By Beck Bamberger, founder of BAM Communications, a PR firm for VC-backed tech startups, as well as OnePitch, a pitch platform for journalists and publicists.
The research is undeniable: Employees love a four-day workweek. Around the world, from Belgium to South Africa, businesses are implementing four-day workweeks in pursuit of happier employees and productivity that remains consistent, if not better than it was with a five-day week. I hear a number of founders, many with client-servicing companies like agencies, grumble that the shift to a four-day workweek would “never work for ‘our’ industry,” or that “clients just wouldn’t get it.” We’ve implemented a four-day workweek here at BAM, a PR and marketing agency that works with venture-backed startups, often moving at the speed of light. It’s been in place for several weeks, and the results continue to be compelling. Here’s a step-by-step process we followed to make the four-day workweek a pillar of our culture and a highlight of our productivity:
Step 1: Ensure You Have A High-Flexibility, High-Responsibility Culture
High-flexibility, high-responsibility means no one, including founders, cares about where a person is located or when a person is doing their job. As long as individuals don’t drop the ball on deadlines and results, don’t focus on where or when a person works. For us, we flexed our muscles on high-flexibility, high-responsibility for years as our team grew all across the U.S.–and did so even more once the pandemic hit.
Step 2: Implement ‘Flex Fridays’ First
The high-flexibility, high-responsibility culture allowed us to first debut a “Flex Fridays” offering across the board. If you want to implement a similar offering, make sure no calls or meetings are ever scheduled (no one wants a meeting on a Friday anyway), and make it clear that people can choose to wrap up their work whenever they’re done. A few of our employees took entire Fridays regularly off but worked full Fridays as needed. Because of our high-flexibility, high-responsibility culture, Flex Fridays were easy.
Step 3: Establish ‘No Meetings Wednesdays’ For Deep Work
I used Flex Fridays for deep work, a concept coined by Cal Newport, a professor and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Deep work can be an immense work game changer, and aware of its benefits, I established No Meetings Wednesdays at BAM in 2022. This allows employees a full day for deep work. I’m a proponent of full days of deep work because even the distraction of one meeting throughout the day can trigger your brain into fretting about not missing a meeting, at least in my experience. If you’re like me, you may end up stacking Mondays and Tuesdays with up to 25 calls each day, but the No Meeting Wednesday will let you sink into big projects and hairy strategies you need to work on while also allowing you to catch up from the wave of work from those Mondays and Tuesdays.
Step 4: Tee Up A Generous Timeline
Following the establishment of Flex Fridays and No Meeting Wednesdays, you can showcase the benefits of a four-day workweek. Seize the moment and pitch your executive team by explaining why you can do this: this ludicrous (to many Americans) four-day workweek. One of our priorities of the year was to increase team happiness, which we measure monthly, and I believed that the implementation of a four-day workweek would be one way to increase happiness in addition to other initiatives. One important nuance: You shouldn’t lower the results, hours or responsibilities you expect people to achieve and put in. For us, our pilot, which ran in quarter two, hinged on the team being ironically more productive with fewer hours.
Step 5: Up Your Internal And External Communication
During the initial implementation, practice your “Chief Repeating Officer” skills. Communicate about your four-day workweek pilot via email, Slack, in-person meetings, social media and more multiple times throughout the pilot period. In addition, you should repeat this messaging frequently with clients but emphasize that it is a pilot (a trial period) and that you will maintain results. In our industry, very few clients care about the number of hours we work because the actual results are all that matter. Still, a number of people at our firm were hesitant about how clients would receive the message. Time quickly told us: The vast majority didn’t care or celebrated the move.
Step 6: Practice Enforcing Boundaries (Because You’ll Have To)
“Boundaries” are often gossamer guidelines at workplaces. If your team truly wants No Meeting Wednesdays and a four-day workweek, every person will have to state and hold their boundaries so they are upheld. It’s easy to “squeeze in one call” or “just fit in a quick meeting,” but the “just one” often rolls into “a ton.” Of course, PR blow-ups happen and client emergencies occur. Exceptions can be made, but they should be notably rare and well justified. As an example, we’ll often get requests for Wednesday or Friday meetings from potential clients. As much as we want to get their business, a quick note telling the prospect of our No Meeting Wednesday and four-day workweek easily finds us alternative times. Most people respect stated boundaries.
Step 7: Measure Ruthlessly
One of the great ironies I’ve heard people express about the four-day workweek is its ability to maintain, if not increase, productivity. We have found productivity to be better at BAM while also increasing our happiness inside and outside of work, both of which we measure. In our case, the results we deliver to our clients in the form of media placements, content and client servicing is our measure of productivity. Every organization needs to establish its “measuring stick” for productivity to suss out whether the four-day workweek works. Continue to measure both productivity and happiness because both can contribute to client retention and results overall.
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