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We experimented with a 4-day workweek. Here’s what happened and where we’ll take it next

The Buffer team decided to conduct a long-term pilot of the 4-day workweek through the end of the year. Here’s more on how they came to that decision and their next steps.

We experimented with a 4-day workweek. Here’s what happened and where we’ll take it next
[Source photo: golibtolibov/iStock]
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In May, our entire team experimented with a four-day workweek. The intention of this experiment was to help us all manage the stress and changes to routine caused by living through a global pandemic.

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We initially rolled out the four-day work week experiment for only one month, with the main goal of reducing teammates’ stress. Happily, both survey results and anecdotal stories tell us that this was a success.

After examining survey data and anecdotal feedback and chatting with the team, we’ve decided to conduct a long-term pilot of the four-day workweek through the end of the year. Here’s more on how we came to that decision and our next steps.

The results from our 4-day workweek experiment

Our main goal with this experiment was to help the team manage stress and changes to their routine caused by COVID-19. To measure whether this effort was successful, we polled the team at the beginning and end of the month and asked about their autonomy, stress level, and overall work happiness.

Here are the results from our team surveys showing differences between early May and late May:

  • We saw higher autonomy: 4.3 → 4.5
  • We saw lower stress levels: 3.3 → 2.7
  • We saw higher work happiness: 3.9 → 4.2

(These numbers are all out of 5.)

These results are only part of the picture. We also asked teammates for written feedback and anecdotal stories about their experience. We received lots of both that supported these results. One teammate shared that they felt this experiment was helping them feel focused:

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This last month has been incredible when it comes to finding more time to look after myself. I feel a lot more productive when it comes to the work I do and the creeping feeling of burnout towards the end of the week has gone completely. If anything I find myself more focused than I’ve ever been.

And another shared feelings of motivation and more collaboration:

General sense is that everyone has been feeling more motivated, energized and excited about the work we’re doing. We’ve also had more “ad-hoc improvements” with folx jumping in to add more monitoring, refactoring, and improving our services. There was also more cross-team collaboration and more async activity on Threads and Slack.

It wasn’t completely smooth for all teammates, of course. We also heard a few challenges:

Since the biggest confusion to me was trying to remember/juggle who was off when it would be great if we could decide on a particular day that we all take off.

Another challenge was around holidays (more on that below).

Due to a lot of public holidays during May, it meant that week to week it would often change as to who was taking what day off. Folx appreciated having some flexibility in what day to take off, but it did result in a lot of deviations from the planned Wednesday off.

Because the four-day workweek experiment was designed to give temporary relief to teammates during an especially hard time, we did not set goals around productivity or results during the one-month trial. In fact, we expected a tangible drop in productivity due to reduced hours.

So we were happily surprised when many teammates shared that they felt their weekly productivity was not all that different, and that their quality of work was higher due to increased rest and extra focus.

The one unique case here was our Customer Advocacy team. Because their style of work is heavily based on responding to customer queries, they may be an exception to the idea that fewer hours could result in similar productivity. Our VP of Customer Advocacy is leading separate discussions with this team around productivity and well-being in a four-day model to see how they can make this shift work longer-term.

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Why we decided on a 6-month pilot

Based on the results of the trial, we decided to start a more thorough pilot of a four-day work week that focuses not just on teammate well-being but also on Buffer’s long-term success.

As a company we have a history of bold experiments, like being 100% distributed, having transparent salaries, and trying self-management. When testing out these new and bold ideas, we ask ourselves whether we are able to set and reach ambitious goals, deliver a high-quality experience for customers, grow our revenue, and make our mark on the world.

Some of those big experiments, like transparent salaries and remote work, have been a success because the answer to those questions was a resounding yes. For others, like self-management, the answer was no, and so we pivoted away from the experiment.

We’d like to seriously consider moving to a four-day work week long term, so shifting to a six-month pilot gives our team enough time to truly adapt to the concept, so we can get more data on how this impacts team productivity and well-being in the long-term.

Next steps for this pilot

In order to truly evaluate whether a four-day work week can be a success long-term, we need to measure productivity as well as individual well-being. Teammate well-being was our end goal for May. Whether that continues, and equally importantly, whether it translates into customer and company results, will be an exciting hypothesis to test.

We’re also keen to iterate on our current format and develop a more consistent approach. For the past six weeks, the four-day concept has been implemented differently across teams and even individuals. Some teams took Wednesdays off and some took Fridays or Mondays off. This was fine for a short time, but in this longer experiment will likely feel a bit chaotic. We’ll be asking our teammates to help us define what a reduced-hours workweek looks like across a distributed team.

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We also still have several elements to figure out.

In our initial iteration of the experiment, we didn’t account well for holidays. We eventually decided that if a holiday already makes it a four-day workweek, then the rest of that week can be considered a normal week. We’ve since heard that this could be disruptive for teammates. Some teams had Wednesdays off but if there was a holiday on a Monday they had a Monday off instead. We aren’t sure yet what our solution will be to this long term, and it’s something we’re keen to figure out.
We also need to figure out how a four-day workweek can be a success for our Customer Advocacy team. As much of their work revolves around interacting with customers and resolving tickets, taking additional days off has impacted both their productivity and the volume in our customer service inboxes.

We have an all-hands meeting at the end of this month where we’ll host breakout sessions asking teammates to help brainstorm how we can make the four-day work week successful long-term, with a particular lens for what the Advocacy team is experiencing.

This is just the beginning of a fun new journey for us. We’re excited to share what’s next and what we learn as we test the boundaries of how work happens.


This article originally appeared on Buffer’s blog and is reprinted with permission.