Jason Feifer: This is Build For Tomorrow, a podcast about the smartest solutions to our most misunderstood problems. I’m Jason Feifer, and in each episode, I take something that seems concerning or confusing today and figure out where it came from, what important things we’re missing, and how we can create more opportunity tomorrow.
Jason Feifer: Most of us work Monday to Friday. But have you ever wondered why we do this? I will admit that for me, this is such a basic fact of life that it never occurred to me to wonder. It’s like asking why we eat three meals a day or why we sleep at night. But a funny thing happens when you start asking questions. You start to realize that more things are open to discussion than you thought. Like, okay, what if there’s actually no good reason that we work Monday to Friday? And if that were the case, what would happen if we just drop a day? Go from a five day workweek to a four day workweek?
Jason Feifer: Maybe you’ve already heard about the four day workweek. I hadn’t until a few months ago. But it’s starting to come up a lot in conversations about how we combat the great resignation or great reconsidering or great realignment or whatever we want to call our shift in the way that we work, where a lot of people are quitting their jobs and companies are realizing that the way that we’ve worked does not work for everyone.
Jason Feifer: I’d heard that the four day workweek was being studied. And I thought, “Huh, what a fascinating academic experiment.” Maybe for example, you caught news of the most famous of these studies, which took place at Microsoft in Japan. It got a lot of coverage.
Voice Clip (Microsoft): Microsoft says it knows a secret to higher productivity in the workplace. The software giant says it’s all about less time in the office.
Voice Clip (Microsoft): And Microsoft Japan tested it on its employees for one month.
Voice Clip (Microsoft): What was the outcome? And it was overwhelmingly positive. Productivity increased by about 40%. Employee sick days and power costs both fell by about a quarter.
Jason Feifer: So what do we have there? Controlled experiment, big tech company, happening in Japan, which has a very particular work culture. Like many people, I heard about this and thought, “Yeah, that’s interesting. Probably impractical, but cool that they tried it out.” And then this past February, my mind was blown wide open. So, okay. Let me tell you what happened. I follow this investor on Twitter, whose name is Brianne.
Brianne Kimmel: Hi, I’m Brianne Kimmel. I’m the Founder and Managing Partner of Worklife Ventures.
Jason Feifer: And Worklife Ventures invests in companies that, in Brianne’s words, make work more creative, flexible, and human. One day in February, she tweeted this. “Anyone working a four day workweek open to chatting?” That’s it. That was the tweet. Pretty simple. But that tweet got 40 responses, and a lot of them came from people who were saying, “Yeah, sure. I work a four day workweek and I’d be happy to talk.” And reading these tweets is when I realized, “Oh my God, the four day workweek isn’t just an academic thing anymore. This is happening. It’s been happening.” I later asked Brianne why she tweeted this. And she said it’s because even though she’s focused on the future of work, the idea of a four day workweek still seemed kind of crazy, even to her. And yet…
Brianne Kimmel: The skepticism that I feel today about the four day workweek is quite similar to the skepticism that I initially had about remote work. And so if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that work is changing very quickly. And so I wanted to understand for myself, exactly how are companies thinking about a four day workweek and what are some of the lessons that they’ve learned in the short term?
Jason Feifer: That’s exactly what I wanted to know too. And honestly, I was also just really curious, what is it like working a four day workweek while they rest of us poor bastards are stuck working Monday to Friday? So I picked a couple of the people who had replied to Brianne’s tweet and I reached out to them myself.
Nicole Miller: Yeah, I think-
Jason Feifer: Is that a cat? What’s going on?
Nicole Miller: Oh, I’m sorry. It’s a rooster. I have chickens and ducks and a small farm.
Jason Feifer: This is Nicole Miller. And here is what she is not. She is not a farmer, though she has a small farm, and she is also not working five days a week. Though she is the full-time Director of People at a software company called Buffer. This means that she has extra time to care for her children and all those animals.
Nicole Miller: I felt like it’s been a really great way to affirm what it means to really control your own schedule and to have freedom.
