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10/27/2021

Why We’re Fully Adopting a Four-Day Workweek

Justice from within: here’s how we made our 4DW experiment work long term

Authors: Joann Lee Wagner, Vice President of People Operations

This past June, we implemented a radical experiment: a four-day workweek (4DW), or rather working 80% of time for 100% pay. At the time, return to work policies and the end of COVID-19 based restrictions seemed to be on the horizon. However, as the rise of the delta variant dampened that initial prospect and as we continued to see historic shifts in the labor market, our initial question remained ever pressing: how could we reimagine the future of work?

As a non-profit focused on shifting power and shifting resources, we implemented a four-day workweek experiment to answer this question. Entering into this experiment, our hypothesis was that a 4DW would result in increased productivity, work/life satisfaction, and empowerment for our team at all levels, while positively affecting our culture and cross-team relationships.

Four months into this experiment, Common Future has decided to adopt the four-day workweek as an organizational policy.

Our decision was driven by the data our staff diligently provided throughout the experiment, including surveys, focus groups, and weekly time tracking. Our high level findings all pointed to the conclusion that a four day workweek would promote justice and satisfaction throughout our team, which is ultimately why we have decided to implement it as official policy, and ultimately as a benefit provided to our staff. (Want in on this? We’re hiring!)

How did we address anticipated challenges and shift to address unexpected challenges?

Of course, implementing a four-day workweek and ultimately losing 20% of our workweek did not come without challenges. Along the way we encountered the following challenges and pivoted to make this experiment work for all involved.

  • Time management & losing unstructured learning time: At the start of our experiment, we anticipated a loss of time for unstructured learning and planned an org-wide monthly no-meetings day — a policy we will continue moving forward. Some team members proactively planned for the loss of unstructured learning time by integrating learning time into a project’s overall timeline and communicating this expectation with partners and supervisors or scheduling Do Not Disturb time directly into their calendars on a weekly basis.
  • Friday work: Within our line of work, it’s not unusual for external partners to ask for Friday meetings. This experiment required us as a team to be mindful of power dynamics. Team members found standardized team communications to be helpful (including our previous four-day workweek article and templates for communicating the purpose of the experiment). Role playing conversations with external partners and practicing setting boundaries was also helpful in navigating power dynamics.
  • Preparing for growth: As we look ahead to 2022, we anticipate growing our team to include more team members, including part time workers. Onboarding into this streamlined work environment requires additional touchpoints and training to ensure new team members are able to get up to speed while still honoring the principles of abundance and employee wellbeing. We’ve added the four-day workweek as a separate module for onboarding and will continue to provide refresher training to existing employees.

What impact did the four-day workweek have on our team members?

A crucial component of our hypothesis was the positive impact that a four-day workweek would create for our team’s personal lives. Our team is majority BIPOC and women, and justice from within means creating equitable work structures for all members of our team.

We set up this experiment by naming assumptions around power dynamics, the nonprofit scarcity mindset, and of course, the desire to recognize the humanity of our team. How did the responses from our post-experiment survey line up with those assumptions?

Increased Productivity

Anecdotally, our staff highlighted that the four-day work week created more motivation to get work done, compelling them to think more strategically and communicate more clearly. Before starting the experiment, we urged staff to practice essentialism and prioritize the critical aspects of their work. Practicing essentialism increased clarity on team responsibility from 81% before the experiment to 100%. Folks developed essential job descriptions, practiced ways to tactfully say no when requests were beyond their essential duties, and deeply examined where power dynamics showed up.

Our data showed that as a result, 91% of staff consistently met deadlines and commitments throughout the experiment, compared to 86% prior to the experiment. Thus, we concluded that a 4DW encouraged our team to prioritize impactful work.

Provided by Common Future’s People Team

A Healthy Work/Life Balance

Common Future staff reported feeling more efficient, effective, and recharged after the implementation of the four-day workweek. Prior to the experiment, only 52% of staff felt strongly that Common Future supported them in maintaining a work life balance. With the adoption of the 4DW, this metric jumped up to 86%. People reported that having the Friday off meant more time to recharge and hit the ground running on Mondays. What’s more, not only did the four-day work week increase personal satisfaction in restoring a work-life balance, it also underscored our commitment to equity for our team from within. As one team member shared,

“If an organization is doing equity work without investing into the personhood of the team members, the work doesn’t resonate as deeply.”

Ultimately, we concluded that a four-day workweek promoted a stronger work life balance and created an environment for a better rested and motivated team.

Provided by Common Future’s People Team

Emails that weren’t Meetings

We started our 4DW experiment by resetting meeting norms, defaulting to 30 minutes, rather than our usual hour. Across all levels of the organization, staff shared that the four-day workweek pushed both them and their colleagues to intentionally set clearer agendas for fewer and more effective meetings. The experiment also contributed towards a culture of setting boundaries and saying no to opportunities that don’t directly impact our goals. Staff wasted less time on meetings that could have been emails, and reset thinking carefully about how to use their colleagues’ time.

Empowering Early Career Staff

We wanted our people, especially those in early career positions, to feel in charge over their schedules and work. By level setting expectations around work, we successfully created an environment for folks in early career positions to feel more empowered. Our findings showed that for team members in early career positions, we saw a 23% jump in staff who felt comfortable asking colleagues for help after implementation.

Provided by Common Future’s People Team

More Flexibility for Parents

The pandemic was especially difficult to navigate for parents, with a disproportionate number of women dropping out of the workforce. We wanted to ensure that our workplace directly addressed the concerns of our working mothers to provide the flexibility they needed. At the end of our experiment, 100% of working moms reported they had the flexibility they needed to do their work, up from 83% before the experiment. In addition to understanding the professional outcomes for working moms, we also saw that the 4DW had a positive impact for mental and physical health as well. The 4DW also significantly improved satisfaction with work/life balance for working moms, with those who were satisfied up 34% after the experiment.

As one mom put it, “I’ve never worked in an organization where the perspective of a working Black mom is highlighted and prioritized. I am used to existing in spaces that have to adjust myself to meet white, hetero-patriarchal norms, so to be in a space where my humanity is important and validated makes all the difference.”

Provided by Common Future’s People Team

What are the next steps for us?

Our goal at Common Future is to build a workplace that is designed to support the BIPOC, majority women employees that show up to make a difference in the world everyday. We are committed to infusing justice into all aspects of our organization. This starts with policies like the four-day workweek, but permeates into all aspects of our employee experience from recruitment to offboarding. This is a place where we have real conversations about equity and then do something about it. It’s a place where all employee voices are valued, regardless of your role. As we move to close out 2021, we’ll be reflecting on our wins, learning from our failures, and continuing to build the type of organization that our employees have always wanted to be a part of. We’ll keep you posted along the way!

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