Q&A: Four business leaders on their 4-day workweek pilot plans

Seventy small businesses in the UK are now trying out a four-day workweek as part of a six-month trial coordinated by the non-profit 4 Day Week Global and think tank Autonomy. Leaders at four of the firms explain what they're doing and why.

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As interest in a four-day workweek mounts, the largest pilot scheme of its kind kicked off in the UK earlier this month. Around 3,300 employees at 70 small businesses – ranging from tech firms to financial services companies and even a fish-and-chip shop – are taking part in the six-month trial coordinated by the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global and think tank Autonomy.

The idea is that workers at each company get full pay while working 20% fewer hours and maintaining the same level of productivity – called the “100-80-100” policy.

The idea of a four-day workweek has long outpaced the reality of a shorter week, though there have been numerous trials in recent years, such as at Microsoft’s Japan division as well as at companies such as Unilever, Kickstarter, and Basecamp. Proponents cite improved worker well-being and creativity, fewer sick days and reduced staff turnover. Detractors say implementation can be costly and complex, and argue condensing the workweek puts pressure on employees to manage their workload.

Currently, only around 6% of businesses have embarked on a four-day week, according to analyst firm Gartner. And, according to  Indeed, less than 1% of job advertisements mention a four-day week.  

"Computerworld" talked to leaders at three organizations about their aims for a four-day workweek as they begin their six-month trial, as well as how they will manage the change, and the potential challenges they could face.

The following are lightly edited transcripts of phone and email interviews.

Shaun Rutland, CEO and co-founder of Hutch Games

Why is Hutch trialling a four-day week? What benefits do you anticipate for the business and for employees? "The four-day work week was a natural choice for us. We’ve always been progressive in our approach; for example, we’ve had a hybrid workspace for 10 years. We were actually really shy about this in the early days and kept it hidden from investors. I feel quite embarrassed now that we kept that such a secret, particularly with how things have turned out post-pandemic.

shaun rutland, Hutch Games Hutch Games

Shaun Rutland, CEO and co-founder of Hutch Games.

"We’re confident our trial will show that productivity and creativity will increase, as the team is more rested, and better able to refocus this energy into their work. If our staff can live fuller, better lives, we know this will translate to better games. There is also an important mindset change needed here, where we are much more output-focused rather than obsessing over time investment.

"There are a number of other benefits that we’ll be tracking over the trial period; increased sustainability alongside better distribution of care duties for men and women are just a couple to mention. The results are going to be really important for us in how we shape Hutch going forward. We’re not going into this with a narrow focus, the more we understand about the impact, the more we can improve overall."

How will your four-day week be structured? How will you ensure you can meet customer/client expectations when adopting a shorter workweek? "Our global team will work Monday to Thursday, with Friday elected as the day off. All of our team will follow the 100-80-100 policy, which means that everyone will be set up to deliver 100% of the work, in 80% of the time, without any loss of pay.

"We publish our own games and set our timelines, so we don’t have clients in a traditional sense. However, even if we did, we feel the four-day week can work in any B2B relationship driven business with the right approach. 

"Our players are naturally very important to us, so we will have systems in place to support them on the day off. This includes third-party community support, forward planning and generally restructuring our comms to maintain high levels of service."

What concerns do you have about shifting to a four-day week? What potential hurdles do you anticipate? "Our main concern is our team's happiness. The reception to the news was positive, but there were concerns. Some people were worried this could radically change our culture and make Hutch a less friendly workplace that is driven by an achiever mindset. The office is a really important place for people to make friends and build relationships, which they might not be able to do outside of the office. There were also concerns that they would struggle to match the same output of a five-day week and would need to use time off to catch up.

"It's massively important for us to consider this feedback and find ways to resolve it. There's been a huge amount of work to find solutions and make sure the team has the resources they need to easily transition. We’ve joked internally that we’d need a six-day work week to plan for a four-day one, but we have to make sure we’re doing this right.

"We’re going to be learning a lot on the way, and mistakes are bound to happen. Honestly, that's what we’re hoping for, to make our own missteps now and find solutions that work for Hutch. We want other companies to learn from us, and to use that knowledge to be more output focused."

What are your criteria for success? What would convince you to continue a four-day week long term, and what might deter you? "Success has many different proof points for us. We will be measuring data on a monthly basis, covering happiness levels, sales, overall output, and even the team electricity bills. It's also important for us to see improved staff recruitment and retention, as the games industry is an intensely competitive space. The data gathered internally and with the support of 4 Day Week Global will be extensive.

"Ultimately, we will be tracking a series of key business indicators. Are we more profitable, are we making better games and are our customers happy following the transition? These are all essential metrics that will help us understand if the four-day week is for us.

"If we see our culture suffer and our output decline, this will be a cause for concern. We won’t allow our staff to be unhappy even if it means we’re more productive, for example. One benefit can’t come at the expense of another for this to work.

"Should we find ourselves making better games, increasing profitability while helping our staff to live their lives to the fullest, then this will be an obvious win. It's all about balance in the end, and results from other trials have shown promising output, so we’re confident."

