Is a 4-day workweek radical or obvious? The experiment begins.

After months of contemplation, we’re putting the well-researched pro/con lists aside and launching an experiment: Uplevel is implementing a four-day workweek for the entire company.
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Starting January 2022, our Seattle-based and remote team members will begin a three-month trial of working Monday to Thursday—a condensed week with their standard salaries. We’re among a very small wave of companies daring to challenge the norm, yet it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long. FDR effectively formalized the 40-hour workweek into law with The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The world has changed drastically since then. Logic would suggest that the workweek should, too.

As an engineering insights startup centered around data, we’re invested in the measurable side of this debate. We’re doing this to learn, not to make waves.

Some risks feel heavy. We strongly prioritize our relationships with clients; any change in our work style cannot come at their compromise. At the same time, the risk of not trying this—for the sake of our team’s well-being and the drain of burnout—feels heavy, too. We’ve increased our focus on mental health since the beginning of the pandemic and monthly mental health days off have been well-received by the team. It’s ultimately an issue of measurement. Will our team remain as productive (or more so) with this augmented schedule? Will we see the anticipated benefits of stress relief and happiness? 

Most importantly, how will we know?

That’s where our expertise suits us well. The question of how to measure engineer productivity will forever be our focus and we have the best set of metrics to gauge our success. We’re using our own product to establish our baseline work hours, Jira and Git activity, Context Switching, and other critical factors, like Deep Work and Slack Interruptions. Our mission of helping engineers meet their product goals without burning out their people is perfectly matched with this experimental mindset. We’re less mired in the question of whether the standard workweek is wrong, and more invested in learning how engineers reach effective, sustainable productivity. This four-day experiment is yet another example of us living our values and testing our theories at home.

The science behind a shorter workweek is telling. Parkinson’s Law finds that we will expand our work to occupy the mandated time, whether a 40-hour workweek or a 60-minute meeting. Given a shorter time frame, we will condense to match. Plus, we all balance work obligations and life duties every day. When work takes up more hours, it’s more likely that we multitask (often ineffectively) to get things done. Alternate workweek experiments in Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States have proven successful. In recent coverage from NPR, Will Stronge, co-author of Overtime: Why We Need a Shorter Working Week, said: “The normal working week doesn’t work in many ways. It’s just hidden by the fact that we’re forced to do it.”

Like most things, the success of this hinges on effective communication. We shared this idea with our team two months early so everyone had time to raise questions and work out solutions. Some key concerns: Will we end up working 10-hour days? (No.) Will it be seen as noble to continue working on Fridays? (No.) Even the CEO? (I bought a Friday parking pass for skiing this winter to hold myself accountable.) We’re also launching an internal hackathon and a survey to better understand employee perceptions of burnout and effectiveness, as well as developing tools or habits that support our most efficient way of work.

Our startup mentality has us constantly innovating in search of a better way. When people are burned out, they lose that innovative spirit, instead focusing on simply getting through the day. We’re guided by our mission to uncover ways to protect that valuable energy. With an extra day to themselves, our team members will be able to spend time with family, get ahead on other projects, or simply find quiet. The company has no policy on this except encouragement to rest and recharge.

So, we begin an experiment: Four-day weeks for three months. We’ll eagerly report the results in the spring.

This post is by Joe Levy, Uplevel CEO