How to implement a 4-day work week (by someone who’s actually done it)
The idea of a 4-day work week is quickly taking the world by storm. So much so that one of the world’s largest economies — the UK — has announced the biggest trial of the four-day work week to date. During this countrywide experiment, 3300+ employees at 70 companies will have an extra day off every week for the next six months. And that’s without any reduction in pay.
The results from the UK’s experiment are yet to be gathered, but there are plenty of businesses that have already concluded their 4-day workweek trials and reported positive outcomes, including:
- Increased productivity
- Higher employee job satisfaction
- Better work-life balance
- Reduced work stress
- Improved morale and fewer absences
- Easier recruitment and retention
- Increased profits
- and more.
These benefits are more than convincing to give a shortened workweek a try. The question is — where to start? How to implement a 4-day work week so that it actually works for the company and its employees?
Moving to a 4-day work week
Moving to a 4-day workweek can be a challenge if you’re not prepared. I know this firsthand because when my team and I first tried to switch to a 4-day workweek, we failed miserably.
Our rule was that anyone is free to take Fridays off if they complete all the tasks on their to-do list by Thursday. I personally was certain that the chance to enjoy longer weekends will be enough motivation for me to waste no time at work and be 100% productive.
The reality, however, was different.
Just because we had an extra day off, it didn’t mean my brain was able to work more intensively. I still needed breaks, some days, I still found it difficult to concentrate, and some tasks still took more time than I had estimated.
I regularly found myself working on my day off — and so did my colleagues. So, after a few weeks of trying, we officially switched back to five days and for the next few years, we lived with the belief that 4-day workweeks just don’t work.
Regardless, we decided to try a shortened workweek again a few years later. This time, we approached it with a different mindset — instead of trying to squeeze five days of work into four, we decided to reduce our workload in the first place.
And that’s when we succeeded.
A guide to implementing the 4-day work week
The key lesson learned from our experience is this: moving to a 4-day workweek requires some serious task reprioritization and workload reorganization. This is the mindset you should start with.
So, once you’ve decided to implement a four-day working week, make sure you get the basics right:
1. Free up your and your employees’ to-do lists
The first and most important step to successfully implementing a 4-day workweek is to understand that it’s not about doing the same amount of work in fewer days but rather excluding lower-priority tasks from your to-do list for good.
If you’re leading a team, you might need to help your employees to reprioritize their to-do lists, as well as get rid of low-priority tasks that take up too much of their time. That’s easy if you use time tracking software, as it shows exactly where time is spent. Then, once you’ve identified these tasks, see if they can be either abandoned, automatized, or outsourced.
It’s important that you evaluate your own to-do list and free up your time, too. If you won’t, you’ll end up working on days off and sooner or later drag your team into working as well.
2. Reduce the time spent on meetings
An easy way to free up your own and your team’s time is to reduce the number of meetings per week. Look — 83% of professionals spend between four and 12 hours of their time on meetings every week, according to a survey. That’s up to 1/3 of the work week!
Evaluate all the meetings your team has during the week — which ones could be made redundant? Can some of the meetings be shorter?
3. Inform your clients and other stakeholders about the switch
Your company might have switched to a 4-day workweek, but others still work Fridays. So, it’s good to notify everyone that you regularly communicate with about the change. This will help you avoid any confusion and frustration.
A few weeks before moving to a 4-day work week, send an email to your clients — and colleagues if the shortened workweek is not a company-wide policy — where you inform them about your new office hours.
Here’s a sample email you can use:
Subject: Changes to our working hours
I’d like to give you a heads up that starting [MM/DD/YYYY] our team is moving to a 4-day work week with Fridays off.
On the other days, we’ll continue working our regular business hours.
Thank you for your understanding,
4. Set up an OOO auto-reply
For your new email contacts, as well as old contacts having forgotten about the move to a shorter workweek, make sure you set up an out-of-office auto-reply. Write a standard message that the rest of the team can use.
Keep it short and to the point, for example:
Subject: I’m OOO on Fridays
Thanks for your email!
To improve our work-life balance and overall wellbeing, we’ve switched to a 4-day work week.
I’m out of the office today, but I’ll reply as soon as possible.
5. Make plans on the day off
This might sound redundant, but trust me — making plans on your day off, especially at the beginning, is as important as everything else. This will force you to stay away from your work emails on your day off.
One of the reasons my team’s first try to move to a 4-day workweek failed was because we all kept relying on our day off as a “backup” workday. I, for example, always had it in the back of my mind that if I don’t finish something now, I can still do it on Friday — my day off. And that’s what I regularly did.
Now, I always plan my Fridays away from the computer. This helps me pull myself together and get things done during the week, as I know that won’t have time to compensate for the time wasted.
6. Keep track of your KPIs
Moving to a 4-day workweek only makes sense if your business doesn’t suffer from the change and your team continues to reach its key performance indicators (KPIs).
KPIs are the most important indicators of progress toward an intended result. Every team usually has its own KPIs. For example, for the sales team, those could be new customers attracted, while the PR team’s KPI could be the company’s mentions in the press.
A few weeks into your 4-day work week experiment, take a look at how your team is doing with reaching their KPIs. Are they on track or do they find it difficult to reach their goals now that there’s one workday less? If that’s the case, then why? Talk to the team to find out what’s holding them back.
Keep track of your team’s productivity — has it dropped since starting the experiment? Again, ask your team why they think so. Perhaps you’ve canceled an important meeting, which now causes more misunderstandings and a lot of back-and-forth emails, which steal everyone’s time. If so, consider bringing that meeting back.
Give a 4-day work week a try!
Increasingly more businesses around the world are testing a four-day working week and exploring the benefits of giving their staff an extra day off. The results are overwhelmingly positive, with some companies reporting as much as a 40% increase in productivity!
If you want to join the trend and successfully implement a four-day workweek, here are the most essential things to do:
- Reduce your and your employees’ workload
- Inform your clients about the change
- Keep track of your team’s performance