Interested in becoming a 4-day week business? Here’s how we make it work
In June this year thousands of companies across the United Kingdom started to trial a 4-day week for all their employees. Mission Drive has been a 4-day week business for almost 18-months. In that time we’ve grown the company and actually increased productivity. How is it possible to increase productivity with apparently less time available for people to work? For us it’s about mindset, changing some working practices and a transparent approach to managing projects.
Like the organisations participating in the UK trial Mission Drive has adopted the 100:80:100 model – 100% of pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain or increase individual productivity.
Effectively this means an agreement between Mission Drive’s business owners and employees to do the same amount of work, in less time.
This answers why we did it. Get the same amount of work done in less time and everyone’s a winner, right? The benefits to employees are clear - less commuting, more time for life, less time in front of a screen.
As both a founder and an employee, I for one would find it hard to go back. Fridays always felt a bit flat to me. It’s the day people most often take off. It’s hard to get sign-off on deals, or approval of plans on a Friday.
By Friday lunchtime people are ready to check out, starting to clock watch, chatting about weekend plans. By 3pm it’s not seen as entirely unacceptable to be larking around in an office, and in some companies it’s actively encouraged, with drinks being handed out mid-afternoon. By 4:55pm the buzz of the office is replaced by the buzz of people discussing where to head out for a post-work social.
Could you imagine attempting to schedule a 1-hr planning meeting at 4pm on a Friday? I don’t believe many people would even try.
We’ve cut out the Friday wind down. Thursday’s are referred to as Thurs-yays. Excuse the twee language. But we work hard for 4-days, and when we look back at the mountain of work we’ve got done, it doesn’t feel unreasonable to dedicate Friday to our own pursuits.
Does a 4-day week make business sense?
The answer, for Mission Drive at least, is “yes, and actually it’s helped us grow the business”. Here’s how we know that:
- Productivity, measured by billing and deliverables per person increased in 2021, and is on track to do the same in 2022.
- Absence due to sickness across the team has decreased.
- The offer of a 4-day week for the same pay is a compelling way to attract new talent, especially people in creative and highly skilled roles such as data analysis. The kind of people we employ have passions outside of work - from improvisational comedy to DJing and live streaming. From golf to hockey and hiking. Giving people more time to explore the world and their passions pays back to us.
It will be interesting to see the results of the wider trial which encompasses companies big and small. Will the chip shops, charities and banks taking part reap these rewards too? What will we learn from their experiences?
How we make a 4-day week work
Our experience suggests that adopting a 4-day week requires a few things. First a mindset of responsibility that is focused on ensuring what needs to be delivered is delivered. This has to be supported by efficient and transparent ways of working, which are in turn made possible through the effective use of digital tools. And alongside a relentless focus on delivery you have to keep doing your best to take care of your team.
The 4-day week mindset
One of our informal company mottos is that you don’t have to do everything or know how to do everything, you just have to make sure it gets done.
This means we look for people who are ready to take responsibility for delivering on their work commitments. We don’t care when someone starts or stops their day but we do care that they deliver or get help delivering what they say they will deliver. We value this as highly as skills, conscientiousness, smarts, and cultural fit.
Part of what makes this possible is a willingness to get stuck in, to learn. And being honest about when you get stuck or when you need help.
You can ask people for this, and you can create a culture where this is the norm. But it helps if your people have a certain level of this mindset from the outset. Which means recruiting for it.
Ways of working for a 4-day week business
Our focus is on efficiency and transparency. Efficiency of planning and delivery. Transparency of activity and progress.
To make things efficient:
- We work on a very granular level of tasks across our projects and clients. Each client project is set-up in Asana, the project management tool, with activity planned in 2-weeks chunks, otherwise known as “Sprints”, and agreed with our clients in discussion with the delivery team. We have people whose job it is to make sure all of this happens.
- We make every attempt to keep meetings brief and only invite people who are required to make decisions or contribute to planning. 30-minutes is our default meeting time. If we can do a meeting in 15 mins, we’ll make sure we keep to that.
- To monitor our efficiency we use an Asana plug-in called Everhour to track time. This means that when we each complete a task we add the time it took directly in Asana. Time tracking is never used to monitor team activity - it’s used to improve how we estimate what it takes to do tasks, which in turn allows us to better plan projects.
This focus on efficiency also depends on not overloading the team with work. We are careful to ensure we don’t put stress on our capacity when we take on new work. We avoid taking on work we don’t feel we can do efficiently.
It’s not a perfect science, but knowing where we are now allows us to make better decisions about what we do next.
To make things transparent:
- Both our clients and our team have the same view of the relevant project boards in Asana, reducing the need for update meetings and emails.
- Using Asana’s Kanban view (effectively a series of lists showing what has been done, what’s going to be done next and what’s going to be done later) everyone involved in the project has a clear view on progress.
Tools that help a 4-day week business
Our systems and tools play an important role in making things efficient, allowing us to provide a range of services that rival big companies, whilst offering our clients the responsiveness and agility you’d expect from a smaller agency.
- Asana is our core project management tool (Monday.com and JIRA offer similar features). As outlined above we use Asana to plan and track projects - providing our people and clients with both a granular view of activity and a birds eye view of progress. Again, transparency is the focus here - giving everyone involved the ability to see what’s going on.
- Hubspot is the tool we use to power marketing and sales. The bottom line is that Hubspot, in our experience, is the best tool for making sales and marketing both efficient and effective. We chose HubSpot because it works for both start-ups and multinationals. Start-ups can start small in terms of both pricing and features, using Hubspot to promote content, capture their first leads, and better understand who’s visiting their website. As a business grows Hubspot becomes the single source of truth about customers - providing a data-informed basis for automating customer journeys, operating efficiently and making decisions about sales and marketing.
- Slack. Email is a time suck. Slack’s channel-based chat speeds up communication. We create channels for our clients, or get invited to their channels, making it easier to get answers and share things.
- G:Drive. Gmail may be what gets us using Google’s suite of cloud based office tools, but it’s really G:Drive that powers effective collaboration. We use G:Drive to take the pain out of sharing and getting feedback on copy, planning and creatives.
Taking care of each other
A 4-day week doesn’t mean a relentless flood of work for 4-days solid. We work hard, but we also do our best to take care of both physical and mental health. We provide private healthcare which includes mental health support. And we encourage discussion about things that might be troubling the team.
Our daily stand-up is where we get together as a company. A chance to say hello, tell each other what we’re up to, and ask for help.
Is a 4-day week for everyone?
Legacy systems support legacy ways of working. We started a 4-day week when we had 5 FTE employees. This made it much easier for us to build a 4-day week into our planning and operations. I can imagine more established, larger businesses would need to rethink a lot of how they work - in particular the systems and processes they’ve layered up over the years.
There’s also a challenge when it comes to some people’s attitudes towards what makes workers productive. Entrenched views of time being the unit by which we measure and pay employees make it hard for people to think that less time can make people more productive.
People and companies who have a focus on time worked over productivity, or a culture of long working hours are going to find the shift to 4-day weeks hard, because it requires a mindset shift. A mindset where one focuses on productivity not time. I suspect that this applies more often to established companies where hierarchy and a top to bottom command and control structure dominate.
Ultimately it takes willingness across a company - 100% of productivity for 100% of pay, but in 80% of the time. Doing that requires careful planning, changes to mindset, new ways of working and tools.
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