Ever since one business-to-business news site switched to a four-day work week last year, the fully remote staff is far more sparing with the amount of meetings, and their length.
“I can’t remember when I was in a meeting thinking ‘I don’t know why I’m here,’” said Jenise Uehara, CEO and co-owner of Search Engine Journal, a trade news outlet focused on digital marketing.
Online advertising sales are up 22% year to date at the publication with more than 30 staff across the country and the globe, she noted.
The shift to four days was an attempt to stave off burnout and boost productivity. A better work-life balance was “a welcome and needed sided effect,” Uehara said.
Meanwhile, Friendly Design Co., a design agency with staff across the U.S, has also taken a scalpel to meetings in order to cut Fridays out of its schedule.
But lopping off a day of work is actually hard to do, said Geoff Silverstein, managing director and partner. The toughest change is the continuing mental focus to maintain schedules that maximize efficiency in four days’ time.
“It was a little bit of a leap of faith, and we continue to tinker with how it works to make it better and better,” he said.
In the firm’s 11-year history, this May and June were the two biggest months for gross revenue, Silverstein noted.
Like Search Engine Journal and Friendly Design Co., other companies and organizations that are using the compressed work week are getting so proficient that employees are still trimming hours off the job clock while maintaining productivity.
That’s according to new data on the potential benefits of the shortened work week in research where both Search Engine Journal and Friendly Design Co. are some of the pilot participants.
The workers at companies and organizations involved in the study said their average work week dropped to approximately 33 hours. Six months earlier, these employees said they were working around 34 hours, according to the research from 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit supporting the condensed week. At the start a year ago, the baseline was a 38-hour work week, researchers said.
The still-shrinking work hours show the range of time-wasters that management and staff can weed out, said, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, director of programs at 4 Day Week Global.
After picking out the clear time-sucks — like long, recurring meetings that may or may not have agendas — the research indicates workers and management are still motivated to pinpoint the time inefficiencies that are harder to spot, he said.
Now, people are scrutinizing how work is accomplished and how schedules fit together, all while doing their jobs. “That stuff takes time to figure out, and to see results,” he said.
It’s actually a process that doesn’t stop once the four day week is achieved, said Mike Neundorfer, CEO and owner of Advanced RV, an Ohio-based maker of custom motorhomes, which is also a participant in the research.
“We’re very aware of meetings, some we added, some we deleted, some we shorted,” Neundorfer said, adding that meeting agendas are a critical ingredient.
“At 32 hours, I think we are where we were at 40. It’s a constant process and it requires everyone at the company to be aware,” Neundorfer said.
To be sure, the four-day work week is still the exception to the general rule of five days on the clock. For example, 20% of businesses surveyed by ResumeBuilder say they have a four-day week. Of that portion, 69% say the policy doesn’t extend to everyone. By the end of the year, 30% said they’d have a shortened week.
But more attention for the four-day work week is happening alongside the ongoing debate on the return to the office. And both are issues are getting at the same question: what counts as productive work and where does it have to occur?
Roughly one-third of workers go to their office five days while another 56% go in anywhere from one to four days, according to a recent McKinsey & Company analysis. The consulting firm surveyed nearly 13,000 office workers in countries including United States, United Kingdom, Japan and China.
At 4 Day Week, Soojung-Kim Pang said researchers are not seeing remote businesses or in-person operations pulling off the four-day work week more successfully than one another.
“What is more common is professional culture and our assessments about how work has to happen,” which is “the impediment from us moving to four day weeks.”
In his experience, nurses are open to the idea because they already have schedules that can be compressed or switched around. Yet attorneys tend to be skeptical because of their own expectations to rack up billable hours.
Still, Soojung-Kim Pang sees more companies taking the idea seriously — or at least not immediately dismissing it out of hand. When the organization works with companies mulling over shortened work schedules, Soojung-Kim Pang the concerns are increasingly about logistics instead of the philosophical concept,
“It’s not an abstract argument. You’re haggling over price,” he said.
People at the companies with the condensed week say they had look closely at their own office cultures.
Back at Search Engine Journal, Uehara convened a committee of workers to explore if they could pull off the four-day week. One issue was determining what actually counted as urgent or an emergency in need of speedy action on and off hours.
“We discovered all kinds of assumptions about what other people thought they had to do because they thought it was part of the culture,” Uehara said.
Staff schedules at the publication are judicious on meetings and keen on avoiding interruptions. Making that happen takes an environment where people are comfortable speaking up, Uehara noted.
“’Hey boss, maybe we can meet less?’ That’s a tough thing to say,” she said.
Between the emergence of the four day week and the return-to-office debate, there’s an “inflection point” on the future of working life, Silverstein said.
“Just because we’ve been doing this for the last century, it doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense or is the best way to work.”