When we were just 3 people trying to get Wufoo launched on a limited budget and timeframe, we felt that it was necessary for us to work 7 days a week and expect 80+ hours out of each member on the team. Obviously, a grueling schedule like that can’t last forever and now that we’re a 6 man operation that’s expanded outside of the passion of the founders, it’s been necessary for us to find a balance between productivity and happiness. The following is what we’ve learned after spending some time experimenting with your typical 5 day workweeks and the much hyped 4 day workweeks.
The Problems with 5 Day Workweeks
A 5 day workweek is pretty standard in corporate America and it’s what we started with first. Each day basically consisted of 8 hours of non-structured programming and product development. One thing we noticed right away was just how many highly counterproductive interruptions occur at seemingly random times throughout the day. Interruptions ranged from important topics like company strategy and budget allocation to “inefficient” topics like interesting blog posts, hypothetical questions about potential products, and talking about politics or fantasy football. We were always able to accomplish a satisfactory amount of work during a 5 day workweek, but we definitely didn’t feel like we got the most bang for our buck. This is because while we were happy with our output, the 2 day weekends didn’t seem to recharge our batteries. After stretching ourselves to crank out code around those interruptions for 5 days straight, we ended up feeling like a weekend just wasn’t enough of a respite to keep the work from feeling like your typical grind.
The Problems with 4 Day Workweeks
Because we were excited about the prospects of longer weekends and more efficiency, we thought that the much hyped 4 day workweek would be our saving grace. The 4 day workweek that we tried out operates under the assumption that you can accomplish just as much in an efficient 4 day workweek as you would in a typically inefficient 5 day workweek. Basically, because you know there’s only 4 days to get things done, you optimize your time to make those 4 days count. The extra buffer of a 3 day weekend also helps you to hit the ground running on the next cycle. Unfortunately, there were two major problems we ran into when we tried it.
The first was that a 4 day workweek just wasn’t as productive as a 5 day workweek. It wasn’t because of efficiency. We did become more efficient with our time, but 3.5 days of productivity during a 4 day workweek is still less than 4 days of productivity in an inefficient 5 day workweek. The reason it’s 3.5 instead of 4 is because you can never really eliminate every distraction, meeting and task that comes up in your typical business setting.
The other problem was that a 4 day workweek consisting of only programming and the critical meetings needed to get things done left something missing from our company’s culture. Even though discussions about the newest programming toys, the hypothetical strategies, and the fantasy football smack talk may not be efficient, we operate a lot like a think tank. Some of our best ideas have spawned from shooting the shit, and even if our wandering thoughts didn’t always lead to something measurably productive, they have been crucial to us innovating and bonding as a group, which we think ultimately leads to increased morale and even productivity.
Our Solution - The 4 1/2 Day Workweek
While the 4 and 5 day workweeks weren’t perfect for us, they did give us some important clues as to what we wanted in our ideal workweek. Our recipe for the optimal workweek called for 4 solid days of product development, 3 days of mental rest, and plenty of time to discuss whatever may be on our wandering minds, whether it be work related or completely random. And what we came up with is the following schedule:
Monday - Thursday
Mondays through Thursdays are dedicated to product development and only product development. There are no exceptions. We aim to accomplish as much in these four days as we would have in the traditional 5 day week, and since every one of us has to work hard to meet our goals, what ends up happening is that if something comes up that isn’t on our weekly list of items to accomplish or is controversial in nature, it must wait. If you want to argue about why X feature is absolutely necessary, or debate whether or not Safari or Firefox is the better browser, or kick around ideas for the company trip, it has to wait till Friday. Sometimes a person can accomplish their goals by working 6 hours a day, and sometimes it can take 10 or more hours a day. That’s up to them. And while it can get pretty intense around here and easily leave you wiped out come Thursday night, it’s all good because you know there are 3 days of mental rest right around the corner.
1/2 of Friday
Fridays are for resting the analytical parts of our brains, discussing business topics, and engaging in the activities that we find are crucial to the overall health of our company—like bonding and customer appreciation. Our typical Fridays start at about 2:00 PM, which gives everyone time to sleep in, relax a bit and if they want, get some additional work done. Then we’ll meet up at a team member’s home (we rotate every week) to accomplish most, if not all of the following activities:
Bonding - We’re passionate about what we do, and since we’re 6 people with 6 different personalities, that passion can easily lead to arguments. We’ve never shied away from a heated debate and have always encouraged lively discussions, but we’ve always kept it from getting personal. At the end of the day, we all have to get along and work together and so any lingering tensions must be addressed and ironed out during this period. In order to make sure nobody takes things too seriously, we use Fridays to bring us closer together by watching movies, going out to dinner, talking about our personal goals, discussing the newest technologies, and just having a good time.
Discussing Company Business Face to Face - Since 93% of communication may not be verbal, we find meeting face to face a worthwhile exercise when dealing with business matters and decisions. This will include what we’ve accomplished for the week, budgeting, overall health of the company, new features, and other specifics to the company that need to be discussed on a regular basis.
Thanking our Customers - There are only two immovable rules we have for every employee in our company. Everyone does customer support and everyone must take time to thank the people that pays their paycheck. After discussing business, we’ll pop in a classic movie like Point Break and take a couple hours to write our customers hand-written thank you cards to show them how much we appreciate them. We’re able to accomplish about 10 cards per person, and even though this small gesture may not make a measurable impact on the bottom line, we believe it definitely adds value to our corporate culture by reminding everyone of our place and purpose in the long run.
Meeting People - As a business begins to grow, it’s only natural that people from other businesses are going to want to meet you. Sometimes they just want to meet other local entrepreneurs, and other times they want to talk about business development related items like product integration. Driving, eating, and talking require a good chunk of time, and since this time would interfere with our 4 day productivity goals, we’ve designated Fridays as the day we meet with people and representatives from other companies.
Give Back - We actually just started kicking around this idea, but we’re hoping to also use our Fridays to give back to the community that hosts our startup. Whether it be Habitat for Humanity or a local food drive, we think good corporate citizenship is an important part of running a happy business. We also think that it’ll be great at boosting morale and fostering additional bonding.
Now that our work is broken up into the two distinct areas: product development and “other stuff”, we think we have a pretty good framework that helps us decide when to focus on what. We’ve been able to meet our productivity goals, enjoy the benefits of a 3 day weekend, and still make time for the tedious and inefficient parts of our business. Of course, this structure works well for us because we love what we do and also who we work with. It’s natural for us. I don’t think you can force every company into this schedule because it’ll end up being a lame “Fun Friday.” You probably won’t end up with an open dialogue and sometimes people would rather just work than spend time pretending to get along with their co-workers. I’m not entirely sure how this will play out as we continue to grow and scale our company, but it’s definitely clear that a company works best when it’s employees are genuinely focused, well rested, and enjoying life.