Jason Feifer: Now let me just back up for a second, because my interest in the four day workweek goes beyond just that it’s an interesting and envious way to work. My bigger interest is this. The four day workweek is an active experiment in what happens when we question something that feels fundamental. Something that we did not think was changeable. Something that, in fact, seems so unchangeable, that very few people even thought of it as something to change. How many things are like this in our lives? Something we take for granted so much that we overlook the potential that it could be better? And what happens when we really take a crack at it? This is an exciting, almost limitless way to think, because it is possible. I mean, look around you. Look at the things that seems so basic that they seem unquestionable, like eating with a fork. We did not always eat with forks. Did you know that? In fact, for hundreds of years in Europe, the very idea of it was unthinkable. The way they thought was…
Darra Goldstein: God has given us our hands. God gives us food. Our hands are worthy of touching that food. And you introduce something that is foreign and alien and metal that distances from the God-given food, and that is bad.
Jason Feifer: That’s food historian Darra Goldstein, who I spoke to for a whole episode about forks. Just go back and find it. It would take hundreds of years and many scandals and changes to our societies and economies in order to get the fork on our table. And of course, now it’s something that we can’t even imagine was ever not on our table. And anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that nothing is fixed. Everything you know has a starting point, which means it can have an ending point. And if that’s not a rallying cry for us to get to work rebuilding and reinventing, then I don’t know what is. So here’s what’s happening on this episode of the podcast. I want to know what the four day workweek looks like. Which is to say, what does it look like when we rethink one of the most fundamental things about work? What do we gain and what might we lose? And is there really, truly, a better way to work? That’s all coming up after the break.
Jason Feifer: All right, we’re back. So, like I said, when I got curious about the four day workweek, I just started reaching out to people who said that they were living the dream. And that led me to Claudine.
Claudine Adeyemi: My name is Claudine Adeyemi. I am the Founder and CEO of Career Ear. Career Ear is a holistic careers platform that supports people from underserved communities.
Jason Feifer: Career Ear is a careers platform that supports people from underserved communities. But this is not where Claudine began her career. She has a background in law and once worked super long hours.
Claudine Adeyemi: And I distinctly remember a period where I just started questioning everything. Wait, why on earth is there this standard that we have to work five days out of seven? And I just couldn’t find anyone able to give me an answer that I was happy with.
Jason Feifer: So Claudine did this thing that we have all done in our minds. Where we think, “One day I’m going to have all the power and I will do things differently.”
Claudine Adeyemi: And I decided that if I ever set up my own company, I would implement a four day workweek.
Jason Feifer: And then, unlike many people who just dream of making change and they never actually do it, she did it. But wait a second, before we hear what it’s actually been like for her to build a company with a four day workweek, I want to go back to Claudine’s question, because it’s an important one. Why on earth, she asked, is there the standard that we work five days out of seven? And like she said…
Claudine Adeyemi: I just couldn’t find anyone able to give me an answer that I was happy with.
Jason Feifer: So I wanted to find someone. And I did.
Robert Whaples: I’m Robert Whaples, and Professor of Economics at Wake Forest University.
Jason Feifer: As it turns out, the history of work is different around the world. Many countries went through their own labor movements that pushed for an eight hour day or 40 hour week. And the first successful one was in Spain in 1593. But it would take hundreds of years for most of the world to catch up. So to keep it simple, we’re just going to focus right now on what happened in the United States, because the basics of that story are more or less reflected in many other countries. So, okay. Back in colonial times, when the country’s economy was largely agricultural, the workday was pretty much what you made of it.
Robert Whaples: Most people worked for themselves, so they decided when they were going to work, or if you didn’t work for yourself, you were part of a family group. And so your dad told you when you were going to work.
Jason Feifer: But before you go romanticizing these more wholesome times, let’s be clear. This didn’t mean people had beautiful work life balances. They wouldn’t have even understood that concept.
Robert Whaples: The norm was that people worked almost from sun up to sun down.
Jason Feifer: By the late 1700s, however, there was an increase in what economists call wage labor. People working jobs, like at a shipyard instead of working land, and the hours were long.
Robert Whaples: The default setting at first was that, well, yeah, you’re going to work about as much on this job as you would if you were working on a farm, if you were a hired hand. The estimates are that in the 1800s, a little bit before the Civil War, the average length of the workweek in the US was about 69 hours.
