There’s no denying it, the world of work is changing. Back in 2019, remote, hybrid or 4-day working weeks for an entire company was unimaginable. But, we learnt something valuable during the pandemic, many employees thrive without traditional 9-5 working hours. According to the World Economic Forum, “People are healthier, happier and more productive with a four-day working week. ” At AIRDAT, we initiated a 4-day week trial in June 2022 and, following a period of reflection and feedback, implemented the scheme for all full-time staff in June 2023. Here, we’ll outline what we learned along the way and share tips for companies hoping to implement their own 4-day working week.
Why move to a 4-day week?
There are a whole host of benefits to the four-day working week. Staff report less burnout, better sleep and fewer health issues with a University of Cambridge study showing that 96% of employees preferred a 4-day working week. And, not only could a four-day working week enable you to attract and retain top talent, it has been shown by numerous wide-ranging global studies to boost productivity, with new studies showing that employees actually get more productive the longer they work in this way.
What are the downsides to working 4 days a week?
Some studies have shown that employees may initially feel increased stress at having to fit all their work into four days rather than five. With the same amount of work but less time to do it, the pace of work inevitably speeds up. For some, this is perfect, others reported “the urgency and pressure was causing heightened stress levels.” A four-day working week isn’t right for every industry or everybody. Take help desk support, or anything that relies heavily on customer interaction for example, but even in these instances, a 4-day work week is possible with the right management and resourcing.
Communication with staff and stakeholders is key
Implementing a four-day work week is a much more complex endeavour than merely sending a company-wide email and closing the doors on Fridays. Most staff are likely to be positive about the idea, after all, who wouldn’t want the equivalent of an extra Bank Holiday every week? But, the process has to be carefully managed to ensure everyone is comfortable and confident in their new way of working.
6 tips for a successful introduction to a four-day working week
Here, we’ll outline 6 useful tips for implementing a 4-day week with specific details of how the process worked for us at AIRDAT.
1. Re-evaluate what it means to be productive
Rewind a few years and the seemingly hardest working people were those who arrived to work early and left late. With a traditional 9-5 business model, productivity is often measured in hours spent at the office. This mindset needs to change.
At AIRDAT, we shifted to an outcome-based approach. We defined goals and objectives for staff members based on what they achieved, not the amount of time they spent in the office. This was key to the success of the project. Staff had ownership of their workload and weren’t required to be physically present or complete a minimum number of hours in the office to be considered successful. With a clear outcome defined, staff could work towards their KPIs in a way that suited them.
2. Implement a pilot programme
Once you’ve adjusted to the outcome-based approach to targets, it’s time to trial your new way of working. Companies have done this in various ways including debuting “flex Fridays” and selecting a department to try the new model first.
At AIRDAT, we asked staff to opt into the trial and from this had a trial group of willing participants. We set parameters from day one including;
- How long the trial would last
- How we’d measure the productivity of staff
- How we’d gather feedback
- What we would provide to help make this trial a success
3. Measure the success of your pilot
There are various ways you can measure the success of your pilot. Group interviews or formal questionnaires can give you qualitative insight into the satisfaction of employees with sick days and employee turnover supporting this data. From a business perspective, you can also view how (or if) the move has affected client feedback and sales.
At AIRDAT, we held a feedback questionnaire at 3 months and another at 9 months. This allowed us to gain valuable qualitative feedback when the trial was in its infancy and again when the system was more embedded. But we didn’t stop there, we also took a quantitative approach and monitored multiple factors, both inside and outside of the trial, including:
- Team retention levels
- Team wellbeing and sickness levels
- Team happiness levels
- Team interaction levels
- Our client response times
One of the most important key measurements of success of the trial was the impact on business turnover and profit – and for AIRDAT we reported our best year ever in 17 years of operations.
Our trial began in July 2022. In October we launched an interim feedback questionnaire and then another feedback questionnaire in May 2023. From the outset, we knew there were four possible outcomes:
- Extend the trial
- Move to a four-day week permanently
- Move back to a five-day week permanently
- Or move to a hybrid of option 2 and 3 according to an individual’s preference
4. Reduce inefficiencies
According to a study carried out by Zippia, the average worker spends four hours and 12 minutes of an eight-hour work day on work related tasks. That means almost half of the day is spent in the workplace but not being productive. Add to this the amount of time spent in long meetings or working on time-consuming tasks that don’t actively benefit the business and you’re looking at an awful lot of time where staff could increase their productivity.
Here are a few of the ways we reduced inefficiencies at AIRDAT in order to make the four-day work week a success.
- Cutting unnecessary meetings – is the whole department invited to a meeting that only really requires two participants? We immediately changed that.
- Shortening meetings – we halved the standard length of meetings from 1 hour to 30 minutes with a strict agenda
- We reviewed job descriptions and removed tasks that took up large amounts of time but didn’t help an individual meet their targets or KPIs.
- If appropriate for the role, we set focus times where employees weren’t required to attend meetings or respond immediately to emails in order to give them focus time to concentrate more fully on tasks.
- We suggested that employees keep their mobile phones away from their desks to remove unnecessary distraction.
- We prioritised what is most VALUABLE to the business – we accepted some tasks may not get done and that is ok as long as we set realistic delivery expectations.
5. Clearly define the new work schedule and rules
Before you role your pilot out to the whole company, it’s vital that the new way of working is clearly defined. Can people choose their day off? Will the entire company be off or will there need to be a skeleton staff to respond to urgent queries. As a management body, what is and isn’t acceptable?
At AIRDAT we looked at ways we could improve performance and resourcing and found a new balance. We discovered that our overall productivity improved despite having 20% less time to achieve the work. Here is how it works at AIRDAT:
- A four-day week was offered to the whole company
- Increasing the daily work hours from 8 to 9 hours, excluding breaks
- Two work cycles of four days (Mon-Thurs, Tues-Fri) to ensure we’re always available for our clients
- Working pairs so that there is a 5 day cover for each part of the business
- All team meetings held Tuesday-Thursday to ensure everyone can attend
- Robust handovers for holidays
- Bank Holiday weeks every one works the same 4 days – if a bank holiday falls on a Monday, then everyone in the company will work Tuesday to Friday.
6. Prioritise communication
Communication is always key within the workplace but when making a major change such as moving to a four-day work week, it becomes more essential than ever.
At AIRDAT, the initial trial allowed us to spot potential problems and we found that almost all of them could be resolved with transparency and positive and proactive communication.
The AIRDAT 4-day work week experience:
It’s not done and dusted yet. We will review the process again in 6 months time and another 6 months after that. At AIRDAT, we are always seeking new ways to be on the edge of development, whether it be in systems, services or employee wellbeing. What will we do next to keep us ahead of the rest?
Is a four-day work week right for your business?
The way we work is evolving and it’s likely that we will see more and more companies implement the four-day working week policy. Trials have been overwhelmingly positive and staff are increasingly expecting more flexibility in their roles. If a four-day week isn’t right for your organisation, consider other ways that you can set your team up for a happy and successful work environment. Not doing so could affect the talent you attract and retain.