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Implementing an alternating four-day workweek: how & why

When the pandemic hit, we at Service Direct, like countless other businesses around the world, quickly found ourselves trying to figure out how to get work done from our respective homes. Given the dramatic toll that the pandemic took on nearly every part of life, we wanted to find a way to squeeze a little bit of good out of this new working arrangement.

Matt Buchanan

Matt Buchanan

four-day workweek

As such, we decided to try offering an alternating four-day workweek to our employees. The results have been encouraging thus far, and we’d like to share some of what we’ve seen.

What is an alternating four-day workweek?

The idea of a four-day workweek is nothing new, and it’s something some companies have been offering as an option – or even a required schedule – for years. In most cases, this means that the employee works 10-hour days instead of eight, so the standard 40-hour workweek is completed in just four days. That way, instead of two days off per week, the employee gets three.

An alternating four-day workweek is a little different. With this plan, the employee works five days one week, and four the next. The day off could be Friday to allow for a three-day weekend every other week, but that is up to the individual employee and employer. Those additional days off provide the employee with tremendous flexibility to take extra trips, engage in their favorite hobbies, or whatever else they’d like to do with their spare time.

Why an alternating four-day workweek?

When the pandemic hit, we had to transition our team from being in-office to being a fully remote workforce. It was really all hands on deck to help the company come through the pandemic unscathed, and our team hunkered down and helped us figure out how to make our day to day operations more effective as a remote workforce. This meant lots of retooling and new process development … and long hours.

Working remotely can make work-life balance challenging and increase risk of burnout. A recent survey discovered that 69% of remote workers are experiencing burnout symptoms and 59% of remote workers are taking less time off than normal. Another survey stated that burnout at work doubled from March 2020 to April 2020.

Our hypothesis was that implementing this new perk would help prevent burnout, increase employee job satisfaction, and make our team feel more rested and ultimately, more productive, at work.

Our main concerns

My primary concern was ensuring that our clients and customers still had the level of support that they have come to expect from us. At the same time, I didn’t want this effort to make it harder on our support team as a result of any client frustrations or support ticket backlog. It was important to me that we still had adequate coverage for all teams and for all departmental responsibilities.

My secondary concern was making sure that this new schedule wouldn’t prevent anyone from being able to do their job. I didn’t want this alternating schedule to create any unnecessary stress for employees that couldn’t get something done because a key stakeholder was out of the office. But, all of these concerns can be prevented with proper planning.

How it’s been going so far

We piloted this new program from April to June 2021, a full quarter. We then said we would ressas with leadership, and see if this is something we would want to implement for the long term. Once the pilot was nearing the end, we sent a survey around to our team to get their feedback on this new work schedule.

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • 100% of employees said that they wanted us to continue offering this benefit
  • 93% of employees have said their productivity has improved, while the other 7% said their productivity has been the same
  • 85% of employees said they feel more rested and happier at work

Anecdotally speaking, we also had a few key learnings, including;

  • It really enabled better habits when it came to time management and meeting scheduling. For example, everyone seems to be more thoughtful about scheduling meetings in general, so as to not waste time.
  • Many of the team members use Fridays for “deep work” days, with no meetings or interruptions.
  • This has been a great perk to mention to job candidates during the hiring process, and has been a deal breaker for some of our recent hires.

Four-day workweek tips for you

If this is a concept that you are considering for your team, here are a few things to consider and tips for implementation.

1. Try it as a pilot program first

I highly recommend you “try it on” by first implementing it as a pilot or trial program, with a specific start date and end date, to see how your team and customers adapt to this change. This gives you the flexibility of trying it out before having to fully commit. You may learn that it’s great and everything is fine to move forward with it long-term, or you may learn that you need to tweak a few things.

2. Make any special conditions very clear

Ensure everyone is aware of any special conditions or restrictions to this process to set the right expectations. For us, we didn’t require longer hours during the week of their Friday off, but other companies do. So, if there are special conditions, make them very clear from the start.

3. Make the schedule transparent and visible

Meet with your team leads and schedule out everyone’s Friday off in advance. Make sure it’s clear and visible in a shared calendar so everyone is aware of who is and who isn’t “in the office” on a given Friday. This also helps the team think in advance about any vacation days that may overlap or big events or meetings that need planning around.

4. Ensure your leaders lead by example

Leading by example is essential not only because leadership also needs time to recharge, but also because failing to follow through with the process can send mixed messages to employees and could cause anxiety on whether or not they should take the time off.

Matt Buchanan is the Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer at Service Direct, a technology company that offers local lead generation solutions for service businesses. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. He has 15+ years of expertise in local lead generation, sales, search engine marketing, and building and executing growth strategies.

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