The 32-Hour Workweek Experiment: What We Learned at Podigee
As the founders of Podigee, my business partner Ben and myself are always looking for ways to improve our employees' work-life balance and overall satisfaction. One of our main mantras from the beginning has always been "we want to create a company that we would happily work for ourselves".
When the concept of a 32-hour workweek gained certain exposure, we decided to give it a try. Our goal was to see if this change could benefit both our team members and our company. While we recognize the potential advantages of a shorter workweek, our experiment ultimately showed us that in practical application, it might not work out for many companies, including ours.
One of the most significant challenges we faced during the implementation of the 32-hour workweek was reduced productivity. Our team members struggled to complete their tasks within the shorter timeframe, leading to increased stress. While the goal was to improve work-life balance, the compressed schedule seemed to have the opposite effect for some employees, as they constantly felt that they were "failing" at achieving their tasks and projects.
Another issue we encountered was the incompatibility of the 4-day workweek with certain jobs, particularly those requiring constant availability, such as customer service and server administration. Ensuring that these roles were adequately staffed at all times necessitated hiring additional part-time employees or increasing labor costs, which proved to be a significant challenge.
Staffing Is Tougher Than You Think
Staffing and scheduling became more complex with a shorter workweek. Coordinating our team's availability and ensuring adequate coverage for all roles proved to be difficult, resulting in increased labor costs and the need to hire additional employees to cover the gaps. While this might not be a problem in a larger organization, it turned out to be really challenging for a small company like Podigee.
Difficulties of Communication
Collaboration and communication proved to be another area where the 32-hour workweek fell short. With employees having different days off, it became increasingly difficult to coordinate meetings and ensure effective communication among team members and with external partners.
A significant part of Podigee's business is to have servers available 24/7. In case something goes wrong, there must be a senior engineer available every day of the week. During the time that we applied the 4-day-workweek at Podigee, we had some people take their additional day off Fridays, while others did it Mondays. That already reduced the effective days for communicating down to 3. And for projects involving other teams like Customer Success, which rotated the day off on different days, it quickly became a scheduling nightmare.
Maybe this specific problem could be solved by putting much more emphasis on asynchronous communication, but sometimes you just need that additional bandwidth of a traditional meeting. And even with asynchronous communication, waiting for up to 5 days for a basic exchange of opinions and feedback is just too slow.
Perks Lose Their Attractiveness Over Time
Interestingly, after just a few months of implementing the 32-hour workweek, many of our employees no longer viewed the 4-day schedule as a perk. Initially, the prospect of an extra day off each week seemed highly attractive. However, as the challenges associated with reduced productivity, increased stress, and difficulties in collaboration became apparent, the perceived benefit of the shorter workweek started to fade. One former colleague, during his exit interview even said, that he did not feel that the 4-day workweek was even a perk anymore as he considered it to be the new normal.
Less Working Time Means Less Work Done
While the 32-hour workweek was designed to enhance work-life balance, our experiment demonstrated that some employees ended up working longer hours during their 4 days, ultimately negating the benefits of having a shorter workweek. Instead of providing the flexibility and balance we had hoped for, the compressed schedule seemed to create additional stress for some team members.
This was probably one of the biggest eye openers for us: it is not true that you can be as productive in 32 hours as in 40. That might be the case for some people, in some situations, with some projects. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. I repeat: you will never ever be able to get as much done in 32 hours as in 40 over an extended period of time. You either will get less done or your stress level will go up significantly.
Actually, I personally feel that the 40-hour workweek has the benefit of not feeling like being racing and running all the time. You have plenty of time to do focus work, for communication, but also enough "slow time", where you are not being most creative, but where you can take care of the less demanding tasks, like administration, scanning some documents and putting them in order, catching up with emails, or replacing that expired credit card, without feeling bad about it, or feeling like you could be doing something so much more productive during that time.
Remove Distractions Instead
If you want to keep overall employee satisfaction and productivity high at the same time, reduce distractions in the workplace. And I do not just mean meetings and random chats that expect an immediate answer. I also mean private distractions. Most tech companies these days have a very laissez-fair attitude when it comes to checking private stuff like email, social media or news. Unpopular opinion: companies should have internal conversations about policies that would prevent their employees from getting distracted by private matters all the time, even if they later compensate it by putting in more working hours.
By encouraging team members to disconnect from these distractions and focus on their tasks at hand, they may be surprised to discover just how much can be accomplished within a 40-hour workweek, while feeling calm, accomplished and satisfied.
The 40-hour Workweek Is Good
It's important to recognize that many workplaces would already see significant benefits from adhering to an actual 40-hour workweek. In today's fast-paced business environment (especially in the VC-funded startup world), it's not uncommon for employees to put in long hours, often stretching well beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. And while there might occasionally be a need to put in more hours in a given week, the average is what matters for long-term productivity and satisfaction.
In conclusion, while the 32-hour workweek experiment was an interesting exploration into alternative work arrangements, it ultimately proved not to be the ideal solution for Podigee. We recognize that the shorter workweek may be a viable option for some companies or specific departments within a larger organization.
Instead, we suggest that companies focus on other aspects of work, such as reducing distractions and optimizing the traditional 40-hour workweek. By promoting a more efficient and focused work environment, companies can enhance productivity and employee satisfaction without compromising the overall effectiveness of their operations.
Have some thoughts to share with Mati and Ben, the founders of Podigee? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.