Seven years ago, we experimented with the idea that our business could operate better remotely, eschewing the traditional office model, and favoring an approach that sought out the best talent regardless of geography.
I was challenged on this hypothesis nearly every day, with arguments being made that if people weren’t in an office there would be no way to know that they were producing. I held to the idea knowing that an office wasn’t the motivation to work or that a manager’s oversight was a motivator for performance, but that it was the work itself that inspired our team to produce transformative outputs.
The pandemic hit and our theory was proven right, most businesses were unprepared and caught off guard. For us, it was business as usual.
Labor models are changing faster than most traditional businesses can adapt and the pandemic has, for the foreseeable future, changed the norms and expectations associated with the workplace. The remote workforce is a more fluid workforce that can perform better than a traditional office-based one.
My sole purpose as CEO is to ensure that the company, for which I am responsible, outperforms every other competitor in our space. Business design improvements, such as the ability to work remotely, were the first steps in enabling an unfair competitive advantage.
Agency 39A regularly outperforms organizations 10x – 100x our size because of simple innovations that deliver outsized impact. Although we lack the financial might that global consultancies enjoy, we don’t have shareholders to whom we answer or unnecessary bureaucratic decision-making processes that prevent us from implementing potentially transformative innovations.
Agency 39A is a digital transformation agency and we embrace the idea that transformation must begin within our business if we are to deliver it for our clients. The 4-day workweek is the most recent, and potentially most impactful transformation, we have implemented. As we approach the anniversary of our four-day experiment, I’m reminded that the best organizational design improvements are those that improve the well-being of our team, increase output, reduce attrition, and improve employee engagement. The four-day workweek swiftly accomplishes all our goals by simply removing a single working day.
The 4-day workweek ensures efficiency by design. As an agency we’re held to the timelines and expectations we promise to our clients. The 4-day workweek, like all measurements of time, is abstract and our business operates in a 5-day workweek world. We solve for the 5-day week in ways that still afford our team agency over their schedules while ensuring our clients’ needs are met. The true differentiator is that we all work more efficiently.
The 4-day workweek is an hourglass timer that resets every Monday and motivates our team to perform at the highest level of efficiency. Communication and accountability have both improved within the business as they are the enablers to the efficiency that permits the 4-day week.
Our team performs like an experienced crew, rowing in the same direction, gliding through the water with a common goal. They’re engaged, and present.
Our people are keenly aware of the teamwork that enables the 4-day workweek and it defines the culture of our organization. Team members are eager to jump in to help their colleagues, supporting each other in their respective and collective tasks. The 4-day workweek isn’t acquiescing to a changing labor market, it’s an innovation of the highest order, it is a drastic improvement that defines the work experience. The first statement we challenge in any client-facing engagement is “this is the way it’s always been done” not because an underlying process is inherently wrong, but because it signals a lack of control over one’s business. The laws of business are not immutable, they are the nexus of agreements that define a complex operation at any given moment – and they are there for our experimentation and adaptation. Business innovation isn’t something that happens to a business, it’s something that happens because of a business. The 4-day workweek is an inward change driven by a decision to do something better than the way it’s always been done.
“If it’s man-made, can’t man unmake it? For all the talk of how freeing it’d be to shave a day or two off the five-day workweek, little attention has been paid to where the weekly calendar came from. Understanding the sometimes arbitrary origins of the modern workweek might inform the movement to shorten it.” – Phillip Stopher, The Atlantic.
A deluge of recent research and case studies indicate that a seven-day week with a two-day weekend is becoming an inefficient approach. Transitioning to a shorter workweek has been shown to lead to enhanced productivity, better health outcomes, and increased employee retention rates, a trend that has been evolving for a century.
Workweek durations have decreased over time. In the United States the length of the workweek slowly decreased from the pre-Civil War era until the early 20th century. There was a notable acceleration, however, in the reduction of work hours between 1900 and 1920, with a particularly sharp decline from 1913 to 1919, resulting in an approximate 8% reduction in weekly hours. In 1926 Henry Ford made a significant change by establishing a 5-day workweek as the new standard, replacing the previously common 6-day workweek, while maintaining employee pay rates.
A recent pilot program involving over 3,000 employees and dozens of companies revealed that the 4-day workweek is a successful organizational design improvement that will continue to build momentum and acceptance. The 4-day workweek is a step towards a humanized work environment and one that provides time for social and family commitments that have a massively positive impact on well-being and our communities.
“Those who took part were less likely to report that they felt they did not have enough time in the week to take care of their children, grandchildren or older people in their lives. The time men spent looking after children increased by more than double that of women, pointing to positive effects of a shorter workweek on gender equality.” – Annabelle Timsit, Washington Post
We are setting a new standard that will fundamentally alter employee expectations just as Henry Ford did in 1926. Think about what your compensation expectations would be if employers shifted to a 6-day workweek – what would your salary expectations be? At the end of the UK pilot, employees were asked how much money they would have to receive from their next employer to go back to a 5-day workweek. Nearly a third said they would require a 26%-50% increase and 8% said they would want 50% higher pay.
“15 percent of employees who participated said that “no amount of money” would convince them to go back to working five days a week” – Washington Post
Agency 39A will do its best to attract, develop, and retain the best talent in the world, create the most unfair advantage against our competitors, and provide the most innovative workplace possible. And if our colleagues move on, they’ll be heading back to the workforce with a new standard and vastly higher expectations in mind.
If you’re an executive contemplating this change – make the move now and build the plane while it flies. The 4-day workweek is already here and it’s your responsibility to ensure your organization’s survival. If you’re one of our many colleagues looking for a change and an escape from the 5-day workweek, drop us a line.