Jason Feifer: As far back as we know, the average length of the workweek was about 69 hours. That means working around 11 and a half hours a day, Monday through Saturday, and Sundays were for church. Clearly, this is not exactly…
Voice Clip (Workin 9 to 5): (Singing).
Jason Feifer: So how’d we get there? Well, okay. Let’s be clear, to start. People of the 1700s did enjoy working 69 hour weeks. In fact, as far back as 1791, carpenters in Philadelphia were going on strike to demand a 10 hour day. But starting in the middle of the 1800s, worker hours slowly dropped. And at first, it wasn’t because of any particular law or organized labor movement. Instead it was because of two things. First, companies were competing for the most talented labor, and one of the ways to compete was to offer shorter work days. And then technology made work more efficient, which meant that workers were more productive.
Robert Whaples: And in a competitive economy, the more productive you are, the higher you’re going to get paid.
Jason Feifer: So a kind of bargain began where workers were thinking…
Robert Whaples: Do I want to be paid in money or do I want to trade in some of that extra money I could earn for more time off?
Jason Feifer: And increasingly, they picked more time off. Hours became shorter. Now again, let me be clear. The history of labor in the US is long and complex and full of protests and movements and wins and losses, and it is impossible to reflect them all here. So instead I’m just going to proceed by picking a few big moments that shaped the workweek as we know it. The first is actually another or technological innovation. Electricity replacing steam power in factories.
Robert Whaples: Because when you have steam power, it’s all on the premises. The company has to buy all that equipment and they want to run it as much as they can. But when you have electric power, the electric company has the equipment and you just pay by the meter. And so you don’t need to run the electric company’s equipment full-time like you needed to run, you wanted to run, your own steam equipment full-time.
Jason Feifer: Which means workers don’t need to be pulling the same hours. Next, we have World War I, which tightened the labor market for two reasons. Number one, many workers were going off to fight. And then number two, immigration from Europe had rapidly declined, and that meant that America was not adding to its workforce.
Robert Whaples: That increased demand and decreased supply puts the workers in really good bargaining position. They got much higher wages.
Jason Feifer: And once again, workers basically said, “You know what? I’ll take some of that additional pay in the form of time off.”
Robert Whaples: And that’s when we got to the point where about half the workers had an eight hour day. Although, it was still a six day workweek.
Jason Feifer: Then, over the course of the next decade or so, workers kept demanding and getting even more.
Robert Whaples: First, they went to a half day, Saturday, and then they went to a full day, Saturday. It made sense it was going to be next to Sunday, so you could kind of have the two days together.
Jason Feifer: And then, as Daniel Craig would say on Saturday Night Live…
Voice Clip (Saturday Night Live): Ladies and gentlemen, the weekend.
Jason Feifer: Now we have our five day workweek, and a new thing called the weekend. Another big movement came during the great depression when companies were short on cash and trying to figure out what to do about their workforce. Many decided that instead of laying off half their workers, for example, they would just cut everyone’s time in half, so at least workers had something.
Robert Whaples: Congress came close to passing some legislation that would have set a maximum workweek, in many of the sectors of the economy, at 30 hours. That didn’t pass, and I think one of the fears was that if we put that in place, we’ll never see the length of the workweek go back up above the 30 hours after the depression’s over and it can’t last forever.
Jason Feifer: That 30 hour law eventually morphed into something known as the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Robert Whaples: Which then required, for many jobs, time and a half pay for overtime, where the overtime would normally kick in at 40 hours, rather than mandating that 30 hour short workweek.
Jason Feifer: And a version of that was signed into law in 1938. So in short, why do we work five days a week? Because we used to work nonstop, and then we began the very slow process of adjusting the work day based on the shifting needs of our economy and the shifting dynamics between employer and the employee. But flash forward to our modern times, when Claudine was overworked at her job.
Claudine Adeyemi: I just used to get frustrated at the fact that there was only 24 hours in a day.
Jason Feifer: And she started to wonder why we still work the way that we do. And at that point, the honest and truthful answer was that we work five days a week because despite a century’s worth of improved technology and efficiency and evolved understanding of people’s physical and mental needs, we simply have not return to the question and updated the answer, which means that there’s no good reason she can’t update the answer herself.
