We tried a 4-day workweek for three months. Here’s what we learned

For the first three months of 2022, we worked a condensed week from Monday to Thursday. No 10-hour days. We didn’t cut anyone’s salary. Just more time for our team to destress away from their desks.

Sound crazy? That’s what we wanted to find out. Was the idea radical or obvious? We did the research, and the science was telling. We truly believed that it would work. But could our team actually maintain productivity while working fewer days? And what impact would it have on our people? 

We didn’t have the answers, but we were uniquely positioned to measure success. Using our own software tools, we tracked and analyzed data around Deep Work, meeting times, interruptions, pull requests, and other key metrics. In the end, the results were better than expected. 

Let’s jump right into productivity. Did we get less done? That’s probably top of mind for anyone even thinking about a four-day workweek. The short answer is no. The shorter workweek wasn’t nearly as disruptive as you might think. Instead, it served as a great forcing function for change that made us work more effectively, using our own product to measure the changes. 

The time our team spent in meetings either decreased or stayed about the same. Deep Work time — defined by us as two or more hours of uninterrupted work time — increased for almost all of our teams. And our “Always On” scores — our proxy for burnout — showed that people were getting the same amount of work done, without working extra hours in the evenings.

Product delivery volume actually increased. We looked at the overall number of tickets completed and the estimated effort/complexity for each one, and both went up during the experiment. In other words, our people got more done while working on more high-impact projects. We also onboarded more customers than any other quarter to date.

In addition to meeting our product delivery goals, we saw improvements in our team and people health. We surveyed employees every two weeks, and they reported feeling less stressed, less fatigued, and more balanced between work and their personal lives. They had more time to run errands, do chores, and focus on things they couldn’t normally do during working hours. Some started learning new languages or took up new hobbies. I tried to get in as much skiing as I could, making my way to the slopes at least five or six times.

Our employees read more books, exercised more, and took more time to rest. They spent time with their families and explored passions outside of their work. Job satisfaction went up, and our team felt more refreshed and ready to go each Monday. Overall, we were able to improve team morale without sacrificing product delivery.

What surprised me most was one of our more intangible benefits. I kept hearing stories from our team about these “Aha!” moments they were having while going on a hike with the dog or doing other activities. These were light bulb moments about difficult work challenges, and they were having them away from work. Our team didn’t stop thinking on Fridays. But by going from at-desk to at-rest, they were given the freedom to think about work challenges in more relaxing environments and in their own time. 

We were careful in our stance on Friday work: you’re not expected to do anything you don’t have to do. Meaning if it can wait until Monday, let it. But our clients don’t take the day off, and we always have to be available for them on their schedule. That could mean responding to customer questions on a Friday.

I felt pressure to communicate that expectation in the right way. I wanted to be mindful of the diverse roles and personalities on our team and what a four-day workweek might mean to them. How we talked about that from a leadership perspective was important. The words matter — that’s one lesson I personally took away from the experiment.

I couldn’t flat out say Friday was not a work day — not with people on call for our customers or thinking about work problems in their own time. I also didn’t want to tell anyone they couldn’t or shouldn’t work on Fridays. Some people have to plan around other priorities and want an extra day for work. The challenge was finding a way to make it work practically for everyone. 

By the end of our experiment, about 40% of our employees had worked on a Friday at some point, but typically only a few hours. They even reported feeling more productive since responsiveness was not expected. Some worked because they had to, some worked by choice. As for me, I may have spent several days on the ski slopes, but I still took calls and did some level of work on most of the Fridays.

Before you start thinking the experiment was nothing but clear skies and sunshine, the results weren’t all positive, and the transition wasn’t without its difficulties. In our first month especially, the urgency to hit our goals in fewer days didn’t set the right tone. Our engineering team also saw a slight increase in interruptions. But we learned new ways of working and turned things around. Our teams managed to change that sense of urgency into faster, more efficient decision-making. They were also motivated to work harder, optimizing for shorter, more effective bursts of work.

We’ve also seen some four-day workweek benefits in our recruiting efforts. People want the freedom to work on exciting challenges while also having time to step away, think, and recharge.

They need more balance. It’s something we not only hear when talking to candidates but also see every day in our product metrics. We have a great culture, and we trust our people to work hard and get things done. When people see that trust and the culture we’re building at Uplevel, they want to be a part of it.

Overall, the results of the experiment were overwhelmingly positive. We not only met and even exceeded our product delivery goals but also took significant steps in preventing team burnout. Based on these results, 100% of our employees wanted to continue the four-day workweek, and we decided to extend the experiment through the end of the year.

If at any point the four-day workweek stops supporting our business goals or we can no longer be responsive to customers, we will pivot fast. I don’t see that happening, but we have to be mindful of the possibility and prepared to change course. We must constantly push ourselves to think about how we can work more effectively, especially with fewer days to do so.

For now, the four-day workweek is working for our team, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. You have to have a culture of trust — of outcomes, not hours. When you trust your people to bring their full selves to work, they will. And they’ll do it in four days.

There’s a lot more to the experiment than I was able to cover here. If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into our preparation and the results, I encourage you to take a look at the full report in our Uplevel 4-day workweek playbook.

This post is by Joe Levy, Uplevel CEO

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