Frances Guy, CEO at Scotland’s International Development Alliance

Why is the International Development Alliance trialling a four-day week for staff? What benefits do you anticipate for the organization and for employees? "Like many organizations in the 'third sector' we have high staff turnover. This has been particularly true in the last year. We are therefore actively looking for ways to improve staff retention. There is not much scope to increase salaries but there are ways to improve conditions of employment by making staff welfare a priority. We are all working flexibly, but this in itself is not a guarantee of efficiency or necessarily a way to prevent long hours.

Frances Guy, CEO at Scotland’s International Development Alliance Frances Guy

Frances Guy, CEO at Scotland’s International Development Alliance.

"We were interested in the SNP’s [Scottish National Party] commitment at their party conference in September 2021 to trial a four-day week in Scotland and were motivated to apply to join the 4 Day Week Global pilot as it offers support, mentoring and structured research and learning during the trial.  

"In such a structured way we hope to be able to analyze whether it is a workable solution that brings real benefits in terms of productivity and staff well-being. In short, we hope for happier, healthier staff, similar if not better services provided to our members, and new ways of working as well as better staff retention."

How will a four-day week be structured? How will you ensure you can meet customer/client expectations when adopting a shorter workweek? "We are looking at Friday as a non-working day for most staff, with the possibility that one or two staff will take Mondays instead in order to provide continuity of service. Some of our members are already working reduced hours on a Friday, so we are not anticipating problems as long as communications are good and someone is around to respond to enquiries. We have also set clear work targets that need to be delivered and against which staff outcomes will be measured."

What concerns do you have about shifting to a four-day week? What potential hurdles do you anticipate? "Staff are working more than contracted hours so there are real challenges in seeking to work 20% more efficiently to free up blocks of time. We need to start off well, otherwise I fear longer hours will return quite quickly. We also need to be flexible so that staff are available to work when needed in times of greater activity but have the discipline to compensate at other times. There will be a need to constantly measure and assess, which might not be to everyone’s taste."

What are your criteria for success? What would convince you to continue a four-day week once the trial period ends, and what might deter you from doing this long term? "Success is all staff managing their time [and] to take off a chunk of extra free time which they then use productively, while the organization delivers for members and members recognize improved services. 

"If some staff are working longer hours to compensate for others that will signal that it is not working well. If a majority of staff feel stressed trying to fit work into a shorter time period that too would be a sign of failure. A large increase in dropped tasks and negative feedback from members would also ensure that the pilot was not continued."

Anna Mirkiewicz, Eurowagens operations director

 Why is Eurowagens trialling a four-day week? What benefits do you anticipate for the business and for employees? "I initially heard about the four-day week when listening to a podcast with one of the employees that took part in Iceland’s four-day week trial. He was saying so many complementary things about how it boosted employee performance and gave employees better work-life balance.

Anna Mirkiewicz, Eurowagens operations director Anna Mirkiewicz

Anna Mirkiewicz, Eurowagens operations director

"I'm a working mum, so I can see how much stress there is working five days a week, managing family and day-to-day life, and I could see how much this influenced our employees. After coming back from home working during the pandemic, I could see how much stress our employees were under again, so it was a good opportunity to give something back to them.

"At the end of the day, even though myself and my husband are owners of the business, we would not be here without our employees. They are the ones that create the company, help the company run and push the company forward, so it's only fair to give something back.

"The four-day week showed me that the way we are working is not the most efficient. We could be more efficient with how we work, which will only result in a company being even more productive, and employees having more time back.  

"It's just the beginning, but I genuinely hope that this will work in the long term."

How will a four-day week be structured? How will you ensure you can meet customer/client expectations when adopting a shorter workweek? "The company has to remain in operation five days a week, so we've introduced a rota system. Our operational staff — warehouse, customer service staff — need to be in on Monday and Tuesday: they will alternate when they have the day off on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The rest of the company initially will alternate days throughout the whole week to see what works best and is suitable. But the company will remain operational five days a week."

What concerns do you have about shifting to a four-day week? What potential hurdles do you anticipate? "We need to plan a bit better and do more contingency planning, because it's really difficult to predict what's going to happen on a particular day. Especially in a company of our size, when you've got 15 employees and you're down three or four individuals, you can really feel the difference.

"Last week [when Eurowagens began the trial] showed me that we need to be a bit more prepared in terms of planning and in terms of what we want to achieve.

"I don't think it's a serious issue. If you plan carefully and if you think ahead, it can be ironed out very easily and very quickly. We need to change our tendency to 'think okay, I'm going to leave this until end of the day, and then so-and-so will help with it tomorrow,' because it may not be the case as the individual may be off on that particular day.  But it's enough just to plan ahead and think about when certain people are in. All we need to do is adjust to the new way of working; I do not foresee this to be a major problem.

"With a big corporation you will not have such a problem, because there's always someone else that can potentially help. With smaller organizations I can see this as a challenge, but it should not be a difficult challenge to overcome."

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