Our Experiment with a Four-Day Work Week
A few months ago, we tried an experiment: the four-day work week. As companies attempt to navigate work environments that look anything but normal, these kinds of attempts at work-life balance have been taking center stage. For us, the experiment didn’t produce the results that we wanted, so we went another direction. Alter Agents CEO Rebecca Brooks was interviewed recently by The Wall Street Journal and ABC News about our process and our decision to forgo a four-day week, as the national conversation begins to buzz about the future of work.
Our company voted to end our trial period with a four-day work week after ten weeks. In internal surveys taken with the vote, Agents said that the arrangement just didn’t sync with client schedules and actually made us feel as though we had to work harder to stay in the loop. When we felt compelled to be at a meeting or finish up a task on our days off, we were left feeling more stressed because it felt like something was lost, not gained. The trial period had the opposite effect than we intended.
So we took the collective decision to revert back to a traditional five-day work week, with an important caveat: Each Agent takes an additional day off each month in addition to regular holidays and vacation time. Effectively, we each observe a four-day work week at least once a month. This system has been in place for almost eight months now, and it works for us. We’re all able to plan for each other’s absences and feel as though we can truly take the day off.
Many companies are looking at ways to help employees deal with pandemic-related changes to their lives, both professional and personal. At Alter Agents, we were lucky enough to have several existing policies in place that left us well-positioned for the challenges that came with remote working and other workplace disruptions. Several years ago, we instituted a policy that we call “Ultimate Agency.” The premise was that all employees:
- Are adults and able to function without micromanagement;
- Have the freedom to work from home or any other location any day we choose, for any reason (this was instituted pre-pandemic, now none of us are in the office);
- Are able to pick our own “office” hours, based on our own internal clocks and outside responsibilities (which boosts production, creativity and sustains passion for our work and our clients); and
- Can have unlimited vacation days (which we’ve found actually leads to employees who work harder and actually use fewer vacation days).
Ultimate Agency has two requirements: Ensuring coverage on projects with your team and exceeding client expectations. It’s working. We consistently receive rave reviews from clients and, despite not always adhering to the traditional workday and prioritizing flexibility, our work has been better than ever. (In fact, even when we did our four-day work week experiment, our clients were unaware of any changes in our schedule.)
What it all boils down to is that this working model is based on trust. At Alter Agents, this trust is based on the belief that each one of us is a high-functioning, responsible adult, but it goes deeper than that. Here, we lack hierarchy in the traditional sense, and input is valued from all members of the team, regardless of age or experience. In doing so, we’re able to provide clients with unique perspectives.
We also place a high amount of trust in one another: teamwork in every sense of the word. At Alter Agents, we are held accountable by our colleagues. Each of us brings individual talents and strengths, which we aren’t afraid to leverage or defer to others for the betterment of the team. We have our own responsibilities while also relying on each other to achieve success. It is an environment of camaraderie and trust.
The “Ultimate Agency” policy was instituted well before the upheaval of the past year and a half. Having this model in place made it easier for us to quickly adapt. As Rebecca wrote in one of her recent columns for Forbes, the pandemic has highlighted the “shortcomings of our traditional systems and ways of working.”
The national conversation we’re having around the nature of work is important. It is time for a better way – a renewal in the way we go about our daily workdays. For some companies, the four-day work week may be the answer. For others, it’ll be a different kind of flexible approach built on trust and teamwork. But every business needs to think ahead about how they, and their employees, are preparing to handle the challenges of tomorrow and a workplace that has been permanently transformed.
As Rebecca writes: “As a small business, we’re going to continue to learn from the times and adapt to future-looking methods because that’s always been a key part of success. Renewal, to me, means reinvention — learning from our history, adapting for the future, and being not only open to change, but eager to do so.”
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