Working Less Means Engaging More at These Firms Bucking the Traditional Workweek
by Open Work
From five-hour days to 20-hour weeks, these companies are rethinking the traditional 9-to-5.
The 40-hour workweek as we know it was popularized by Henry Ford, who gave employees Saturdays off (in addition to their Sunday respite) in the hopes that the extra rest would make them more productive. A century later, a few groundbreaking employers are looking past the standard Monday-through-Friday/40-hour workweek for the same reason that Henry created it in the first place: a happy worker is a productive worker, and one of the surest ways to make employees happy is to give them a little more time off.
A recent study by Workfront showed that in 2016, employees spent only 39 percent of their time in the office actually working, suggesting that there’s room for change in the 40-hour week. We took a look at six companies whose nontraditional approach to work is changing the way we think about “full time.”
Brath: Six-Hour Workday
Over the last decade, companies in Sweden have blazed a new trail in reimagining the classic workweek by offering their employees the chance to work six-hour days for eight hours of pay. This revolutionary idea has found traction across a wide array of industries, from a Toyota service center to an elder care home and a hospital. Some companies have switched to a strict 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule, while others allow employees to pick their own six hours, arranging their commute in order to beat traffic.
Swedish tech company Brath made the switch to six hour workdays in 2013. “Today we get more done in six hours than comparable companies do in eight,” writes CEO Maria Brath. She believes that the policy has led to better-rested employees and helped the company attract and retain top talent. “From my perspective as owner, the real impact of our shorter days comes from the phenomenon that our competitors don’t have it.”
iBeat: Paid Fridays Off
Most perks typically given to tech workers — office gyms, free snacks, catered breakfasts, happy hours — are designed to keep workers in the office longer. To Ryan Howard, founder and CEO of iBeat, it’s far more daring, and far more effective, to give employees a chance to be happy outside the office instead. That’s why he gives his employees every other Friday off, and pays them for the time.
“People perform at their best when they aren’t forced to confine themselves to pre-set office hours,” he says in Entrepreneur. “They stay intensely focused during the normal workweek and come back from a longer weekend feeling more refreshed and alert. As a result, they’re more driven and productive, and most importantly, happier.”
Although two fewer workdays a month means people spend less time at work, Howard believes that the time they are working is far more effective, and he thinks the shorter workweeks help him attract “5x’ers” — employees who “do something fast and right the first time.”
Basecamp and Reusser Design: Four-Day Workweek
Many companies have experimented with a four-day workweek over the last decade, generally working 10-hour shifts four days a week in order to make every weekend three days long. One of the leading proponents of a four-day workweek is Jason Fried, CEO and co-founder of Basecamp, whose employees work four days a week May through October. “I don’t think people are creative when they’re tired,” Fried told the Washington Post. He believes that the best work, like the best sleep, occurs when people are given long periods of uninterrupted time. Unfortunately, as he explains, the typical workplace is designed to cause interruptions, not limit them.
Another company attempting to minimize interruptions by embracing the four-day workweek is Reusser Design, a web design company based in Indiana. “Longer work days mean more concentration time, and that, paired with a conscious effort to minimize interruptions, means more productive days,” writes Andy Welfle. “And as a bonus, our team gets Fridays off to work on creative projects, spend more time with their family, or maybe just sleeping in!”
Tower Paddle Boards: Five-Hour Workday
Stephan Aarstol came up with the idea for a five-hour workday by mistake. Inc.com asked him to write a blog post about another company with a five-hour workday, and Aarstol misunderstood the assignment as asking him to imagine what his company Tower Paddle Boards would be like if employees were only working five hours a week. “It was an uncomfortable exercise,” Aarstol told OpenWork, “but ultimately I thought through it, and it seemed not only possible, but advantageous in many ways. About a month later, I announced we were going to do a three-month test, summer hours. It went so well, we never went back.”
One of Aarstol’s favorite things about getting off work each day at 1 p.m.? He and his employees get bored in the afternoon, and have been forced to find activities, hobbies and other interests to fill their days — making everyone at Tower happier and more well-rounded than they would be otherwise.
The Atticism: 20-Hour Workweek
Perhaps the most daring experiment in nontraditional workweeks comes from Australia, where PR company The Atticism recently cut their workweek in half. Because her employees were doing most of their work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, company founder Renae Smith decided that they should only work those days, and take the rest of the week off. “It’s not working less, it’s working better,” she told OpenWork. “People seem to think we’re not working here, and we are. We’re just working with more focus for less time. That’s the key.”
Smith gave her employees raises when the switch took effect, meaning that while they’re now working fewer hours, it’s at a higher rate, putting their annual salaries not far behind employees at comparable firms where employees are working more than twice as much. “I’m a better boss, a better mother, and a better worker now,” says Smith. “And my staff is better, too.”