Jason Feifer: So now, as you’ll remember, Claudine vowed that if she ever started a company, she’d create a four day workweek for her employees. Then in 2018, she did start a company, called Career Ear. It began as a personal side hustle and it took a while to figure out exactly how to scale up, bring people on, and offer them this great work life balance. But now she is full-time at Career Ear, as are a handful of employees that she’s hired, and she’s set about navigating a lot of early hurdles. For example, Career Ear is based in the UK, and it turns out that offering people a four day workweek is legally complicated because of how the government defines a full-time worker.
Claudine Adeyemi: Saying our employment contracts are still full-time Monday to Friday, it keeps things so much more simple, in terms of tax and recognition of you as a full-time worker and so on. And then we just have an internal policy that everyone I guess, trusts us to continue to abide by, which is then dictating the four day workweek.
Jason Feifer: And from a practical standpoint, what this means is that she has less access to her employees than companies who have five day workweeks. People are suddenly a scarce resource, which has forced her to think carefully and creatively about how best to use that resource.
Claudine Adeyemi: It is something that it means that we have to kind of constantly think about, is this a good use of someone’s time? We don’t have many meetings because meetings take up a lot of time. And so we do a lot of kind of asynchronous working, using collaborative tools so that we’re not kind of spending hours and hours in meetings when people actually could just be getting work done.
Jason Feifer: Claudine says it has not been easy. It’s required sacrifice. I mean, startups are known for setting super ambitious goals and then having their staff pull all-nighters to meet them, and Career Ear cannot drive its team in that same way. But also maybe that’s not so bad. It just forces Claudine to set more realistic goals, she says. And also, the upsides are huge. Her employees are happy and productive and they don’t waste a lot of time. And when she’s looking to hire…
Claudine Adeyemi: I’ve lost count of the number of interviews where people have explicitly said the four day workweek was a major attraction to them.
Jason Feifer: The four day workweek is a competitive advantage. So now, I wondered, as Claudine is offering her team this wonderful work life balance…
Jason Feifer: Are you able to work on a four day… Or you’re you’re the founder, you’re not able to do this?
Claudine Adeyemi: I don’t work a four day workweek. No what I do do is I try and work a four day workweek in terms of working in the business, and use my other day to work on the business. So that’s kind of my day for strategic thinking.
Jason Feifer: On the days when everyone is off, Claudine wakes up early, goes for a swim, and then gets down to business with no calls or emails or Slack messages to interrupt her. She even takes a nice walk in the afternoon, which she wouldn’t otherwise have the time to do so. So yeah, she’s not quite working a four day workweek, but that was never her point anyway. It was about doing things better. And that, she’s doing.
Jason Feifer: But okay. Like I said earlier, I’m fascinated by the four day workweek because it’s an example of how we can question things that seem unquestionable. And in this case, Claudine is an interesting example, but certainly not a perfect one, because her company is really small, and it also started by operating this way. But what about everyone else? What about companies that are larger and were built to operate on five day workweeks? What does this change look like for them? And what would it take for the rest of us to get to a four day workweek too? That is what we’re going to explore next, coming up after the break.
Jason Feifer: All right. We’re back. So if the four day workweek is an example of what big change looks like, then, well, what does it look like to make that big change? To answer that, let’s start here.
Nicole Miller: We tend to get a lot of teammates who will see something in the news or in some innovative company doing something. And they kind of drop it in the Slack Water Cooler channel and say, “Look, isn’t this interesting?”
Jason Feifer: This, as you might remember, is Nicole Miller, Head of People at Buffer. She’s the one you heard at the beginning of the episode with a rooster crowing behind her. Back in 2019, someone at Buffer had seen the news about that Microsoft Japan experiment, and it prompted a conversation about whether they could try it too.
Nicole Miller: We gave it a sort of really half-hearted go in August of 2019, where it was more of a half day off on Friday during the summer month of August. And so it was sort of a-
Jason Feifer: Classic summer hours.
Nicole Miller: Yes. Yes. Summer hours. It’ll be fine. And we didn’t really define what we wanted out of it. And so it didn’t really do much for us. And we’re like, “Okay, that was done. That was nice. We did it. We’re done.”
Jason Feifer: Then the pandemic began and, like everywhere, the team at Buffer was feeling strained and exhausted. So the company ran a survey that basically asked, “What do you need? How can the company help you?” And…
Nicole Miller: The thing we heard again and again was that people wanted work flexibility and more time off.
