Helen | 17 Feb 2023
So – the secret is out. Ascendancy is a 4 day week business – indeed, we have been for the last 8 months or so. We’re part of the big trial that you may have seen in the media back in around June last year.
Why have we kept it under our hats until now? Basically, because we were trialling it for an initial six month period before deciding whether to make it permanent or not. We didn’t think it would be a good look to announce it and then retract it later, so we’ve waited until we were sure we were sticking with it before making any kind of announcement.
And now we are proud to announce that we are officially an accredited Gold Standard 4 Day Week business.
How does it work?
We put a huge amount of thought and planning into how this was going to work. We may have decided that we’re going to work 4 days a week, but we still need to provide a 5 day a week service and not allow standards to slip in any way. Here are the basic principles of how it works:
- Each permanent, full time member of staff is included in the scheme once they have passed their probation period. They get either Monday or Friday as their ‘rest day’, as these days tend to be quieter anyway, and most people prefer a three day weekend. The business gets the final say in which ‘rest day’ they get, so that we don’t end up with too many people off at the same time.
- The remaining four days are slightly longer than before, but overall we have reduced the working week from 37.5 to 32 hours, with no reduction in pay.
- Each team member has a ‘buddy’ who has a similar skillset to them. The buddies check each others’ emails on their rest days and ensure anything urgent is dealt with by another member of the team. The buddies obviously have opposite rest days, in order for this to work, and they have to co-ordinate carefully when it comes to taking additional holiday.
- Speaking of which, annual leave allowance has been reduced to reflect the fact that staff now only have to take 4 days’ leave in order to have a whole week off. Bank holidays are included in the ‘rest day’ allocation – when there’s a bank holiday in a week, we all move our rest day to the bank holiday, if it didn’t already fall on the same day.
- Staff have to stay contactable on their rest day, just in case we need some urgent information from them.
For the trial period, we chose to join the UK pilot being run by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with Boston College. This means that we had access to a community of other businesses who were all doing the same thing as us at the same time, to swap notes with. We also submitted productivity and wellbeing data to academic researchers – the findings of the UK trial research will be out very shortly!
Why on earth have you done this?
Well – since the pandemic, we’ve been in a situation where good staff are ever harder to come by, and to keep. If you run a business, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Ascendancy was already a really nice place to work, but I decided we needed to do something radical in order to attract and retain the best talent in a competitive marketplace. I’d thought about the 4 day week many times, but it just wasn’t the right time. In the end, 2022 felt like the right moment to do it. I wanted to get in before everyone else adopted it. After that, it won’t be a competitive advantage any more!
I also knew, from many years of running a business, that work tends to expand or contract to meet the available time. Have you ever noticed how, when there’s a deadline looming, you manage to power through all your jobs a lot more quickly? Before starting the 4 day week trial, we experimented with a few productivity measures to try to get more out of our week, and we’ve adopted those that work best for us.
One thing that works particularly well is ‘focus time’. We have 3 hours of ‘focus time’ per day (not all in one chunk!), where the office goes quiet, we put our headphones on, and don’t interrupt each other with questions. We also have a daily stand-up meeting where we name a chunky task that we’re going to get done that day, say whether we got yesterday’s task done, and highlight anything that we need someone else’s help with. This means that potential interruptions can be flushed out at the start of the day and scheduled on our calendar. It also holds staff to account – it’s embarrassing to get up the next day and say you haven’t completed your scheduled task (I should know!).
We also have a quiet room called the ‘library’ where staff go to make video calls to clients – calls in the main office, where they could disturb others, are very much discouraged!
The number one thing we were all worried about before we started was ‘how on earth will we get all the work done?’. But that really hasn’t been an issue – we’re doing just as much, if not more, work as we were before. Any client emergencies that have cropped up on somebody’s rest day have been resolved promptly.
The actual issues have been more administrative than anything else. Working out the new holiday allocations and finding an HR system that could cope with our demands took up an inordinate amount of time. Working out how to treat part timers and apprentices. Working out what to do with bank holidays. Sorting out the new employment contracts.
The other thing we’ve found difficult is scheduling team meetings – our apprentices tend to have their study days mid-week and our permanent staff are off on Mondays and Fridays, so there aren’t many opportunities to get the whole team together at once. Generally, though, we’ve got round this by holding our meetings on Google Meet and recording them. This means any key meeting that’s been missed can be caught up on later.
The key lesson, really, is that to run this kind of system you have to be super-organised!
If any of our business friends out there are thinking of trialling the 4 day week, I’d be happy to share my thoughts on how to go about it and tell you more about how we did it – just shout!
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