Authored by Michael Dubicki
Four Day Working Week - The Diary
As the world continues to review and adopt new working styles, the Flexioffices team are taking a step towards providing more flexibility through trialling a 4-day work week. We’ve been keeping a diary to cover the transition and progress, with four parts to our journey featuring the highs, the lows, and tips for others wanting to adopt a similar work week or know more about how it actually all works.
Over the transition period, concerns came up around holiday days, salaries, how to ensure all tasks and clients were covered, and what to do when the change impacted our performance. We trialled a few variations to find exactly what worked best for us, and have gathered our tips on how to implement this in practice. We also surveyed our team for their honest feedback around the new processes and ways of working, and reviews of how it has impacted overall wellbeing, mental health, and productivity, with 91% of employees surveyed saying the 4-day working week approach is working for them.
Follow our journey below on how to make flexible working succeed – and fail – and then succeed again…
4DWW Diary Part 1 - Beginning
Let's face it, Covid has involved a lot of heartache for the most part. Lockdowns have pushed emotions to the brink, long-term furlough increased disillusion in big chunks of the workforce, customer demand has been non-existent with huge pressures on the business. Everyone in the flexible space sector was hit hard and we were no exception.
As the number of people commuting steadily increased and restrictions eased, we had already resolved to move to a hybrid working system where staff could come in for two days per week and work from home for the rest.
Our business model is predominantly phone-based, so this was logical. More senior staff would still come in to meet with clients and conduct viewings, even if this meant coming into town for three or four days per week. We also agreed to mix things up by working from different flexi space buildings week-to-week, and strengthening bonds with our incredible network of serviced office partners.
It was our Financial Director who first floated the idea of a 4-day-week. Once we got the silly "this isn't Sweden" / "twiddling your thumbs, eh?" etc. jibes out of the way though, we got to thinking about whether we could actually make it work and what the potential impact would / could be. After all, the idea was aimed at our people, not the management team.
We threw around a bunch of expected questions targeting concerns...
"What happens to all the enquiries we get on a Friday?"
"What happens to holiday entitlements?"
"How much will it cost?"
"Are we f*****g nuts?"
"How would this be managed effectively?"
"What if some people want to and some people don't?"
"Wait, what? We sell office space - doesn't that mean we have to be there all the time ourselves?"
But there were also tantalising possibilities...
"What could this do for wellbeing?"
"What would this do for staff retention?"
"What would this do for our ability to attract talent?"
"Our core value is People Matter... isn't this the ultimate embodiment of that?"
Of course, there would be concerns amongst the workforce, for example, the impact it may potentially have on salaries and holiday allowance. However, the salary conversation wouldn’t be impacted as we know how much our people matter to us and giving them the opportunity to have a four-day working week should be beneficial not a disadvantage.
In the end it took about three weeks to bat around all the variables and get a skeleton structure in play. The overriding driver pushing this forward was that we employ an incredible group of people who want to succeed and help this company grow. Making this happen alongside the flexible working we already embraced would be the ultimate affirmation of our faith in their abilities.
With the pandemic causing major impacts to the population’s mental health, we saw an opportunity to comfort our team and provide them with a change that could matter a lot to their lives. Wellbeing and mental health are constantly becoming more and more recognised among us all and it is important we support those around us. There were obvious benefits we could see to implementing the four-day working week, such as having more time to spend with loved ones, giving employees more free time and allowing for staff to have a more flexible and controlled approach to their working week. According to the charity, Mind, 1 in 6 of us experience mental health problems in any given week, therefore providing a change that could benefit our people is at the front of our mind.
So it was decided. Flexioffices were moving to a 4-day work week!
4DWW Diary Part 2 - Structure
Once Flexioffices agreed that we would install a 4-day work week, we had to agree the structure of how it would work. This was more difficult than we thought, since there were loads of complex points to consider...