Jason Feifer: And that is when Buffer started to take the idea of a four day workweek seriously. But for as much as Buffer wanted to help its employees, it also had a business to run. So it’s looking at this idea and thinking, “If everyone suddenly gets an extra day off, is productivity going to plummet? Are we not going to be able to meet our goals?” So that’s why they decided to just treat it as a one month experiment where almost everyone in the company would have Wednesday off as a way to break up the week.
Nicole Miller: We also knew that once you introduce a benefit, that it’s hard to take it away.
Jason Feifer: Yes.
Nicole Miller: And so we were very clear that this was a very temporary experiment and that it wasn’t going to be permanent.
Jason Feifer: Buffer set up a sophisticated set of surveys to monitor the results week by week, looking at people’s stress levels, productivity, and more. And the results were surprisingly good. People were happier. They were basically getting the same amount of work done. Some even did more work, which made me wonder, what stopped happening? What were people doing less of so that they were doing more work. Do you know?
Nicole Miller: Yeah. What we did see and what we’re actually trying to really deal with now, is people stopped kind of doing some of the more socialization. People stopped spending as much time in Slack, kind of hanging out. Less of that filler time that kind of allows for teammate bonding and things like that.
Jason Feifer: Which didn’t really matter during the early months of the pandemic, when many people were at home, juggling kids or helping family or whatever. Meanwhile, people were loving the extra time off and the experiment just kept being extended until it basically became permanent. But now, Buffer is having to confront what that lack of socialization really means.
Nicole Miller: What we really saw at the end of 2021, after about a year of this, was that people are feeling very disengaged from one another. And so I think that that was a bit of an unforeseen consequence that we’re trying to figure out now. How do you balance having people really focused on work while having some amount of teammate socialization in a remote environment with a four day workweek? Because that’s a tall order.
Jason Feifer: Is that a problem? Yes. Is it forcing Buffer to reconsider the four day workweek? No. When we try to solve a problem, we often create other problems. It’s just the nature of problem solving, because no solution ever solves every problem. Change the balance here, and it creates an imbalance there. I wish I could remember who said this, but I once heard someone very smart say that when we’re trying to evaluate whether something is working, we can’t ask if it solves the problem. Rather, we must ask, is our new problem better than our old problem? That gives us a more realistic lens to look through, and it means that we won’t just go discard something because not every outcome of it is perfect. And that’s basically how Nicole sees this situation too. The four day workweek isn’t as simple to implement as it might have seemed, because productivity is not the only measure of a sustainable company.
Jason Feifer: It’s why she and her team are now exploring smaller initiatives and events to bring teams together without adding too much to their workload. They want to see if they can create that sense of togetherness while still enabling everyone to work their four day weeks. And they’ve had to tweak some other things too. As I said, they started by giving everyone Wednesdays off, but discovered that it made the workweek too discordant. And it also made it really hard for people in different time zones to connect in the middle of the week. So now everyone has Fridays off, with a few exceptions.
Jason Feifer: For example, their customer support team has to stagger their off days so there’s never a gap in service. And employees also have the option of working five shorter days instead of four full days. The experiment continues, but overall, Nicole says, people consider it a success. They use that extra time for side projects or for more or family time or to take care of the farm animals or whatever. It isn’t just a work perk anymore. It’s a lifestyle. Could you imagine, now that you have a four day workweek, ever going back to a more traditional workload?
Nicole Miller: Yeah. Such a good question. I mean, I think it would take a lot. It would take a lot to really make up for that. And I’ve heard this from another teammate too, who, I mean, he told me it would take another $100,000 of a salary offer on top of that to make up for that fifth day.
Jason Feifer: Turns out that kind of response is pretty common. Remember Brianne Kimmel, the investor from the start of the show? Once she started researching the issue more, her skepticism about the four day workweek started to vanish.
Brianne Kimmel: The early research that’s coming back is suggesting that it allows those people to show up as their full self at work. When we promote a life outside of the office, when you’re in the office, you’re more productive, you’re more focused. You’re more excited to talk to your colleagues because they have stories to tell and they’re doing interesting things outside of work.
