Trialing a four-day work week

Our journey of designing and implementing a four-day working week.

Organisational Design


“Eight hours to work,
Eight hours to play,
Eight hours to sleep,
Eight bob a day.
A fair day’s work,
For a fair day’s pay.”

This song of the stonemasons rang through the streets of Melbourne in 1856—heralding in the world’s first five-day, 40-hour work week. It was nothing short of revolutionary for its time, even though the concept wouldn’t formally be expanded to all Australians by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court until new years day, 1948.

“The union put forward three main arguments for a shorter working day: The first was that Australia’s harsh climate demanded reduced hours. The second was that labourers needed time to develop their ‘social and moral condition’ through education. The third was that workers would be better fathers, husbands and citizens if they were allowed adequate leisure time.” - National Museum of Australia.

Image of striking workers on the streets of Melbourne in 1856 · National Museum of Australia

A lot has changed over the decades, not least the nature of work, but the question remains of how do people and businesses create ideal working conditions that equally benefit the organisation, the individual, and the community at large? After all, the three are intrinsically linked.

spur: has always challenged the way we do business for ourselves, the people we work with, and the communities we aim to serve. We’ve always strongly believed that outcomes are more important than outputs, and so it’s natural for us to have adopted and developed a range of cultural innovations over the years (as explored by Will in our last post).

In December we held our annual “End of Year Smash” where we spend a lot of time reflecting professionally and personally on what’s working, what’s challenging, and opportunities for the future.

Although true of all businesses, small businesses are partially reflective of the people who work there, their mental health, their skills, their passion, and their needs. It’s important for us all to know what each person in the team needs and values, what they want their future to be, their current pain points, etc., as these things need to be factored into the company’s roadmap if we want to be successful.

The topic of a four-day work week began as part of a conversation on making 2022 “The Year of Intent” and using our time more wisely and decisively. The world-changing experience of the pandemic also factored into us wanting to have more “living” time amongst our work.

The spur: team brainstorming the four-day work week (with Zinger's help)

Evidence for the four-day week

While the concept of a four day working week is not new, widespread adoption is only beginning.

Most models of the 4-day week typically reduce the number of working hours in a week without a reduction in wage, though this does vary.

Iceland conducted the world's largest trial of a shorter working week from 2015–2019 to overwhelming success:

“Productivity either remained the same or actually increased, and worker wellbeing was considerably improved. Perceived stress and burnout went down, while health and work-life balance went up, as employees were given more time for housekeeping, hobbies, and their families. Both managers and staff considered the trials a major success.”

These findings are consistent with other trials, too:

  • “From a mental health point of view, we see huge benefits and because everyone wants it to work, you get an upside in higher profits.” Target Publishing.
  • “It boosted productivity by nearly 40 percent”. Microsoft Japan.
  • “84% of employees said they have been more productive, and 86% said they have been more efficient with their time. Meanwhile, 84% saw an improvement in their work-life balance.” Bolt.

More countries are trialing the concept including the UK, Spain, Finland, and New Zealand.

Designing a four-day week for spur: and ourselves

The research and literature behind a four-day work week is compelling, but a theoretical decision to trial a four-day work week is worlds apart from logistically implementing it. A range of questions immediately arose, such as:

  • When are the four days?
  • How might this model impact immediacy and stress?
  • How do we maintain strong interpersonal connections with each other?
  • How do we manage legitimate exceptions to the model vs work creep?
  • How do we maintain effective working relationships with external clients and people still in a five day model?
  • How do we ensure productivity isn’t negatively impacted?

These questions dovetail with other general questions about spur: that arose during the End of Year Smash such as:

  • How do we create more time for spur:’s internal projects?
  • How do we work together more effectively?
  • How do we allow individuals to structure their days more effectively for themselves?
  • How do we foster greater culture to “switch off” from work?

After much discussion, key metrics of how we’d measure success of the trial emerged:

  • Ability to effectively work on side projects / hobbies / passions.
  • Overall mental wellbeing.
  • Productivity and delivery.
  • Ability to work in a manner that is conducive to the way we want to work.
  • Ability to maintain connection with others.
It became apparent that this wasn’t a matter for simply reducing the number of workdays, but that a complete overhaul of how we work during the four days would also be required.

