In March and April 2020, work and life as we knew it changed. I surveyed members of our team (of which 84 are deployed around the world) to understand the best way to help them deal with so many things that change at once.
I especially wanted to hear from parents what might help them because many schools are closing and partners or spouses also had to work from home.
Results? Most people wanted more time to overcome the new challenges they faced.
As a remote organization, we already offer great flexibility to our employees, which is one of the many benefits of working remotely. The ideal solution for us at the time was to rely on flexibility and offer more time at once, when we began to consider a four-day work week.
The four-day work week concept gained great popularity in early 2020 as many companies saw better flexibility and thus happier employees in the transition from five eight-hour days to four. Microsoft tested this in Japan and recorded a 40% increase in productivity, and Unilever New Zealand also introduced 32-hour work weeks.
Given the stress, closure, and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has also been touted as a useful way to address childcare, quarantine, and other things.
The combined research of our teammates and the growing global evidence that a four-day work week could be a good solution is what spared our one-month trial. After that trial, we saw that not only did happiness and stress improve, but productivity did not decrease either. We opted for a six-month trial to confirm whether this was a viable practice, and it was.
We are now continuing the four-day working weeks in the foreseeable future. Here’s a look at some of the things we learned by surveying our team about a four-day work week during our two surveys.
What our internal research told us about the four-day work week
A four-day work week resulted in a sustainable level of productivity and a better sense of work-life balance. These were the exact results we hoped to see, and they also helped us challenge the notion that we have to work typically “nine to five,” five days a week. It is worth noting that, although we have seen sustainable levels of productivity, we have estimated that this will change in 2021 based on teammate feedback, rather than company-wide goals.
While looking back at the impact of a four-day work week for the entire company for much of 2020, we decided to continue with this model until 2021, with a few clarifications and exceptions. Here’s how we rated our six-month pilot program and why we decided to continue working in the four-day work week.
Starting in May 2020, I measured the following:
- output based on area deadlines and goals
- individual teammate autonomy
- stress level
- general work happiness
Here’s a little more about how each of those measurements went.
Our result during a four-day work week
At our trial in May, we saw that teammates felt predominantly just as productive or more productive during a four-day work week as they felt during a five-day work week. It was only a one-month trial, so it could have been easily ignored, but we saw the pattern emerge in our six-month trial. Nearly 34 percent felt more productive than when we had a five-day work week, nearly 60 percent felt equally productive, and less than seven percent felt less productive.
While teammates said they felt more productive, I also talked to managers. I rounded up our managers ’data around the team’s results to help determine if the data matched teammates’ feelings and what I would recommend to enter 2021.
For our engineering teams, the number of total coding days has decreased. However, we have seen a significant increase in production. Our engineering manager, Ivana, divided: “Weekly coding days went from 3.4 to 2.7 for product teams, and from 3.2 to 2.9 for mobile and infrastructure, while productive impact increased significantly for product teams and doubled for infrastructure and mobile ! “
Many of the managers I spoke to reiterated Ivana’s feelings of seeing an increase in production.
The exception to these productivity results was our customer advocacy team. It was harder for us to maintain the level of productivity, which was expected because this role is unique in its unpredictability of scale.
Anecdotally, our proponents continued to cite the feeling that approximately 85 to 90 percent were as productive as they had been during the five-day weeks outside of inbox, or on other projects. However, users waited a little longer to receive the first response to their email.
As mentioned earlier, we asked teammates and managers to measure overall productivity, not to measure it ourselves based on company-wide goals. That is changing in 2021 because we have set more specific company goals, so we will be able to see how well we are achieving our quarterly goals, and that will be another key measure of the success of a four-day work week.
The reported autonomy and flexibility in May 2020 was 4.3 out of 5, with 5 being “complete autonomy”. This increased to 4.7 by the end of our six-month pilot:
Reiterating that our teammates have control over their schedule was a key goal of the four-day work week.
Our stress levels in May 2020 (when we first started the experiment) were 3.3 out of 5, with 5 being high stress. The reported stress dropped to 2.7 in our June survey, and then only slightly to 2.9 in our October survey.
General work happiness
Our overall happiness trend for the entire company has remained consistent, and given the volatility of events in 2020, I felt it was a good trend.
Our exact quarterly numbers were:
- Jan: 4.1 / 5
- April: 3.8 / 5
- July: 3.8 / 5
- September: 3.7 / 5
How do we continue the four-day work week until 2021
Given that the data were primarily positive for the four-day working week, we decided to continue this practice until 2021. Throughout the year, I will continue to monitor team productivity and engagement through our quarterly surveys to make sure the four-day work week ultimately helps Buffer’s business needs.
Our guidelines for our four-day work week 2021:
We’ve adjusted a few things based on our experience in 2020. Here’s what I sent to our team about our guidelines for the four-day work week:
We will continue with:
- There are no meetings or expectations that you will communicate on Slack on Fridays.
- Friday as the default day off in most areas.
- The work weeks of customer advocates will look different due to the nature of the role. Additional communication on schedules and expectations will follow.
- Further define weekly performance expectations at the area and department level.
- Clarifying order in performance. Teammates who do not meet their goals may choose or be asked to work for 5 days.
- Evaluate this schedule at least quarterly based on overall team productivity, achieving OCDs, team stress levels, and feeling ownership of your work schedule.
We will continue to reiterate that, although this is a special advantage, we as a company must meet our collective deadlines. Some working weeks may need that Friday as a full working day to finish what we have committed. Everyone is still expected to finish their work.
Although as a company we initially adjusted deadlines to take into account the four-day work week and the unique situation of the pandemic, we have since set ambitious goals for next year and recognized that this is likely to push the boundaries of the way we work in the four-day work week. we continue to adapt to this new way of working. Personally, I know that every teammate in Buffer is capable and up to the challenge.
Because our customer advocates don’t have as much project-based work as other roles, we need to meet specific goals:
4DWW Customer Advocacy Strategy 2021
Goal: You successfully work four-day work weeks as a team, while providing a superior customer service experience that delights.
Measurement: Team members are expected to achieve their ticket goals each week (number of tickets answered based on level + personal commitment / goal agreed with management), as well as an average of 2.8 ACE points on tickets and / or team members working outside Inboxes will be expected to complete projects, meet deadlines and achieve key results.
We will continue to craft and replicate ways to serve our clients well and provide flexible work weeks to our teammates.
I will continue with occasional research on team productivity, personal stress, autonomy, and happiness. Buffer is also returning to using OQRs as a tool to track our productivity and progress, which will give us another measuring stick to use in the overall assessment of our four-day work weeks.
We are not sure that we will continue with the four-day work weeks forever, but for now we will stick to that as long as we are able to achieve our ambitious goals.
Do you want to keep talking about the four-day work week? Join the conversation on Twitter. 😊
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