Agency Reflections on the 4-Day Work Week
The 4-Day Work Week Went from Seemingly Impossible to a Part of Our Agency Identity
In August of 2021, I read a book called “Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less – Here’s How”. At the time, I was COO at Alter Endeavors, and while it wasn’t out of the norm for me to read a business book and then implement strategies to increase profitability and improve workflow in our agency—I don’t think anyone expected “let’s work less” to be what I pushed for.
Now before you envision all of us putting in the bare minimum or shutting our laptops as an urgent email hits at closing time, I’d like to make it clear that I am a classic achiever who values working smarter, not harder. I recognized that in my position as COO, I had an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we operated as an agency and if the book was to be believed, “to shrink the workweek without cutting salaries or sacrificing productivity or revenues.”
The Trial: 2021 Q4
After finishing the book and thinking through how we could approach this for our business, I presented the concept to Alter Endeavors owners, Nick Alter and Aubrey Berkowitz. We discussed the pros and cons and came to the conclusion that expecting our team to sit in front of a computer from 9–6 PM Monday through Friday and produce high-quality, meaningful work was just… unrealistic. We didn’t want a culture that resulted in inflating time tracked in order to meet 40 hours, nor one where everyone felt constantly creatively exhausted. We then crafted specifics for the trial, making it clear that our time is valuable both in and out of work and should be treated as such.
We started by taking every other Friday off, with the “on” Fridays dedicated to internal initiatives and continued learning. (If you’d like to see all of the specifics of our trial, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!) One of my notes pulled directly from the trial details: “Important KPI – the goal isn’t for the 4-day work week to ‘not negatively impact clients’ but ultimately improve their experience with us!” As a result, clients would receive deliverables by end of day Thursday, and we would pick up any feedback on Monday with fresh eyes.
The internal day helped ensure we weren’t a “cobbler’s son has no shoes” type of situation in our own marketing and allowed for focused time to dig into initiatives like continued learning rather than constantly putting it off or squeezing it in between meetings. Removing a full workday required and encourages “task batching,” which allows people to get into the flow and produce higher-quality work. I created a resource document on things like the pomodoro method and energy management, but ultimately trusted each employee to organize their work flow in a way that worked best for them.
The Launch: 2022 to Now
At the close of the quarter, with no real disruptions or even the smallest client pushback, we made it official. Since then, we have kept with 9–6 PM CST Monday–Thursday, with the first Friday of each month being an exception that we dedicate to internal initiatives. Our monthly meeting and 1:1’s are reserved for this day, to end with an informal “AE Connect” as a way to bond over anything besides work.
We make it a point to share our schedule with new clients upfront and I think by and large everyone understands and respects our reasoning for this approach. It has strengthened our company culture as we all highly value location and time freedom and appreciate the focus on life-work balance. We’ve set ourselves up for success when it comes to managing client expectations and how each of us goes about our work. For example, we cut down on busy work at the start by simplifying processes, removing unnecessary meetings, and automating what we could.
From a financial perspective, we are technically incentivized to maximize “employee utilization” by increasing billable hours each week. With that said, even though lower work quality and decreased employee satisfaction are not a given with the typical 5-day work week—a mental shift has happened where the potential “cost” is just too great. I wholeheartedly believe that we can balance people and profits by being realistic in our expectations and rewarding employees that are fully engaged rather than leaning into the stereotypes that come with agency life; i.e. being constantly overworked and underpaid.
The Future: Consider this…
I will be the first to acknowledge that our small size allowed for a somewhat easy transition and that not every agency is one quarter away from implementing the 4-day work week, but I do feel strongly that there are takeaways from the below resources—even if it results in your team fully enjoying their lunch as opposed to working through to churn out another deliverable.
Tips to work smarter not harder:
- Read this book: “Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less – Here’s How”
- Listen to this podcast: Unpacking the Truth Behind the 4-Day Workweek
- Talk to your team. Are there opportunities to simplify processes and cut time without hurting profitability?
- Consider your clients. What kind of relationship do you have? Is it transactional or relational?
- Consider your business and financial goals. What is your pricing model? Are you attracting and retaining talent?
On a personal note, I learned early on that I should and could not be an exception to this rule if I wanted to encourage full adoption. For one, your team will most certainly feel the pressure to work and respond on Friday if the CEO is sending them emails or Slack messages and your ability to think strategically absolutely takes a hit if and when you are overworked! So, I’ve since learned to practice what I preach and just pick up another business book if I can’t seem to embrace rest. (;
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