Weeks of discussion and thought helped shape how we’d approach our new four-day work week. The consensus was: everyone’s week should be unique to them. While there are certain parameters, we should all be free to design the detail of our week to best fit our style.

Lee’s four-day week

Below is my new calendar template for 2022:

The logic behind it:

  • I’m an early riser. Actually, scrap that. I hate waking up early, but unfortunately it’s when I do my best work. So, I start with an early morning walk with the dog to shake off the cobwebs and be at my laptop by 7am.
  • I’m the type of person who will absorb as much time to complete a task as I’m given. Therefore, sprints are a way of time-bounding work into digestible chunks—each with a clear deliverable for a project. Sprints are often solo though there are many exceptions where these sprints will be done with others in the team working on the same projects. Unless a matter is urgent, I won’t respond to emails, Slack messages, or phone calls during a sprint.
  • Admin is broken into small chunks throughout the day. This is where I will respond to emails, Slack messages, catch up on filing or other tasks.
  • The spur: salon is the one event in everyone’s calendar at the same time every day. It’s our opportunity to connect as a team, brainstorm as a team, and problem solve as a team. It ensures everyone sees one another and that there’s good visibility across all project—regardless of which projects people are working on.
  • Fitness is specifically scheduled into my work calendar at the end of my day to ensure that I actually close the laptop and leave. This provides a clear end to the formal work day (and yes, as a Director of a company there have been times where I’ve then re-opened my laptop in the evening to work on a few things, but it feels like discrete additional work rather than general creep).
  • The weekly sync is intentionally at the end of the week so that we can all reflect on what’s happened and to ensure everyone can arrive at the following week with clarity on what they’re working on and what the deliverables for the next week will be.
  • Fridays are then my personal day which I’ve split effectively into two halves: side projects (I’m currently writing a children’s novel) and adventures where I aim to do some sort of outdoor physical activity that requires more time (e.g. going for a hike or kayak).

It should be noted that this is my personal schedule—each person’s day looks quite different depending on what works best for them. For example:

  • Trisha schedules her day much later than mine. This makes salons even more important as in summer Trish and I may only overlap 3 hours per day (including time zone difference).
  • Olivia doesn’t need as much time-bounding, so does not utilise sprints.
  • Will maps out which projects he wants to work on in each sprint weeks in advance (whereas I plan the following week in time for our weekly sync).

This shift has also required me to update some of my other processes and logistics to help others understand my new routine which includes:

  • Updating my Calendly for meetings to more discrete blocks of time.
  • Including recommended hours in my email signature.
  • Automating my Slack status to give others clarity on when I’ll likely interacting respond to (non-urgent) messages.

Updated email signature with contact hours

Updated Slack status showing "in sprint"

So far, sooo good…

At the time of writing this post, we’re only a few weeks into the new model, but so far I’m finding it exceptional. To revisit the key metrics of the pilot:

Ability to effectively work on side projects / hobbies / passions

Absolutely achieved. Having a full day to focus on fitness and side projects is a gift.

Overall mental wellbeing

I feel calmer. I’m someone who likes a lot of structure and certainty and the new model provides this. Of particular note is reduction in responding to things immediately and wait until the schedule chunk of time during the day.

Productivity and delivery

For me, the sprints are gold. I’m able to be really focussed in those slots and am able to do high quality work in a shorter amount of time.

Ability to work in a manner that is conducive to the way we want to work

In the past, my penchant for an earlier workday has felt… perhaps, rude? Or there’s been a subconscious pressure to conform to the traditional 9–5 role. This new structure has given us all permission to advocate for what works best for each of us and to help each of us understand how to communicate and interact in a positive way.

Ability to maintain connection with others

With the scheduled check-in with everyone each day, I think I’m actually seeing more of everyone than what I was previously. Additionally, the salons are often structured around group-brainstorming for a project. So, not only do I feel more connected on a personal level, but the quality of work and ideas has increased, too.

I’m sure our four-day week model will continue to evolve and change over time, but we’d love to hear if you’d trailed a four-day work week or some other variation to the work week and what that’s been like.

I’ll post an updated post to let you know how it goes (during one of the scheduled sprints, of course).

written by

Lee Crockford

Lee Crockford

August 15, 2023

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