Experiment: Four Day Work Week.

I will be running a 3-month experiment at one of my companies, Mäd. The idea is that we will only work Monday to Thursday while keeping a vigilant eye on the process and results.

I have occasionally seen news articles about the four-day week, especially in the Scandinavian countries, which also happen to have some of the highest levels of productivity in the world.

Mäd already has a strong culture of trying new things, we had remote work and flex-time since 2016, way before the pandemic, and this was a huge advantage. When the pandemic happened and remote work become the new normal, it was business-as-usual for us.

The reason for trying the four-day workweek is mostly my personal curiosity about this subject matter. I’ve written about this before how in the first half of the twentieth century, economists promised that the working week was going to constantly get shorter and shorter as automation and technology become more advanced, but this didn’t really happen.

There is also a strong business case to be made for a four-day workweek, especially for a consulting company like Mäd.

Firstly, it is an incredible benefit to current and future team members and something that similar firms may struggle to offer or simply would not even consider. This then gives us a significant competitive edge with regard to hiring and retaining talented people. This is especially true with half of our team being married and/or having children.

Secondly, it continues to position Mäd at the forefront of the modern workplace transformation that is happening globally. The scenario that I have always wanted to keep is that our clients look up to us with regard to our working methods. They essentially hire us to teach them how to be “more Mäd”.

Thirdly, there may also be some significant productivity benefits. I am not sure about this, but time will tell. We are also launching an internal data platform to track various business metrics, and so this will be used to ensure that the four-day workweek is not having a negative impact on our business as well as client projects. For me, it would be a win if we can keep productive and output stable. If there is a slight reduction in productivity, say that we are working at 95% of our previous level, it may still be worth it because of the last two advantages.

That said, there are some difficulties with the implementation of this.

Most of the team is based in Cambodia, and this is one of the countries with the most national holidays worldwide, with up to 28 days of holiday each year. But, we also have more than 50% of our work from abroad, primarily in the United States. Adding another day off each week (so a further 52 days a year), may have a negative impact on the availability and our general ability to keep work moving forwards at an acceptable pace.

What I am considering is that we respect the significant holidays in Cambodia such as Water Festival and New Year, but then ignore the large amount of more minor holidays that crop up. Of course, it’s difficult to know if the local team would appreciate this trade-off. This is something that will need to be monitored and a common-sense approach will need to be taken.

The other thing is on general vacation and days off. We have a policy of unlimited vacation time, as long as this is taken responsibly. This means ensuring that plenty of notice is given, and that project responsibilities are upheld or handed over correctly. I’m not sure how this will be compatible with a four-day work week, but if the overall amount of time spent working each week is stable (with regards to billable hours), then this should not really matter in the slightest.

But that is a big IF. Attempting to compress five days of work into four may lead to burnout or additional stress because we are not working in a factory where we crank out widgets but in a consultancy where ideas are our currency. Better ideas mean better results, but working lots of hours is often not conducive to having better ideas.

This is a point that may well need some compromise at a certain point. We may need to lower our expectations of billable hours, and then see if we can take the financial hit and still make it work, or if the market enables us to pass some of the additional costs onto our clients with increased hourly/daily fees. It could also be a mix of both approaches here.

Another potential negative is how clients, both current and future, understand and accept this change. Will they see us as lazy and unmotivated, or will they appreciate and understand the logic, and perhaps wish that their own work would implement a similar working strategy?

Obviously, I am not making this decision in a vacuum. I have spoken to some of our clients already about this to understand what they think, and I saw a level of excitement about the idea, especially if we can make it work.

This is because we can write up our results, and then this can be used to perhaps convince some of our clients, especially the ones where there is a lot of knowledge work involved, to try something similar.

Anyway, I will write more on this topic as we start to roll this out across the organization and let’s see what happens.

Overall, I am not anxious about this change but very much optimistic. I am reminded of an attractive mental model that Tim Ferris wrote about in his book The Four-Hour Work Week.

When trying new things out, the risk analysis needs to be made on what could happen temporarily vs. permanently.

So, for instance, if Mäd right now is running at an 8/10, a four-day workweek may cause problems and have us running at a temporary 5/10 or 6/10 for a few weeks or months until we shut down the experiment if it’s not working out.

But, if it goes well, it might result in a permanent positive change of a 9/10 or a 10/10.

As a final point, I wrote about the two types of decisions previously and how if a decision is reversible, it should be made without too much consideration. I feel that this is an easy decision to roll back if it doesn’t work out, so I am not going to over-think things.

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