A Year in Review: Our Experience with a Four Day, 32 Hour Work Week

March 6, 2023
Mike Arney
Designer & Founder

For the past year at Halftone Digital, we have been implementing a 32-hour workweek. Our employees receive 100% of their pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to delivering 100% of the output as advocated by 4 Day Week Global and Joe O’Connor. We’re fully remote in US CST and PST. We have full benefits and unlimited PTO.

It should come as no surprise that everyone at our company has been happy with the arrangement; but the lingering questions are:

How has it worked for the business?

  • Can our clients really be just as happy as they were in the before times?
  • Will they be frustrated?
  • Will there be a perceived lack of commitment?

Is a 4-Day week really all sunshine and roses?

The (obvious) benefits:

I did an informal survey and, according to our employees, there are some very tangible benefits:

  • More time with their families and the ability to get more done around the house.
  • They feel more rested (which hopefully prevents burnout).
  • They have more time for health-related appointments.
  • They feel like they have higher productivity and better work-life balance.

One employee said, "I feel like I can truly rest on the weekends, and feel more motivated to work as efficiently as I can during the Monday - Thursday workweek."

Another mentioned that the four-day workweek "puts us into positions where we get work done more quickly and efficiently."

The observed challenges:

I think a lot of folks would expect some big drawbacks to emerge from this idea, much in the same way that a lot of us expected to see the shortcomings of “unlimited PTO”. It’s only been a year, but I can say that if it exists, we’ve not seen it. However, there have been some minor blemishes.

Yeah, we’ve had to work a bit on some Fridays, but it’s so worth it.

Let’s assume the average full-time employee works 48 weeks per year, with eight hours each Friday. That amounts to 384 Friday hours per year. I surveyed our employees using this question:

”Can you give me an estimated number of hours you’ve worked over the last year on Fridays totaled up please?”

The responses ranged from 14.75 - 18 hours total on Fridays for the year; and I expect this number to decrease for 2023 – that’s a metric that we’ll continue to monitor.

💡 Nationwide, all Fridays for a worker over a year average 384 hours, for us it’s 16. That comes out to an extra 46 days off per year in addition to our 12 paid holidays and unlimited PTO. 58 days off if you take zero PTO.

Some employees have mentioned that they feel the need to check their emails or messages on Fridays, which can cause stress. Others have mentioned that it was difficult in the beginning to learn how to be more efficient when working solo on a project.

Employee responses:

[…] The time I do put in on Fridays isn't a bother to me, and I feel accomplished being able to be flexible with clients. I don't treat answering client requests on Fridays as an inconvenience to me because wanting to do that work on Fridays means I care about their needs. And sometimes it's easier going into the weekend knowing that I didn't leave any threads hanging that I'll have to tie up on Monday.

If I'm getting pinged on Fridays and miss a message, I sometimes worry that the client may feel I'm ignoring them if I don't get to it until Monday. I haven't actually heard anything negative, and I will work on Friday when needed!

In the beginning, I did work on Fridays to get some work done because the client wasn't aware of our 4-Day workweek. - I barely need to work on Fridays because my organization and productivity have increased. But I still feel like I need to check Figma comments here and there when I get email addressed to me. - No negatives about the work with [project name]. The client is still happy with the work we are doing.

[…] we have work reviews Mondays and Wednesdays, so SOMETIMES it’s a little stressful finishing our week and then coming back Monday and having to get things done quickly for the review. Otherwise, I haven’t heard anything directly. I’ve rarely had to work 30 minutes on Friday.

My findings as a manager: It’s not the same as a Saturday or Sunday. Our brains still feel like they are ~5% in work mode. I monitor Slack, email, and attend meetings as needed.

What about client push-back?

A surprising reaction has been overt client support for the idea. And of course, the joke: “Are you hiring?” ☺️

Employee responses:

Not really too much pushback from clients, a few times it's felt like there was a small amount of disappointment when we couldn't schedule a meeting on a Friday or something... but I always offer up the possibility of meeting if needed. Had to put in a few hours I would say, mostly just taking a meeting or two during times when it would have caused more of a disturbance to be the person saying "I don’t take meetings on Friday." Rather than slow the project down, I'd rather work for 1-2 hours on a Friday. Never been a time where I've had so much work I need to get done that I needed to work 4 hours on a Friday or something like that.

I have experienced no drawbacks to not working on Fridays. Clients have been understanding and flexible with our 4-day schedule, and when I offer to attend a meeting or complete a task on a Friday, they're extra grateful!