We had already implemented a two-days-weekly-in-the-office system, so everyone was already familiar with the idea of having a choice of picking their two days per week of working in the office. Whilst this was fully flexible, many people opted for specific days, and so the introduction of a 4DWW would be a double-down on this existing flexibility, as opposed to a choice between one or the other. People now have these two combined benefits – so if someone chooses the 4DWW then they can work four out of five days AND two of these days at home. However, there were still other factors we had to take into account as well…
To explain: Flexioffices generates a lot of inbound enquiries. Our job, to put simply, is to engage with the client, understand their needs, then assist them through a range of flexible space choices so that they can occupy an office which will help their people and business thrive.
We were used to getting 2000+ per month... that's a lot of leads 🤯
Lots of leads means we needed enough people to handle them every day and to give people sufficient time to deal with the volume effectively. We also split the teams into 'tiers' responsible for different enquiry size bands. So, on any given day we would need to make sure that appropriate levels of experience were present to engage with the full range of possible customers.
We also saw scope to cover a broader range of hours whilst still reducing the total weekly hours and giving people flexibility with how to allocate them. Historically, we utilised 'golden hours' after 5.30pm to successfully reach out to clients, and many have always been in the office early to effectively manage admin etc.
Here's the skeleton structure we ended up with:
We use BreatheHR software to centralize our calendars, so all 4DWW days are colour-coded and everyone can see who has which day off and can use this as an easy way of pre-booking moving forward.
We know holiday entitlement are a big interest to people – so this is what we did: if people chose to adopt a 4DWW structure, their holiday entitlement for the year would reduce by 20% (1 out of 5 working days). As an example, if you’re on 20 holiday days per year, this would go down to 16 days, but you would gain around 50 extra non-working days per year… so not a bad trade-off : lose 4 days of ‘official’ holiday, gain 50-odd days of ‘4DWW’ holiday. I know which one I’d choose 😊
87% of the company decided to adopt the trial, with childcare commitments and the longer hours being the primary reasons for those not taking it up. This works well since both sides of the choice are balanced; as a company, we always try to be very flexible with parental commitments and find working from home 2-3 days per week has a positive effect on this.
So far so good...
4DWW Diary Part 3 – Snags
It was perfect... the 4-day-working week! We took the plunge, and everything would be amazing… Rocketing Wellness! Spiking Productivity! 50 Shades of Awesomeness!
And for the most part, it kicked off really, really well since we started the trial.
But for anyone wanting to potentially implement a similar system, here’s a few pointers learned from the snags we came across.
Just to briefly recap – we took the decision to go 4DWW as part of a one month trial with a fixed rotation of Wednesday / Friday off for the team in two halves, rotating so that everyone had a Wednesday and a Friday off and we could keep the office staffed throughout the five-day working week.
(PS: yes, yes, we know that hindsight is 20-20 and these things may be obvious now that they’ve come up, but we’re human and excited about new things and trying to run a business at the same time! 😁)
The 1st of the month was a Friday, so we got a situation where we got a complaint about the fact that the people who benefited from Friday off didn’t have to work the extra hours in the week earlier so as to benefit from the free day. Bit unexpected, but I get it – level playing field for all, and we just didn’t see it before we took the decision to go live with too many plates spinning.
As above – once the trial was in, people realised that they had booked various Wednesdays and Fridays off well in advance. This meant that we had to re-jig a lot of holiday bookings and re-credit the allowance to people since they were going to be off anyway as part of the 4DWW. The earlier in the year you implement, the more this will come into play. Christmas time is especially interesting from this point of view.
If you only have four days to do the stuff you previously had five days to do, you look at the working week very differently. But sometimes you can’t squeeze things into the relevant slots regardless of how the stars align. Take as an example – you’re in the office at 4.30pm on a Thursday and you’re looking forward to having the day of tomorrow, a client calls up and they want to see something on Friday morning…
Do you bite the bullet and come in for the day? Do you get a buddy to cover for you and owe them? If so, what’s owed? Some of the commission? A few brews? What’s the etiquette? Or do you relinquish the lead altogether because you’re taking the day off and give it to your buddy who can help the client from day one? Do you demand to get two days off the next week? What’s the correct course of action?
Obviously strong communication between teams is needed for a four-day working week to work. This is something that had already been implemented with us as we already had a flexible work approach which worked through clear communications and notice on availability, both internally and externally with clients, and through also having the correct software in place to support this.
