Neil Knowles, Founder of Elektra Lighting Design, explores introducing a four-day work week at his company for more life balance
I introduced a four-day week at my company to give more balance to my life. Is it working?
For clarity: we still have the same salary and the same workload. We just don’t work Friday, Saturday or Sunday. We have a three-day weekend, every weekend.
I first came across a four-day week in the mass media at the end of 2018, and I was immediately intrigued. Did it work? It seemed to. Research indicated that people were more productive in less time, with the same amount of work produced.
I’m quite keen on work-life balance. I have two children who are growing up fast and who I want to be involved with. I have other interests apart from work – like art, baking and karate. (I know! Outside interests!) So, anything that uses my time more efficiently, allowing me to do more of the things I love while producing the same high-quality work, is a win-win.
Some background; for those not familiar with Elektra Lighting Design, we’re a UK based lighting studio. As such, when the design is done, we send out the corresponding invoice. So our immediate worry in implementing a four-day week is, can we do the work and invoice the same amount every month? Counterintuitive I know but the research indicated it was possible. Another thing I am a great believer in is empirical studies, so although it sounds crazy, I went with it.
One day I called a company-wide meeting and I said to the team: do you want to switch to a four-day week? After the whooping and cheering died down, we started to discuss it in detail. Contracts need to be varied. Eventualities foreseen.
We removed distractions. To say ‘can you be quiet, you are disrupting me’ is encouraged, especially from juniors, who we allow to say this to seniors. We make a dedicated effort to focus on what’s important – delivery of design information and client care – without interrupting each other all the time.
But most of all, everyone had to buy in to the idea of working hard. I was clear about the criteria on which this would be judged: turnover. If we work four days a week and see a 20% cut in turnover, we’re going back to five days. Keep the turnover at its current level, and we’ll keep Fridays off. And to be fair, this has happened. In month two, our turnover is 102% of the monthly target. (But a note of caution: two months of data is not a large enough sample set.)
For the staff, including me, a three-day weekend revolutionises your life. With two days off, you only just recover from the week before starting again. With three, it’s a whole new ball game.
I spent last Friday at Tate Modern looking at art, free from the demands of clients, colleagues or my (adorable, but undeniably time-sucking) children. I was entirely free to wander and stare at Kandinsky for as long as I wanted.
Free time, entirely free time, is a rarity. But this free time is not dead time – we’re a team of creative lighting consultants. We work on projects for restaurants and hotels and retail operations, so we cannot live in isolation. We need to be inspired, to breathe – and to notice the interesting detail in the stonework that we never noticed before because we had to rush and hurry.
As the poet WH Davies famously said:
“What life is this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”
Do we do the same amount of work? We seem to. Are we more mindful and more conscious of every moment, trying not to waste time? Yes. Are we really? Yes. These two things by themselves entirely justify the change. We’re all a lot happier and we’re making the same money.
Would this model work for everyone? I don’t know. It works for lighting consultancies like us, working in the construction industry. It helps that the pace is often slower in construction – a hotel takes 2 years to design and build so we can plan, and we know when we need to do things. Would it work for you? I don’t know. If you run a seven-days a week operation like a shop, probably not.
But if you try it, and it does work, what freedom this gives us all. The five-day week is a recent construction and the history of the industrial revolution is a history of slowly but steadily reducing hours. Historically, from six and a half days a week (Sunday mornings off for church) to six, to five – it’s the logical next step.
Image by Massimo Virgilio – Unsplash
As featured in OnOffice 160, Autumn 2022. Read a digital version of the issue for free here