Jason Feifer: Then she ticked off all sorts of people who benefit. Caregivers and parents have more time for themselves or to get caught up around the house. People earlier in their career have more time to develop skills or connect in communities of like-minded people. Creatives have more time to recharge. She sees a lot of people joining co-working spaces and developing relationships with all sorts of interesting people, which expands their minds and networks. And all of this really matters to people. So much so that many of them are deciding where to work based on it.
Brianne Kimmel: I talked to a number of people that have left very well paying jobs to go work on something that’s less time consuming and to be at a company that’s really supportive of their work life balance and their overall health and wellbeing.
Jason Feifer: But of course, this doesn’t mean we’ll start to see the four day workweek everywhere. Brianne, for example says, she’s seeing a big shift at medium to large size tech companies, which, of course, can be pretty different from most other companies. So what does it take to actually create a culture where a four day workweek is possible? Well, it’s early days, of course, but I think this guy is onto something.
Justin Mitchell: My name is Justin Mitchell. I’m the CEO and Founder of Yak.
Jason Feifer: And you can think of Justin as the evangelist in this story, because his entire business is about getting people to rethink how they work.
Justin Mitchell: We are an asynchronous meetings platform for teams. Our product exists to get you out of endless video calls all day long and still keep yourself communicating with your teams over voice and video.
Jason Feifer: This is an important starting place because as you’ve already heard, meetings are a big difference maker in the four day workweek. When I asked Claudine and Nicole how people get five days worth of work done in four days, they both said, the answer is, in part, getting rid of a lot of meetings. So maybe just before we rethink how we work, we need to rethink all the meetings that consume our time. Because Justin says, look, meetings are not always the tool of productivity.
Justin Mitchell: I mean, I think part of it comes from fear. Typically, we see a lot of meetings come out of fear, and then we see that, butts-in-seat mentality come out of fear, and almost a lack of trust. If you, as a manager or a founder or a executive, can figure out what’s causing that fear and then solve that, you start to realize, “Okay, I was doing a lot because I was afraid we weren’t on the same page, afraid somebody wasn’t working, afraid that I was paying somebody for a job they weren’t doing.”
Jason Feifer: But what happens when you’re not afraid? What happens when you build a culture of trust? Well, suddenly you’re able to try something that might seem radical. Now to be clear, Yak is still a small company. When Justin and I spoke, it only had 12 employees who were spread around the globe. And they’re all unique people. Justin very consciously only recruits people who are self-starters. And then he lets them work in a way that’s most efficient for them.
Justin Mitchell: I think it would surprise you how eclectic the different working styles of everyone at a company can be, because you’ve never opened it up and said, “Work however you want to work.”
Jason Feifer: Some people are best in three hour sprints. Someone’s too groggy before 11:00 AM. Someone else works amazingly after 10:00 PM. On and on and on. Right now, at most companies, these people, all these different kind of workers, are forced to work the same hours, which means, Justin says, their employer isn’t getting the best of them. But when Justin tries to sell potential clients on an idea like this and how his asynchronous meeting plan form can help, he sometimes gets pushback that sounds like this.
Justin Mitchell: Somebody told me, “Yeah, I just don’t see the use for this product, because I just have my team on Zoom all day long.” I’m like, “You have your team on Zoom all day long? Is this an Orwellian police state? That’s crazy.” He’s like, “Well, it’s the only way that I know that they’re working.” And I’m like, “Okay, all right. So if that’s the only way you know they’re working, you’re measuring things wrong.” Right? You’re measuring input, not output.
Jason Feifer: Which is to say, start measuring the work that people produce, rather than the hours that they spend doing that work. Only one of those things really matters. Anyway, as you might imagine, Yak has a four day workweek policy, though technically speaking, Justin just tells his team to work 32 hour weeks, which is the equivalent of four days a week, and they can distribute those hours however they’d like. Also, if they get their work done in less time, no problem. Take more time off. I asked Justin if he thinks this is really scalable. After all, like I said, yak only has 12 people. What happens when he has 120 or 1200? And he said he’s been thinking about this a lot because he is starting to hire more and is thinking about what infrastructure his company is going to need to make this work at scale.
Justin Mitchell: I started to kind of flatten the management structure and get away from as much as possible senior titles and heads of and leads, especially at the scale that we’re at, to avoid this idea of, “I need to inform this specific person and this specific person may be able to dictate if I’m able to take off or not take off.”