The more responsibility you have, the more chances for unexpected curveballs, but over time through the structure in place this was manageable. We also suggested that once the trial is done, the day off can flex throughout the week, but whilst it was fixed it was a case of everyone being sensible about it. Once it's available, the tendency will be for people to think that they must take their day off, come hell or high water. This is neither right nor wrong, just down to personal preferences.
So, there you have it – nothing else major to report so far. The trial is moving along well and our people are happy, clients are being looked after and the pipeline is just as strong as we would expect.
4DWW Diary Part 4 – A brave new world
Following our first trial month we wanted to look at a slightly different fixed-day-off rotation, so we moved to Thursday and Friday (as opposed to Wednesday and Friday the month before). Feedback showed that this was the preference, so we implemented accordingly.
The team said that Thursday and Friday would be better because Wednesday tends to be busier in terms of customer communication, meetings, etc. So, we listened and changed to Thursday and Friday. Fundamentally, we didn’t go into this with a pre-set agenda, but flexed with the people we employ.
Incidentally, we agreed to continue with a fixed system of Thurs and Fri as the baseline, although people can choose to move specific 4DWW days around based on their commitments and as long as their ‘buddy’ is there to cover for them. So far, people haven’t moved any days at all, it seems that the very presence of the 4DWW is enough and people make use of the flexibility as given, as opposed to needing to move days a lot.
We also had to re-focus the team a little after some performance results came in – as a sales team dealing with a high volume of customer enquiries, we measure all sorts of things: call times, call volumes, various conversion metrics, etc. It was a little startling to see in the first week and a half that some of the metrics were down on our expectations…
Not by much…
About a fifth…
We spoke with the team and were honest – the point of introducing the 4DWW was based on quid-pro-quo: we create a new working structure that offers a heap of benefits, pretty much unseen in our sector, performance needs to be as good, if not better, than before. One can’t exist without the other and we all need to take ownership of that.
It worked – in the third week of the trial month performance was up from previous levels. In the fourth, it exceeded historical numbers.
Extending into the next month involved another pact with the team – give us a full month of cracking performance and we’ll write the 4DWW into formal practice. The new month has been very positive so far – great activity levels, strong pipeline, everyone giving their all. We’re looking forward to some really positive results.
We also polled everyone for their feedback on the process so far, with a mixture of questions and comment requests. Here’s what we found out:
Q1: Is the 4-day working week working for you?
Q2: Would you be happy to move to this format long-term?
Q3: Out of 10, how would you rate our implementation of the 4-day working week?
Below are some of the comments we received in regard to this :
“Better work/life balance”
“A great work/life balance. Enjoying a day off during the week”
“I find that I’m productive on the 4 days working, knowing that all needs to be done before the day off. I also don’t mind working slightly longer hours as I have the extra day off”
“Better work/life balance. Personally, chose the day off during the week as an admin day so I am genuinely off on the weekend”
“Better structure of working day, 8am to 9am gives me time to focus on planning my day, catching up on emails etc. without receiving (too many) calls”
“…would not choose to be off on a Wednesday again as it is still quite busy so would prefer Thursday / Friday”
As with any new system, teething problems will occur – Part 3 (and this instalment) were testament to that! But the strength of a project is proven by how everyone adapts and supports it, and how a team comes together to achieve a productivity goal. And we remain flexible with this as well – if it doesn’t work for someone, they can very simply revert to a standard 5-day week.
But going into the year ahead, we are well-set to make the 4DWW a roaring success and looking forward to it!
To close my diary entries on this subject, I’ll leave you with the tip to put the concept through trial and error and see what works best for your organisation and people. Four tries later and we found the exact setup that works best for our team – eventually getting to a point where 91% of employees are happy with the structure of our 4DWW and performance is booming.
Whilst we’re open to being flexible around any new changes or work patterns that appear, it’s safe to say that we’re starting to see positive results and benefits for the business, and for our people - the additional flexibility is especially welcome in these unpredictable times.
Next steps are to ensure that performance continues to improve alongside this new flexibility and way of working, and that everyone is comfortable with the way they are working. Watch this space!