Doing more with less: How Pressbooks stays productive with a four-day work week
By Başak Büyükçelen |
At Pressbooks, we believe in building a great culture, and that starts with building a healthy team. To improve our already good work-life balance, we decided to test out the famous four-day work week (4DWW) for a three-month period. At the end of the period, we fully implemented it. We are now, proudly, a 4DWW company.
The business (and human) case for 4DWW
I’ve heard some entrepreneurs say, “Why would you hire people for a 40-hour work week, pay them for a 40-hour work week, and then have them work for only 32 hours?”
The answer is twofold:
First of all, the healthier the team, the better your product and services. Your employees will be more energetic, clear-minded, and eager to be at work, directly contributing to better service and product.
Secondly, it isn’t just about how much money you pay a particular employee. It is more about how much money you spend overall for a given unit (i.e., team) due to high turnover—burnout is real, and so is talent competition, and the 4DWW is a great way to tackle those challenges head on.
There is much conversation around how a 4DWW affects productivity. More often than not, people see productivity as a measure of how much output you accomplish in a given amount of time.
We need to look at the definition of productivity: The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the output rate per unit of input.
And this is where we need to re-evaluate how we look at productivity. If we look at productivity as an output, as in velocity measures (amount of work teams accomplish at the end of sprints), you will surely see a drop in that number if you move to a 4DWW, especially during the adjustment period. But imagine you look at productivity overall and keep in mind how much of a drop productivity takes when you lose an employee at the peak of their productivity. You have to spend weeks (and many fees) replacing them, onboarding them, training them, and waiting for them to reach the productivity levels of the employee you lost. In that case, you will see why measuring productivity as employee output is the wrong way to go about this calculation.
When you look at the big picture, as in the output per unit of input, and look at the significant drop in productivity of the entire unit after losing a colleague, it will make more sense to want to try a 4DWW, just like we did. There are already numerous resources available as to why it makes sense to give the 4DWW a try (below, you will find a selection of books and articles I read before implementing the trial), so I want to talk more about how we implemented it in hopes that you will use our experience as a guide to give it a try yourselves.
Let me be very honest here. I thought implementing the 4DWW would be as easy and straightforward as announcing the news on Slack that we’re going to try it, that everyone would react with all sorts of happy emojis and share funny GIFs, and that would be it. Thankfully, I read a book that told me that that would be an absolutely terrible way of going about the transition.
In The 4 Day Week, Andrew Barnes says that since this change will affect the people who are on the floor, doing the work, the decision has to be made in consultation with them and you must ask them to bring to the table not only their worries but also their solution proposals.
“Let the people lead,” says Barnes. “The most important ingredient contributing to the success of a four-day work week or other flexibility policy is already present in your workplace: your people.”
This gave me some comfort. But as I read on, I realized that just because we would work fewer hours and have an extra day to ourselves, that wouldn’t mean everyone would like it.
Barnes talks about four types of people you will meet on the team when you bring up the 4DWW:
The Adaptive Enthusiast: “They will understand and embrace what is being offered and adapt seamlessly to the new model of work.”
The Doubter: “Those who comprehend the structure and the benefits but are convinced that there’s a catch… or an ulterior motive.”
The Refusenik: “For some people, the collegial interaction they get each work day is central to their social pattern, and they are loath to lose any part of it.”
The Non-compromiser: “People who will welcome the four-day work week while failing to recognise its benefits are attached to responsibilities.”
And there are three types in the C-Suite:
The Denier: “That wouldn’t work in my business.”
The Ostrich: “Managers who don’t believe the conversation is necessary, because everything is fine as it is.”
The Bad Salesman: “Their visible doubt means the pitch, if it happens at all, is less than convincing.”
To deal with the above profiles, we first surveyed our staff. Then, after analyzing the survey results, we sat down and came up with a plan as to how we would address each concern.
We then sent Slack messages to every employee and asked them if they would like to hop on a call to discuss their concerns. We listened, took notes, and finally, when we made the proposal, we tried to answer all the concerns within the proposal itself.
|Concern||How we will address the concern|
|Some expect the 4DWW will have a negative impact on productivity.||The trial period will allow us to evaluate impacts on overall productivity.|
|The organization must be responsive to potential impacts on productivity and not expect the same delivery levels.||The CEO, COO, Department Heads, and Scrum Masters must remember that we don’t know what impacts on productivity will be, but we expect adjustment at the beginning. Therefore, all teams should adjust their expectations early on and monitor as the trial continues.|
|People might become more stressed trying to achieve five days’ worth of work in four days.||Again, this must be monitored, and all managers/department heads and individual team members should be aware that the purpose of the 4DWW is not to increase stress. We’ll monitor this via surveys and address it if necessary.|
|There are concerns about how to manage and schedule meetings.||Reducing meetings and becoming more efficient in our meetings is an essential part of the successful implementation of the 4DWW. Therefore, before starting the trial, we will:Establish and schedule required all-team meetings as well as on-call schedules for the trial period;Get all process owners (scrums masters, team leads, etc.) to review their meetings, work out new schedules as necessary, and determine if some meetings can be removed or made less frequent. In general, we should be more careful to adequately prepare meetings with written documents/asynchronous feedback, and avoid them if we can.|
|Clarity is needed around working hour expectations.||We will all be expected to work four eight-hour days, Monday to Thursday, plus a rotating on-call Friday.|
If a statutory holiday falls on a Friday, we will take it off as usual. If a stat holiday falls on any other day than Friday, we will take both days off (that will be a three-day week).
