a four-day work week or not – might not have the choice to avoid it. Everyone wants to live an easier life and more time to themselves. Everyone wants to reinvest the time they save into something that isn’t work, even if – and in spite – of liking their job a lot.
Making the Four-Day Work Week Work
We can only really speak to our own experience. Planning for a four day work week and making it work are two completely different things.
But there are ways to make it a little easier on the company.
Talk to your clients. Talk to your employees. Look at your workflow and see where the snags are. See what work you’re doing that no longer fits the way your company wants to run. See where your company is going and how you think you’ll get there.
There are ways to make the four-day work week work. With time, planning, and forethought, every organisation can pivot to this model – but it takes investing in your people to get it right.
The benefits speak for themselves.