Last year, at the height of the 4-day workweek buzz, several of our employees reached out to ask if we’d consider transitioning over to a 4-day workweek schedule, too.
It was perfect timing. After all, we were in the middle of revamping our PTO policy, which entailed a few experimental changes we were already excited to test out, including: unlimited half days and company holiday swapping to name a few.
And while we weren’t quite ready to make a decision either way, we did want to take this opportunity to run a calculated experiment. After all, we Ethenians believe in approaching our company culture the way we approach our product: Try new things, collect data, iterate over time.
We conducted a 4-day workweek test
So we ran a pilot. For the entire month of July, we closed shop every Friday. Our own twist on the “Summer Friday” trend that doubled as an experiment on the 4-day workweek.
And what we found was fascinating.
While the majority of our employees expressed appreciation for the 3-day weekends, benefiting from more time to recharge and spend with family and friends, a large majority of our employees also acknowledged that they struggled to achieve goals within the adjusted schedule.
And while some employees happily worked longer hours Monday through Thursday in order to accommodate a work-free Friday, others felt their energy reserves fizzle after their usual 8 hours.
Even more troubling, we learned that deadlines were getting missed. Projects pushed back. And employees felt more stressed than ever about all the meetings on their calendars.
Not exactly the outcome most employees were hoping for.
And yet, it wasn’t an entirely shocking outcome either.
Because the reality we needed to face was: The 4-day workweek isn’t for everyone.
As someone who loves being on the cutting edge of “The future of work,” it pains me to say that. Feels a little taboo even. Almost as though perhaps I’m just falling behind the times, too stuck in my ways.
But the results don’t lie.
Our 4-day workweek test results
Our team struggled to meet their goals in just 4 days per week. Many of our employees fell into a cycle of enjoying their 3-day weekends only to come back to work feeling stressed, rushed, and drained as they struggled to squeeze all their responsibilities into the now shorter workweek.
And here’s the thing: That makes sense. After all, we’re a lean and scrappy team. At Ethena, we don’t have excess overhead to spare. Given our company size and stage, cutting out 52 days of work per employee per year would significantly impede our ability to achieve our goals — no matter how much we optimize our meeting usage, asynchronous communications, and time management.
And we’re not alone.
Is the 4-day workweek right for your company?
While some companies might have the perfect organizational structure and cultural environment to thrive in a 4-day workweek, many others would quickly suffer. Not only that — based on just our own small test run, we learned that many employees themselves would suffer. Because the reality is, many employees would simply prefer to spread their work out over 5 days rather than squeeze them into 4.
And while we ultimately decided this particular work trend wasn’t right for us, it doesn’t mean there weren’t still plenty of insights and takeaways to learn from this endeavor.
In fact, we identified 3 critical areas in need of improvement:
- We had fallen into a rut of “meeting overload” and needed to learn better ways to lean on async communications.
- Our employees were hungry for guidance on time management best practices, including time boxing, prioritization, and blocking off “focus time.”
- Employees wanted more focus time and the flexibility to sleep in or sign off early when their workload allowed — without the fear of blocking others on their own progress.
And I know for a fact we’re not the only company that’s come up against those challenges.
3 takeaways we learned from our 4-day workweek experiment
So whether or not the 4-day workweek is right for you, here are a few key tips for optimizing output and minimizing meeting time.
1. Lean on async forms of communication.
The reality is, meetings can often be an ineffective and inefficient way of pushing initiatives forward. You lose time briefing everyone on the context and trying to work around calendar schedules and time zones. Not to mention the stress of having to navigate live discussions falling into side tangents or having to navigate people talking over each other or sometimes — as can happen — speaking in circles. And don’t even get me started on when you have to schedule a follow-up meeting because you inevitably run out of time.
Instead, put all your thoughts into a Google doc and have everyone weigh in asynchronously via the comments section. Not only will this free up more time on everyone’s calendar, it will also make sure everyone has a chance to weigh in and give the decision-maker an opportunity to read through and consider everyone’s thoughts more carefully.
2. Teach your employees about good time management.
The sad but tough truth is that most people are never trained on how to effectively manage their time. They’re simply thrown into their first corporate job with everyone hoping for the best. Instead, teach your employees about critical time management concepts like time boxing, prioritization, blocking out admin time, asynchronous ways of working, and even — gasp — screening emails and Slack messages for deep focus work.
Additionally, prescribe your own HR team to be good about time management, and lead from the front. I recently wrote about ways that HR teams can do more with less resources, and a good chunk of the mindset comes from empowering your employees, their managers – your whole organization, to be effective in all that they do. Both their work outputs and time management.
3. Focus on flexibility over prescriptiveness.
At Ethena, our employees are distributed all across the United States and Canada. That means we’ve got 5 different time zones between us and a whole lot of different preferred ways of working. Some people are early birds, others are night owls. Some have caregiver responsibilities that require them to step away from their desk periodically throughout the day. And that’s OK. As long as employees are communicating with each other effectively, available when they need to be, and getting their work done in a timely manner, we’re not overly focused on when or how they do it.
Since running our 4-day workweek pilot, we’ve invested in equipping our employees with all these tools and more (including adopting a “no meeting day” every other Friday). And I, for one, can personally attest to the positive impact it’s had on my own calendar. Feel free to read more about it and download a free meeting agenda template here.
So here’s to everyone who’s on the fence about whether or not the 4-day workweek is right for you. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But even if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new to learn. Discard the aspects that don’t work for you, and leverage the ones that do. That’s what learning and growing is all about.
And hey, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, run your own 4-day workweek experiment and see how it goes. I’d love to hear about it!