Throughout August, the team at Cortex trialled a 4-day “compressed” working week. Everyone smashed out 35h, Monday through Thursday, and then took a 3-day weekend.
Matt and I mulled the concept over for a while. The main motivation was to tip the work-life balance in favour of life whilst the sun was shining (which I think it did at least twice). Quite a few of us at Cortex have young families, so having a 3-day weekend allowed us to make some memories (🤮) whilst the kids were on their summer holidays (and as equally as important, replenish some of the brownie points
fill the deficit).
We were also intrigued to see if/how it would impact:
- Productivity and deliverables
- Self development
It was a trial and we’re now in the process of gathering feedback from everyone at Cortex. This post is scratching out my thoughts and ponderings ahead of this.
Did the plan pan out? Was it feasible?
As a professional
ish services / product development company, we errrm, well, wear two hats
- 👷🏽 Developing and supporting our products
- 🤠 Assisting our professional services clients
As great as our clients are, they unfortunately, weren’t able to align with our 4-day schedule. This therefore required:
- Some upfront comms (which resulted in a few job requests)
- A helpful out of office message
“Your call is important to us. Please hold the line”
- A centralised support email (which we had already, but this exercise has helped remind people to use this rather than the executive helpdesk channels ie. direct)
- An on-call rota to manage the deluge of support emails.
Each of the devs had a Friday each to monitor things. We organised it so that, at most, you’d only need to step in on one Friday which worked well.
Interestingly, the influx of requests wasn’t overwhelming. There were a couple of cases that demanded immediate attention, but even in these instances these were generally wrapped up within half an hour. In most cases things could wait until the Monday.
So, on the whole, we, as a business, successfully embraced the 4-day workweek.
Work - Life balance
So these are my musings on the exercise. Rather than look at what went well and what didn’t, I’ve instead looked at things from the work and life perspective.
Impact on work
🤓 Knowing that there were just the 4 days to get work done led to more focus, and more planning. I found myself pre-organising (more so than usual 🤦♂️). Conscious of using the time effectively I carved the day into chunks and assigned them to specific tasks. This led to a bump in productivity which was a nice positive and absolutely no reason why this habit/ritual shouldn’t be used now that we revert back to a 5 day week.
🕰️ I guess unsurprisingly the 4-day week imposed a cap on working hours - you only have 4 day’s worth of waking hours to use. Starting work at 7:30 am meant that by 5 pm or 6 pm, energy levels waned, and with an early start looming, I consciously wrapped up tasks and headed home, whereas in a normal week I would crack on until the task was completed and things were easier to average out over a full week. Work was a bit more forced and overall I worked less, got less done.
🥱 I was slightly surprised that by Thursday, I felt far more mentally drained than a typical five-day week and put this down to a combo of the earlier starts and heightened work intensity. Nevertheless, the three-day weekend served as plenty long enough to re-charge. Having a 3 day break allowed plenty of time with the family and also afforded more opportunities to squeeze some exercise in which was a nice benefit and helps me to unwind and clear the head. I started each week fully charged which was clearly a positive.
👎 One downside with the experiment was that it introduced a bit more rigidity in work arrangements. Admittedly this was self-imposed as we decided to base ourselves in the office for the trial. The thinking behind this was that with some of us working offsite with clients 1 to 2 days and working remote from home on another, then with others doing the same, it could mean not seeing them for potentially weeks. Also impacting the decision for me, was that working at home with the kids at home for the school holidays means that there are too many distractions. Trying to compress tasks into four days whilst also working from home would have been even more difficult.
Impact on life
❤️ The 3 day weekends have been fantastic. As a family we’ve been able to take advantage of the Fridays to do some of the local attractions which have been far less peopley on a week day and we have had them largely to ourselves. We’ve been able to regularly get out on the bikes, go body boarding, island hop across to Sark for a long weekend, day tripped to Herm and generally done a whole lot more together. It’s achieved exactly what we’d hope it would.
🔋 Despite the feeling of more mental fatigue on Wed/Thu, my sleep tracker actually improved over the course of August. In May, June and July I averaged just over 6h sleep a night. In August I have averaged 7h30 sleep. Looking at this more closely, I’ve been getting up earlier, but having felt pretty knackered when getting home I’ve been getting to bed earlier and have clearly been dropping off to sleep more quickly.
👎 Tied to the point above…The only other noticeable impact on life and routine in general has been in learning and self-development. I’d normally be able to spend 2 or 3 evenings a week geeking out by diving into some new tech or completing a course. This more or less completely stopped throughout August. I was generally too tired to do anything during the work week with the week day evenings, after the kids were put to bed being written off. I tried to carve out an hour or two over the weekend but didn’t really get into any sort of rhythm. But I did get to bed earlier! But I’d rather be geeking!
Conclusion - Is is sustainable? Would I do it again?
With some caveats, yes. Having that extra time with the family has been brilliant and whilst it is cliched, kids grow up too fast and you don’t get that time back. So for the school’s summer holidays yes, I’d do it again.
But as a permanent ‘all year round’ switch, definitely not.
It screwed with my cadence. At Cortex we’re flexible with when hours get worked and whilst I and many of the others do more than we have to, being able to knock off early when the sun is shining or roll in later or from home when I’m just not feeling it is far more enticing.
The big downside though was the self-development aspect. It was more tiring and it I didn’t do anywhere near the amount of self-development stuff. I like learning and playing with tech outside of work and this is an itch that I’m looking forward to scratching again.
So, to score the initial points of intrigue:
|Category||Yay or Nay||Comments|
|Productivity and deliverables||👌||Stayed abreast of everything required.|
|Morale||🙌||Family time boosted|
|Engagement||👌||Team engagement ticked along. We managed a couple of socials.|
I’m keen to hear what the rest of the team has to say and don’t think that the experiment has necessarily finished.
It would be interesting to see what a 3 day weekend would allow if the kids were back at school. Arguably this would allow a solid day scratching that self-development itch, although I imagine I wouldn’t be allowed to get away with that and would be handed a todo list for the day that would wipe that out!
We could also look at doing a 9 day fortnight or take the last Friday of each month off.
Watch this space.