Until recently, the prospect of working four days a week was just wishful thinking for most workers. However, since the pandemic and the move to more flexible work patterns, many businesses have transitioned to a shorter working week.
Last year’s four-day workweek pilot schemes in the U.K., U.S., Canada, and Australia proved successful. On a scale of zero to 10, the average rating from companies taking part was nine, with many pledging to continue the new work regime beyond the trials.
A four-day workweek won’t suit every organization. It may only be viable for companies able to adapt to a new way of working, which may be why many naturally agile startups see it as the future.
Web development company Buckeye Innovation has seen huge benefits from a four-day week, including an increase in productivity, a 30% revenue growth in 2022, and a boost to morale among the firm’s 16 members of staff.
“Allowing staff more time to spend on personal and professional development, volunteering, and supporting their families has increased team morale,” says President Brad Griffith.
One valuable benefit has been the increase in ideas generated by the team to improve efficiency and reduce wasted time, resulting in increased profitability while reducing hours worked. However, one of Griffith’s biggest concerns is talent acquisition. He says: “A four-day workweek could be an incentive for employees and candidates who aren’t an ideal fit but value a shorter work schedule. With a shorter working week, we need highly focused and productive people, not team members who want to be held to lower expectations.”
Design agency Lyon & Lyon employees have been working a four-day week for the last three years. While there have been some bumps in the road, the experience has been mostly positive. Benny Lyon, who cofounded the business with his twin brother, Mat, says: “If we reverted now, I think our staff would struggle to adjust, which shows how prevalent it has been.”
Turnover has continued to grow by more than 30% year on year since implementing the new working hours, and it has proved a massive draw for talent; most applicants cite it as a key reason for joining the company. The four-day workweek also features in their client pitches, which has found favor with the majority who see it as aligning with their beliefs.
However, Lyon admits that some client relationships have suffered. “We may have lost some continued relationships with clients because of it. For example, some want a rapid turnaround on the artwork, and we can’t give that on a Friday,” he says. “The four-day week is here to stay, but we still have a lot to do to make it work for us.”
Success may also depend on how startup founders define a four-day week. According to Victoria Firth, cofounder of business transformation consultancy Grey Lemon, the question for any entrepreneur shouldn’t be ‘how many days a week do you need to be at work, but rather ‘what do you need to perform at your best’?
The business was launched in 2020 on a four-day working week, a decision driven by necessity. The pressure of establishing a new business during lockdown, combined with the realities of family life, meant that Firth, and her business partner Rhonda Curliss, had to get through as much as possible in four days to keep the rest of their worlds functioning. “We fell into the trap of cramming five days of work into four, which was not only counterproductive but also left us exhausted,” says Firth.
But the pair adapted quickly, challenging the entrenched working habits acquired from 20 years of corporate careers, to focus on what was needed to deliver the best outcomes for the business, their clients and themselves.
Swift investment in their systems, processes and the proper administrative support proved critical to providing the space and time they needed to be productive and enjoy their work without reaching a stage of burnout.
“Regardless of how many days a week you officially ‘work,’ there is no moment of switch-off,” says Firth. “However, as our work and personal lives become increasingly integrated, that’s not necessarily bad. If, by ‘four-day working week,’ you mean four days of a week focusing directly on your business and your clients, then with the right support, it can work. But if you interpret that as ‘switching off’ at 4pm on a Thursday, that’s never going to be the case.”