COVID and the four-day work week

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You’re starting to hear more talk about it. I actually listened to one of Andrew Yang’s podcasts last night, because I like Jean Twenge, and he was “bullish” on the idea. New York Magazine has recently mentioned it, Gizmodo has mentioned the climate possibilities associated with it, and The National Post has said that, in terms of Canada’s economy, “everyone will love it” if it can be enacted.

Back when I was first-ever blogging, I wrote about this topic a lot. I’ve gotten away from it, in part because of some things we will discuss in a second, but if you want to check out some 2014 hot takes on four-day work weeks, here’s one and here’s something I wrote for a place I almost worked in Boston as opposed to moving to Texas. #SlidingDoors

Let’s embrace the obvious first

Consistent three-day weekends are awesome for general engagement, unless you’re a savage workaholic. I had a deal at ESPN around 2010 or so where I left at 4pm Thursdays, didn’t work Fridays, didn’t work Saturdays, and came in Sunday mornings to publish some stuff for about an hour. Usually I’d come in, go to lunch somewhere near the office and watch sports, then go home with a tepid buzz. That was the best work arrangement, hours-wise, I’ve maybe ever had. Not quite a four-day work week, but close. Monday feels a lot better when you know Thursday is the out and Sunday is 1 hour and then an embrace of selfish bullshit like eating fish and chips while watching a horrible NY Giants game.

Anyway. People would like it. Who doesn’t like three-day weekends, right?

Some of the cracks in the armor

Much like not everyone can work from home (37%, 50% in certain areas and roles), not everyone can work four-day weeks. Some industries just wouldn’t allow for it. That’s issue 1, and the biggest issue.

Then you come into the issues with management. The purpose of management, in the eyes of management, is typically “make the trains run” and “keep the clients/customers happy.” Ironically, in many places they barely do the first one — they muddy the waters with unclear priorities — and have no metrics around the second one except for a few survey scores, but we can ignore that for a second.

If you believe your job is “keeping clients happy” and “making the trains run,” and suddenly everyone on your team is completely MIA on a Friday, well, that’s going to cause friction. That’s a hard barrier to jump over in a lot of organizations.

The health aspect

It would allow for more spacing pre-vaccine, essentially. It would also, in a much more important sense, allow us to reduce our insane connections to work and resume ideas like human connection, hobbies, meetups, video games, reading, walking, playing with dogs, or whatever. People are not supposed to be KPI machines. The cavemen did not want that. So you’d assume this four-day concept can be good for both mental and physical health. That’s a win.

Use “coverage” pockets to make it work

Basically, you tell employees, look, you are off work, but can you check email every four hours or so — twice/three times across the day — just to make sure there are no major flareups?

OK, so that’s Tier 1.

Tier 2 is that you assign a “coverage” person, or 2–3 people (or more for bigger orgs) for every Friday. Those people deal with all incoming needs. If a client/customer sends something to a specific person who is not on coverage, they can either deal with it themselves (if they enjoy the work and the client) or forward it to the coverage person or have an out-of-office up directing the sender to the coverage person.

That way, someone is always “covering” Fridays — and we know “covering” things is very important at work (hint: asses).

You could also just shift to 4 x 10 (10 hour workdays, adding to 40), which some companies do, or 4 x 8, because I believe 32 hours is the lowest number of hours where someone can still receive health insurance.

You could also try “A Teams” and “B Teams” so that people are in the office at different physical times, and each team/group alternates having four-day work weeks. Two of them per month is better than zero.

What else might you say here? Think this could work at some places?

It already is, by the way: Treehouse, Beholder, and the state of Utah, among others. Treehouse’s CEO wrote a guest post for Quartz on this topic a little while ago, and noted this:

50% more time with our family and friends. I get to spend three days a week, instead of two, with my family. 50%. It’s insane. For those on the team without kids, they get to spend this extra 50% on their hobbies or loved ones.


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