Culture   //   December 18, 2023

Why these companies remain committed to the four day workweek

Four-day workweeks were hot in 2023.

What was once a novelty idea, became almost fashionably mainstream post-pandemic when the working world was turned on its head. Once the traditional 40-hour work week, spent in the office, eroded during the years of peak Covid-19, it led many to question the validity and need for a five-day week, at a time when employee mental health and well-being had become so worryingly low.

Four-day workweek experiments began to pop up everywhere, with non-profit 4 Day Week Global leading the charge of many of them. Dozens of companies led six-month trials across the U.S. U.K., Australia and many have kept the model, for now.

However, questions linger around whether or not shortening schedules impacts productivity and business outcomes, and whether it’s more of an advantageous model for small to mid-sized businesses rather than large-scale organizations. Last summer Gallup polled over 12,000 full-time employees across the U.S.and just 8% said they work four days a week, though that’s up from 5% in 2020. 

4 Day Week Global continues to help companies run trials across different continents and its CEO Dan Whelehan is bullish about the sustainability of the model. The non-profit has set a goal to generate 1 million years worth of free time through the widespread adoption of the shorter working week, with no loss of pay or productivity.

“We have run trials all over the world and one thing is consistent: The four-day week is better for everyone. Whether it’s in Ireland or Australia, we see improvements in business retention, revenue and absenteeism, alongside enhanced worker health and well-being,” he said in an email statement. He also claimed that this compressed week model has a positive impact on the climate, partly aided by reduced commuting times.

Companies that have implemented four-day work weeks say it has hugely benefited their employee base, and hasn’t hurt business goals or client relationships — at least so far. At the end of the pilots earlier this year, employees reported improved physical and mental health and scored higher for work-life balance, and over 90% of companies said they planned to continue on that schedule, according to 4 Day Week Global.

We caught up with a couple of companies to hear how the four-day workweek has worked for them, and why they plan to continue it into 2024.

VIA, a creative agency based in Portland, Maine:

VIA transitioned its roughly 75 employees to a four-day work week pilot this summer (not in partnership with 4 Day Week Global). The schedule has everyone in the office Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays, while Wednesdays are a work-from-home day, with Fridays off. Staff are compensated the same as they were in a five-day week schedule.

“Our hypothesis going into it was that what we were going to eliminate was not actually billable hours and not time towards deliverables, but really the fringe time for people,” CEO Leeann Leahy said. Fringe activities include duplicate meetings, meetings that are longer than needed and other time-sucks that take away from actually completing a work product. 

In June, VIA surveyed its employees for their thoughts on the new schedule, then ran another survey in September including responses from clients, as well. 

“Our hypothesis going into it was that what we were going to eliminate was not actually billable hours and not time towards deliverables, but really the fringe time for people."
Leeann Leahy, CEO of VIA.

By September employees scored 50% higher for work-life balance, 27% higher for mental well-being, and 17% higher on productivity, the internal survey found. And 100% of clients said they were satisfied with the quality of the work and found VIA’s team to still be highly available and accessible. 

The most positive responses are coming from staff who are working parents, who said they value their Fridays now as a day just for themselves with children still in school or daycare, Leahy said. 

Reaching out to clients and keeping them in the loop is a large part of the process, but they don’t mind as long as they get the same product in the same amount of time. “Why would they cut your fees if you’re delivering the same deliverable? They wouldn’t, and our clients see it that way,” she said.

And through outreach with clients to let them know of the change, clients have expressed interest in how they might be able to roll out a four-day work schedule at their own organizations, she said. 

Clients are aware VIA takes Fridays off, though for those requesting Friday meetings, VIA gives the option to meet Thursday or Monday instead. “So the burden of proof was on us if a meeting was to be moved, that we could offer to move it. I would say nine times out of 10, clients opted to move it to Monday, but they always had the option,” Leahy said.

And they always address urgent business, regardless of the day, though situations rarely meet that level. “We’re in the service business. We’re not crazy,” Leahy said. 

The agency has decided to continue with the compressed workweek for the time being. “I don’t say permanently because I think that nothing is permanent if we’ve learned anything in the last four years,” added Leahy. “But I certainly think that this is our foreseeable future. And I also believe it will more and more companies will go towards this,” Leahy said.

Friendly Design Co., a Washington D.C.-based design studio:

Friendly Design Co., a Washington D.C.-based design studio that creates nonprofits, think tanks and other organizations’ websites, switched to a four-day work week pilot at the end of last year, and was included in 4 Day Week Global’s pilot program. Its 12 employees work in hybrid schedules, and are paid they same as they were working five days a week.

“I came in both excited and skeptical, and it seems to defy logic that you’d be able to make more money or do more work or even do the same amount of work in four days as [you would in] five, but I think I have seen it happen in real time,” said Geoff Silverstein, managing director. Friendly is going forward with the schedule after staff unanimously agreed that they favor it, he said.

“I came in both excited and skeptical, and it seems to defy logic that you'd be able to make more money or do more work or even do the same amount of work and four days as five, but I think I have seen it happen in real time."
Geoff Silverstein, managing director, Friendly Design Co.

“I think it’s really a testament to what we’re able to do with kind of a shift in perspective. We put a lot of work into how we optimize our time and work efficiently and get rid of things that are time sucks that maybe we don’t need in our process or don’t need internally or don’t need on an individual basis to be more successful and more efficient,” Silverstein said.

Friendly also had to deal with telling clients its team wouldn’t be available on Fridays. “I think there were a couple clients that have been skeptical or at times frustrated, but by and large, there were more clients that were actually supportive and excited for us,” he said. “There was a big chunk that also, you know, didn’t care one way or the other.”

Clients also expressed interest in Friendly’s transition to the schedule and how they could potentially do the same at their respective organizations. “This isn’t a magic bullet that’s ‘gonna solve all our problems. But the team is happier, feels like they’re more focused, and I think having that time back has been really a huge benefit,” he added.