We will be consulting with our HR lawyers about any other contractual or other issues we need to be cognizant of, and these will be clarified before the start date for the 4DWW.
|What happens with the vacation policy?||Our four-week holiday policy remains four calendar weeks. The 4DWW has no impact.|
|Will a 4DWW have an impact on salary/compensation or growth potential?||The objective of the 4DWW is:|
To make Pressbooks a better place to work, reducing burnout and turnover;To make Pressbooks better able to compete with employers with deep pockets (such as Google, etc.).So:Salaries and salary policy will remain the same—we continue to strive to pay at market rates for all team members.We will continue to support career advancement and training. We will continue to grow the team as necessary.
|What if there are negative impacts on key performance indicators (KPIs)?||Again, we will monitor this over the course of the trial and will have time to identify areas where impacts might be felt. It’s certainly possible, and we’d like to understand where those impacts might be.|
|I love working. Taking away my Friday won’t make me happier.||The objective is to make the overall workplace happier, and sometimes we have to make small sacrifices for the greater good. |
You are also encouraged to use Fridays to volunteer at charities, join mentorship programs, or take classes through Pressbooks’ continued education offering via Udemy.
|How will we handle support on Fridays?||We will implement a rotating on-call schedule.|
One of the more significant concerns for me and for our support staff was how we would handle our customer support, given that the rest of the world still expects us to work on Fridays. Our solution to that has been implementing a rotating on-call schedule. We did consider having one member of our support staff work on Fridays and another on Mondays, which would provide five-day support coverage and a 4DWW to every staff member. However, that complicated things a bit since we are a small team and varying days off would make scheduling all-team meetings even more difficult, especially because we wanted to maintain our No Meeting Tuesday (NMT) policy—colleagues are discouraged from booking meetings on Tuesdays and encouraged to spend them as full-focus days.
Another challenge in today’s remote work environment, which became even more evident with a 4DWW, is the number and length of meetings we participate in throughout the week. If folks spend their working hours in endless meetings and have an even shorter week to get their work done, they will find themselves working outside of work hours, quickly contributing to high burnout rates. To tackle this, I’ve been doing some reading on improving the frequency and length of meetings, and I found GitLab’s approach to meetings beneficial, amongst others. To eliminate unnecessary meetings, I asked everyone to list all meetings they attend regularly, and we started working on converting some of those into Slack prompts (e.g., sprint check-in meetings are now automated Slack prompts via Geekbot where folks are asked three questions: (1) Are you on track with planned tasks? (2) Are there any tasks you won’t be able to deliver before the end of the sprint? (3) Do you have any blockers? Their responses are shared with the whole company in the appropriate Slack channel, and a meeting is only held if it is deemed necessary instead of having one by default). We are still working on improving our meeting frequency and length, and perhaps there’s enough material to talk about that in another blog post.
Toward the end of our trial, we surveyed our colleagues again (although we did hear unprompted feedback throughout the trial period), and the majority of the feedback was positive. For example, 65% of our team thought their productivity stayed the same, 29% said they were more productive, and 6% said they were less productive.
Here are a couple of excerpts from our final survey:
Q: What has been most positive about the 4DWW?
A: “From my perspective we were able to keep the productivity with a bonus that we have an extra day to put our thoughts in order and to enjoy family and hobbies.”
A: “I’m more energized and less stressed at work, which allows me to take better care of myself when I’m not at work, which allows me to do better at work. It’s a positive cycle.”
A: “4DWW hasn’t made me more productive during the week, but it’s made me want to be at work more for the 4 days. It has allowed me to feel rested and excited for the week after the weekend has ended. My happiness has also generally increased as I’m able to spend more time with my family.”
Q: What has been most negative about the 4DWW?
A: “We don’t have time for as many meetings, but that’s something we could stand to reduce anyway.”
A: “Mondays are more stressful because more work builds up on the Friday before. Because Mondays are generally more meeting-heavy that adds to the pressure of that built-up work.”
A: “At first it took time to adjust to mentally and find a proper way to organize work, but it’s slowly making sense and not stressful at all.”
The survey results did not come as a surprise at all. The 4DWW is great but needs refining to make it work. You don’t just cut off a day and magically deliver five days’ worth of work in four days. The company needs to adjust: improving current processes and habits, and keeping expectations achievable and real while not losing sight of the greater good in the medium-to-long run. Once you achieve these, your people take better care of themselves, their families, and your company.
In light of all of this, we decided to permanently adopt the 4DWW, and our team could not be happier.
While we are still trying to figure out how to be more efficient and find smarter ways to work, we are now convinced that offering a 4DWW not only makes us happier at work—contributing directly to our mission to support people and institutions in building and sharing ideas—it also helps us attract more talent.
If you want to work at a mission-driven organization that values its employees and strives for a better work-life balance, keep an eye out for our job openings.