Jason Feifer: But that’s just the start.
Justin Mitchell: I think the biggest thing is that at scale, you need more processes. HR bots and statuses in Slack to say, “Hey, I’m going away for a little bit.” But another thing that I think starts to really work well at scale is getting rid of Slack. Right? If you can get rid of this mentality of the green bubble and the typing indicator, and, “I just sent you a message, I expect a reply back,” and you start moving into an asynchronous environment, nobody would even know you’re gone. That’s sort of the beauty of asynchronous is you could leave for an hour and no one would have any clue that you’re not at your desk and you’re off getting lunch and enjoying some quiet time for a second.
Justin Mitchell: So the thing that we’re trying to push companies into as they get into scale is, as you start to default to that calm, it-can-wait mentality, asynchronous communication first, you actually get out of the process of having to worry about, “Do I know where everyone is at?” And you just start having that trust of, “They’re getting it done.” Now this starts to bleed into performance reviews and just making sure that on a regular basis, you’re checking in with people and saying, “Do you feel like you have enough time to get your tasks done? Do you feel like you have enough support to get your work done? Hey, we’ve noticed some of your tasks are slipping. Is that because you don’t have enough support or because you’re not working hard enough?” Whatever that might be, one of the things that comes up a lot in this four day workweek conversation is, people working too hard because all Fridays were off, and they have something due on Monday. And now they’re working a double shift on Thursday because it actually caused more stress in their life that they’ve been told that Friday is off.
Justin Mitchell: And then a lot of times just working Friday anyway, because they didn’t have enough time in their week. Right? The allocation was set up as a 40 hour week and now they feel like they’ve actually been cursed with removal of time. And then the reverse of that, obviously, which is that, well, we don’t have enough time in the week and now stuff is not getting done. So either there’s a productivity issue because there’s not enough time, or there’s a stress issue and they’re overworking because they feel like they were stolen time. And so once you kind of change at a structural level, this idea of having deadlines based around 40 hour weeks, having communication based on replying very quickly, it does take a massive transformational change to say, part of our work culture is, it can wait. Which translates to, now it doesn’t matter if you’re off by an hour or a day or whatever, because we have set up our schedules in such a way that we’re not constantly at razor’s edge on delivery deadlines.
Jason Feifer: Now here’s what that long answer makes me think of. The other day, I was telling a CEO about the research I’d done for this episode. And the CEO said to me, “I wish I could work a four day workweek.” And I was like, “You’re the boss. Wave your magic wand and make it happen.” And the CEO said, “No, no, I can’t do that.” And you know what? The CEO is right. If you don’t think you can do it, then you can’t. But that right there, I think is the gap between what’s possible and what’s not possible. I mean, consider that long prescription you just heard from Justin. It can be summarized like this. The four day workweek is a shift in something fundamental. And adopting it requires other fundamental shifts.
Jason Feifer: It’s like trying to deadlift 200 pounds in the gym. Can you just walk in there for the first time and do that? No, you can’t. Does that mean it’s impossible? No. It’s a question of whether you’re willing to put in the work. Start eating better. Training. Adjusting your routine. Take the challenge seriously. You do a lot of things that don’t seem to have anything to do with dead lifting 200 pounds, but then sure enough, one day, you are hoisting that damn thing off the ground. At the beginning of this episode, I said that the four hour workweek was interesting because it’s an example of what it looks like to question something fundamental, and I really do think we have our answer, or at least the very of a good answer. And here it is. Big things are indeed changeable. But they require more change. They require a commitment to solve one problem and then solve the problem that the solution creates and then solve the next problem too.
Jason Feifer: I happen to think it’s worth it. In fact, I think the winners of the future will be the ones that today are willing to put in that work and make the harder changes before others are forced to, because there’s really no good reason that we work five days a week anymore. There’s no good reason we work nine to five. These are old ideas, dating to different needs that are not our own. And if you’re ever holding tight to old ideas just because they’re comfortable, then get ready for the rug to be pulled out from under you, because that is what your competition will do. They’ll do it on Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday and on Thursday. And they’ll have done such a good damn job of it that they’ll take Friday off.
