Four-day workweeks are gaining more and more popularity in a number of companies around the world, but getting them right can be a real challenge. Which weekday should become a holiday? Can your company meet its goals and provide good customer service within four business days? What happens if the plan fails? Going back to five working days can be very difficult and may even cause some employees to quit.
Before you make the big switch to a four-day work week, you should consider a few potential mistakes that could derail your plans:
You’re introducing change too quickly and everywhere
Instead of reorienting the entire company to a new work schedule, start by testing the new approach, advises Joe Sanok, author of “Thursday Is the New Friday.” “Try different models in different departments,” he says. “Maybe one team will rest on Thursday afternoon and another on Friday.” Find out which model is best for your organization and industry,” adds Sanok
Ideally, companies should test the concept for at least two quarters, he says. Companies can also facilitate the introduction of the new work process models by adopting policies for working days without meetings or emails, which will allow employees to do focused work or have more flexible working hours.
You are not optimizing the workflow
Before moving to a shortened work week, examine the systemic factors that underline the need for such a change, says Andrew Filev, founder of project management platform Wrike.
“Companies that cut employee hours without first optimizing efficiency are doomed to failure in this initiative,” he says. “If employees spend the same amount of time on each task and meeting, a shorter week will only cause them to be online during their given day off to make up for lost work time,” Filev argues.
If you want to introduce a four-day work week, you may also need to introduce new work systems. For example, decades ago software developers adopted a more flexible workflow. “They were able to get more done in a 40-hour work week than they used to get in 80 hours,” says Filev. “If your shortened workweek strategy is focused on creating a healthier work-life balance for your employees, while still wanting to maintain high productivity, you should consider optimizing processes,” he adds.
You don’t prioritize transparency
When the marketing research firm Alter Agents introduced a four-day work week, it did not publicly announce the change. What’s more, its founder and CEO Rebecca Brooke believed that if the company’s customers were not aware of the fact that the company had switched to a four-day schedule, it would be a testament to the initiative’s success.
That approach may have been flawed, Sanok believes. “Not all stakeholders need to be involved in the decision, but they should at least be aware of the transition. Customers or people who are part of your supply chain need to know about the change because it can affect your timelines,” he says.
When warning customers, Sanok suggests saying, “We want to retain our most talented employees to ensure quality service. For this purpose, we will try a four-day work week”.
“I think people will be more inclined to embrace this change when they know you’re trying something new.” Transparency will bring faster feedback that you can use to change the workflow, adapt and grow into something new,” he added.
You have unrealistic expectations
Before introducing a four-day work week, you should have a clear idea of what you would like to achieve with this initiative and what would make it successful. For example, a salesperson might aim to make 40 calls per week and convert at least 10 of them into actual sales.
“During a four-day work week, an employee may only be able to make 32 calls and attract 8 customers. This can lead to frustration and make some people in the company think that the new schedule is not working.” Sanok says.
For this reason, he advises holding a 15-minute meeting every week to talk about the results achieved during the four-day work week. Then, every month, set up a one-hour meeting to collect the data.
“Where are we in terms of our goals? Are we below or above them? How do we address this outcome?” are some of the questions Sanok says you should ask at the meeting.
“At the end of the first quarter, collect all three reports from the monthly meetings and create a best practices report,” he advises.
The shortened work week is an indicator of trust in the team, says Tom Caporaso, chief executive of Clarus Commerce, whose company tested an initiative called “summer Fridays,” in which the afternoons on the last day of the week were off. After her success over the summer, she has become a regular part of the company’s schedule.
“We know they can get their work done in four full workdays and a half-day on Friday,” says Caporaso. “As long as you’re getting the job done on time and giving your customers the service they expect from you, taking a few hours off before the weekend won’t slow down your business,” he argues.
You are over-flexible
If your company is in an industry that requires you to be available to customers five days a week, you may not be able to make the same day off for all employees. However, instead of allowing complete flexibility where people can change their days off, it’s better to stick to a regular schedule, Sanok says.
“I think most people would prefer to have the same day off every week so they can plan their activities outside of work, like taking the kids to school and doctor’s appointments.” If the day off changes, employees can start to lose engagement as well,” he claims.
Stephanie Voza for FastCompany.com
Translation and editing: Georgi Georgiev