My findings as a manager: It’s really been fine. Our clients love us because we’ve supported them and helped make their lives easier on a daily basis, and we love them right back. We support each other ¯\(ツ)

How was the transition?

The transition was not loud or dramatic. The idea was to gently fade into our new routine with the lowest impact possible. No, we didn’t ask for permission. To start, internal Friday calendars were cleared, which forced us to be creative with reducing recurring meetings and internal stand-ups.

On the client side, we started by blocking off Fridays on our calendar and notifying a few key folks that we would not be available. Luckily we did not have recurring client meetings on Fridays that needed to be addressed; that would have been a longer process to phase out. If something was requested via Slack or was pushed through on our calendar, we didn’t decline, but we did ask if a different day was possible – if it had to be Friday, we attended the meeting – this is still the policy. We’re not allowed to add weight to our clients' shoulders, and by that I mean that our time off on Friday cannot make their work more difficult.

What about internal process?

This new schedule has forced us to make some big changes in 2 key areas:

  1. It’s Forced Us to Attack Inefficiencies.
  2. We’ve reduced Halftone team meetings to twice per week. Mon and Weds at 10 am CST.
  3. Team meetings rarely last more than 45 mins.
  4. 1x1 manager meetings are capped at 30 mins and occur once every couple of weeks.
  5. Use a calendar tool. Personally, I use 30 min max Calend.ly meetings.
  6. We’re working smarter, finding shortcuts in software, not recreating the wheel.
  7. We recording every important meeting with Zoom and utilize the transcripts.
  8. Give people space and time to do their work - and because we are fully remote, giving space is easier.
  9. We’ve Needed to Find Creative Solutions to Save Time.
  10. We take a poll every Mon and Weds before our standup, which outlines the two workdays.
  11. The poll sent via Slack takes about 2-3 minutes. Here are the questions:
  12. I am this busy today and tomorrow (1 = slow, 10 = max capacity)
  13. If you are a 7 or lower, how many hours do you have to offer today and tomorrow?
  14. Do you need help the next 2 days?
  15. FYI: I'm feeling like this today (emoji response - optional)
  16. Anything happening this week we should know about? IE: Out of office, appointments, conferences, workshops, etc.? Announcements from Mike? (optional)
  17. We’re using Loom to record questions that would take a long time to write out
  18. We’re using voice memos and Slack voice chats

Will we work on Fridays to win new clients?

It depends, of course. We are always willing to flex in order to have the opportunity to show that we’re an amazing partner to work with. We’ll be upfront about our future expectations for our workweek, and if that is a deal-breaker, then we’ll go our separate ways, just like any relationship. But at the end of the day, the answer is yes. If a great opportunity is set in front of us, we’ll go above and beyond (within reason) to better our chances of success.

Is this the right solution for every company?

Most definitely not, but there are many more companies out there that can do it. As a B2B services company with very stable clients, it works for us, and I feel privileged to be in an industry that allows for this level of flexibility.

5 years ago when I started Halftone we had many smaller clients and projects which required at least 40 hours per week or more of attention, so I don’t think we could have pulled it off then. Even now, if our client list drastically changes, we might need to turn OFF the 4-day week. While that would be a very hard pill to swallow for everyone, we need to stay flexible and aware of business needs. If it’s a matter of the lights staying on, the decision would be inevitable. And if that were to happen, my #1 priority would be getting it back. It’s something to really strive for.

Is this the future of work?

For certain industries, I believe it is the future. My hope is that companies like ours set the example, and help to create the demand needed from the work-force to push the larger companies to follow-suit.

Is there anything you’re worried about?

The one thing that is on my mind is fairness moving forward. If we consider the socio-economic divide of many jobs, it’s easy to see a future in which this divide grows even further as manual jobs and essential workers could never have access to a 4 day week due to the nature of their employment.

The idea could also cause strain on existing essential jobs – nursing for example. If a young person is considering a career path, would they potentially rule-out jobs they may have otherwise considered prior to the advent of a 4 day week? Nursing is difficult enough as is. But could also possibly never be a candidate for a reduced work week thus reducing demand for the profession as a whole.

Will we be continuing with this amazing, life-freeing, productive, creative, challenging and rewarding schedule?

Yup! 😉 We plan to continue with the four-day workweek for as long as we can. If we’re financially sound, then this change is permanent for us, and we hope other companies consider making a similar move.

What kind of dollar value can you put on 46 days of your life back every year?