Jason Feifer: And that’s our episode. But hey, some super interesting news broke while I was working on this episode. California began considering mandating a four day workweek. How would that work? I’ll tell you about it in a minute. But first, if you love Build For Tomorrow, the podcast, then you will definitely love Build For Tomorrow, the book. It is an action plan for how to embrace change, adapt fast, and future proof your career. And it combines lessons from this podcast with what I have learned from the smartest entrepreneurs of today. It comes out in September, but you can pre-order your copy now and let me know if you do so I can thank you personally. You can find it wherever you get books, or by going to jasonfeifer.com/book. And also if you want even more advice and encouragement on how to adapt fast, sign up for my newsletter. Find it by going to jasonfeifer.bulletin.com. You can also get in touch with me directly at my website, jasonfeifer.com, or follow me on Twitter or Instagram. I am @heyfeifer.
Jason Feifer: This episode is reported and written by me, Jason Feifer, with additional reporting by Britta Lockton, sound editing by Alec Bayless. Our theme music is by Caspar Babypants. Learn more at babypantsmusic.com. And thanks to Adam Soccolich for production help. This show is supported in part by the Stand Together Trust. The Stand Together Trust believes that advances in technology of transform society for the better, and is looking to support scholars, policy experts, and other projects and creators who focus on embracing innovation, creating a society that fosters innovation, and encouraging people to engineer the next great idea. If that’s you, then get in touch with them. Proposals for projects in law, economics, history, political science and philosophy are encouraged. To learn about their partnership criteria, visit standtogethertrust.org.
Jason Feifer: All right, now, as promised, let’s talk briefly about whether the four day workweek could ever become law in the US. A few lawmakers in California have cosponsored bill that would make the state’s official workweek 32 hours, and companies with 500 or more employees would then have to pay time and a half for anyone working beyond that. CBS news interviewed one of the sponsors of this bill, an assembly member named Christina Garcia, and here is a bit of that interview.
Voice Clip (CBS News & Cristina Garcia): What is your response to those who think, “This bill might be good in theory, but not reality?” Does it just mean doing the same amount of work in less time? Does it mean increased costs on the tail end of all of this? What’s your response to that?
Voice Clip (CBS News & Cristina Garcia): No, we are not trying to make you jam more work into less hours. We’re trying to create a better balance and make sure that you have a better emotional and mental and physical health. And so that doesn’t make sense out there. The reality is that we could dismiss this. We could ignore this. It’s happening in lots of places. Employees are demanding change. And if companies do not adapt, they’re going to have a hard time attracting that talent that they need to be successful.
Jason Feifer: First of all, that’s an argument about market forces. Isn’t it? Okay. If companies will have a hard time being successful without making this change, then maybe you don’t need a law to create the shift. But that aside, I found it interesting to hear this assembly member’s argument after spending so much time talking to people who had actually implemented a four day workweek at their company, because the thing is, people doing it are a lot more clear-eyed about its difficulties. When I talked to Claudine of Career Ear, I asked her what advice she’d have for others who want to follow the same path.
Claudine Adeyemi: There are going to be some businesses where it’s not as good a fit or not as easy to execute. I think if I was doing it again, I would take some time out to kind of think, okay, what does that four day workweek look like for people? How is that actually going to work? How does that impact the head count that I might need to deliver on my objectives? How am I going to make sure that we’re not losing anything by losing an additional work day so that it’s not just a thing that you say and people kind of come to you for, but something that you kind of live and breathe and that it really works and build a positive working environment?
Jason Feifer: The four day workweek is a serious idea. But if we’re going to make it work, we have to treat it seriously. And I have to say, Claudine’s answer is a lot more serious than the California politicians answer is. People often point to Iceland as evidence that a country can implement this change, but go take a look at what they did. The government there did it totally differently. They organized a multiyear trial, experimenting with a portion of the federal workforce and in partnership with many trade unions in the country. And that way, they could learn, adjust, and when it was shown to be a success, many companies in the country just voluntarily made the switch on their own. Now the majority of citizens in Iceland work a four day workweek. If we want to change work, we need to approach it realistically, because change doesn’t happen in four days.
Jason Feifer: Thanks for listening. I’m Jason Feifer, and let’s keep building for tomorrow.