As many teams continue to work from home, the traditional eight-hour, five-day workweek is getting a makeover. Schedule experiments are becoming more prevalent, but the CEO of one U.K.-based tech company doesn’t think companies are going far enough.
“A lot of businesses try four-day weeks, and I don’t feel they are truly flexible,” says Tom Fairey, CEO of Stakester, an online skills-based competition platform for gamers. “If you tell people when they have to work, you’re not giving them flexibility. Some people might want to work the weekend, and then they feel like they can’t. Just because a workweek structure is put in place for everyone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it works for everyone.”
Before launching Stakester, Fairey came from a corporate background. When he started his company, he heard a phrase that challenged his management philosophy: Work is something you do, not somewhere you go. After starting the company with a traditional five-day workweek, Fairey decided to try an experiment, giving his team complete flexibility.
“I thought to myself, ‘How can I create something that works for everyone?'” he says. “We have what we call an ‘adult culture.’ As long as you get your work done, it doesn’t matter when you do it.”
The Totally Flexible Workweek
Stakester employees can work any day of the week, anytime they want. Instead of being measured by hours, team members have very specific goals to achieve. Someone who works in product development, for example, is given a timeline to complete a new feature.
“We’re a business, and we’ve got deadlines and targets, but when people work, that’s nonsensical,” says Fairey. “We’re 100% results driven. We set out what we need to achieve, we agree to it, and then they go off and do it. They decide if they’re going to work at 10 o’clock at night or 6 in the morning. I [ask] them to be responsible and work the hours necessary to make it happen.”
Fairey says the approach involves an athletic mindset. “If you said to an athlete, ‘You’re going to run a marathon in 6 weeks’ time,’ you wouldn’t say, ‘but you have to run between 10 and 12 every day,'” he says. “You would say, ‘Run when you want to run.’ It’s the same with work. If they’re feeling a bit tired and don’t have a rest, they’ll be at the computer being a zombie. I want them energized, where they’re working hard the whole time because they’re engaged.”
But working different hours than coworkers can create a challenge if you need information to complete your work. “We say to people, ‘We need you to just be responsible,'” says Fairey. “We give you absolute freedom, but there’s an expectation that we still need to get the job done. You have to be respectful of other people’s freedom. If you’re asking someone a question at four in the morning, it’s probably a bit unreasonable to expect a reply straightaway. Be respectful of other people’s time and needs. And when you have to completely switch off, let people know.”
The Results of Total Flexibility
After shifting control to employees, Fairley says some stuck to a nine-to-five, five-day week. “The rest of the world operates in that fashion, and that’s absolutely fine,” he says.
Other employees prefer to work weekends, and some work nights. And Fairey says one employee based in the U.S. likes to work U.K. hours because they get more freedom in the afternoon.
A completely flexible arrangement won’t work for every business, but Fairey recommends it for remote companies that are focused on objectives and goals. “When you give people freedom to work in the way that works best for them, rather than the way that works best for you, you’ll be amazed at what people are able to achieve,” he says. “Complete flexibility helps the mental well-being of employees and takes away some stress. If they need to pick up the kids from school, go to the doctor, or just want to go to the gym, they can. The best results you get are always going to be from the employees who are the happiest. It’s your responsibility as an employer to make sure that your employees are challenged but also happy.”
Advice for Getting Started
Fairey admits that leaders need to take a leap of faith when implementing complete flexibility. “Once you start to see benefits, it becomes easier, but I won’t pretend that it was easy to begin with,” he says. “Trust is something to earn over time. Once you give it to your employees, they’ll give it back to you as well, and they’ll want to work for the greater good of the business.”
Fairey describes the business results of complete flexibility as “incredible.” “We found that people are being more creative, and their output is better,” he says. “I don’t know if [complete flexibility] is the only factor, but our business has grown by about 2,000% since we put this system in place.”
Whether it’s a four-day workweek or complete flexibility, now is the best time for companies to experiment, adds Fairey. “We’re at an amazing point in our history where we’re able to change the rulebook, start things from scratch, and figure out how we can make a significant difference to the way that we’re working,” he says. “[Workweek structures] have been in favor of the employer for a long time. I think it’s important that we get to where there is a balance on both sides. I would encourage other leaders and entrepreneurs to do what works for your business. Experiment with it and see what happens. I think you’ll be amazed at the outcome.”