In March and April 2020, work and life changed the way we knew it. I researched our team members (84 of whom are from all over the world) to understand the best way to help them cope with so many things that change at once.
I especially wanted to hear from parents what could help them, as many schools closed down and partners or spouses were also required to work from home.
Results? Most people wanted more time to go through the new challenges.
As a remote organization, we already offer our employees a lot of flexibility and this is one of many advantages of teleworking. For us at that time, the ideal solution was to be both flexible and offer more time at a time, so we started considering a Thursday work week.
The concept of a 4-day working week achieved a lot of traction in early 2020 as many companies saw better flexibility and thus happier employees moving from five to eight hours a day to four. Microsoft tried it in Japan and productivity increased by 40%and Unilever New Zealand also 32-hour work weeks.
Given the stress, downtime and insecurity of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the case it was also advertised as a useful way to deal with childcare, quarantine and other things.
The combined study of our teammates and the growing global evidence that a Thursday work week could be a good solution is our one month trial. After this experiment, we saw that not only has happiness and stress improved, but also productivity has not decreased. We chose a 6-month trial validate if it was a sustainable practice and so it was.
We will now continue our Thursday working weeks in the near future. Here’s an overview of some of what we’ve learned from interviewing our team over a four-day work week in our two experiments.
What our internal research has told us about Thursday’s work week
The four-day work week resulted in sustained productivity and a better work-life balance. These were the exact results we hoped to see, and they helped us challenge the notion that we need to work in the usual way for weeks nine to five. It is worth noting that although we have seen a steady level of productivity, we have assessed it based on feedback from teammates and not on the goals of the company as a whole, which will change in 2021.
When we looked back at the impact of working on a full-time business week for most of 2020, we decided to move on to 2021 with some model refinements and exceptions.
From May 2020, I measured the following:
- output based on the deadlines and objectives of the region
- individual autonomy of the teammate
- stress level
- general work happiness
Here you can learn a little more about how all these measurements have gone.
Our output during Thursday’s working week
At the May trial, we saw that teammates felt overwhelmingly as productive or productive during a Thursday work week as they did during a five-day work week. It was only a one-month trial, so it might have been easy to ignore, but we saw that this pattern appeared in our six-month trial. Nearly 34 percent felt more productive than when we had a five-day work week, nearly 60 percent felt just as productive, and less than seven percent less productive.
Although my teammates reported feeling more productive, I also spoke to the leaders. I compiled data from our managers on team output to help determine if the data matches the feelings of a teammate and what my recommendation would be to go to 2021.
For our engineering teams, the total number of coding days decreased. However, we saw a significant increase in production. Our engineering manager, Ivana, divided: “Weekly coding days went from 3.4 to 2.7 for product teams and from 3.2 to 2.9 for mobile devices and infrastructure, while the product team increased significantly for product groups and doubled for infrastructure and mobile!”
Many of the managers I spoke to reflected Ivana’s feelings about seeing an increase in production.
The exception to these productivity results was our customer protection team. It was more difficult for us to maintain productivity levels, which was to be expected, as this role is unique in terms of the unpredictability of its volume.
Anecdotally, our lawyers still felt that they were about 85-90 percent as productive as they were in a five-day week outside a client’s mailbox, that is, on other projects. However, customers waited a little longer to receive an initial response to their emails.
As mentioned earlier, we asked teammates and managers to measure overall productivity and did not measure it for themselves based on company-wide goals. It will change in 2021 as we set more specific company goals so that we can see how well we achieve our goals each quarter, and that is another key indicator of the success of a Thursday work week.
The reported autonomy and flexibility was 4.3 out of five in May 2020, with 5 being fully autonomous. By the end of our six-month pilot, it had risen to 4.7:
Reiterating that our teammates have control over their schedule has been the main goal of Thursday’s work week.
Our stress level in May 2020 (when we first launched the experiment) was 3.3 out of 5, with 5 being high stress. Reported stress dropped to 2.7 in the June study and only 2.9 in the October study.
General work happiness
Our overall happiness trend throughout the company remained steady, and given the volatility of the events of 2020, I felt it was a good trend.
Our exact quarter numbers were:
- January: 4.1 / 5
- April: 3.8 / 5
- July: 3.8 / 5
- September: 3.7 / 5
How to continue the 4-day working week until 2021
Given that the data for Thursday’s work week was mostly positive, we decided to continue this practice until 2021. I will continue to monitor productivity and team engagement throughout the year through quarterly surveys, so that Thursday’s work week will ultimately help buffer business needs.
Instructions for our Thursday 2021 work week:
We adjusted some things based on our 2020 experience. Here I sent our team instructions for Thursday’s work week:
- There are no meetings and no communication is expected in Slack on Friday.
- Friday is the default day for most regions.
- The working weeks of client advocates look different due to the nature of the role. There is more communication about schedules and expectations.
- Further definition of weekly production expectations at the regional and departmental level.
- Refinement of the performance ranking. Teammates who do not meet their goals can choose or ask them to work for 5 days.
- Evaluating this schedule at least quarterly based on the team’s overall productivity, OKR hits, teammate stress levels, and hours of work schedule.
We continue to reiterate that, although this is a special benefit, as a company, we must meet our collective deadlines. A few work weeks may need this Friday as an overflowing workday to complete what we are committed to doing. Everyone is still expected to do their job.
Although we initially adjusted the deadlines as a company to take into account the unique situation of Thursday’s work week and the pandemic, we have since moved forward with ambitious goals for next year and recognize that this is likely to push the way we work during Thursday’s work and force us to adapt to this new way of working. Personally, I know that every Buffer teammate is capable of meeting that challenge.
Because our client advocates do not have as much project-based work as other roles, we have the following specific goals:
Customer protection 4DWW strategy 2021
Purpose: Work successfully as a team on Thursday work weeks, while providing a customer service experience across the bar.
Measurement: Team members are expected to meet their ticket goals each week (number of tickets answered based on level + personal commitment / lead agreed goal) and an average 2.8 ACE score on tickets and / or team members working outside the mailbox is expected to complete projects, meet deadlines and achieve key results.
We will continue to craft and repeat in ways that serve our customers well and offer our teammates flexible working weeks.
Looking to the future
I continue to conduct periodic research on team productivity, personal stress levels, autonomy and happiness. Buffer is also once again diving into the use of OKRs as a tool to monitor our productivity and progress, giving us another yardstick to use in the overall assessment of our Thursday work weeks.
We are not sure that we will continue Thursday’s working weeks forever, but for now we will stick to it until we can achieve our ambitious goals.
Do you want to continue talking about Thursday’s work week? Join the chat on Twitter. 😊