This month, Upstatement embarks on a summer-long experiment to test a hypothesis: That our business can thrive and our people will be more fulfilled working one fewer day each week.
I know. It’s kind of a thing. And the results from other companies look promising. People reported increased happiness and health paired with more engagement and productivity. All this gives us confidence for the trial. But we’re not other places. We want to see how the 4-day work week impacts us and collect our own data.
This is part of a series focused on why Upstatement is trying a 4-day work week, what the experiment looks like, how it works, and why we believe it’s worth trying. We’ll post updates along the way and at the end of experiment in August 2022, we’ll share how it went.
How It Works
- Starting May 27, the studio will take off eight of the next 10 Fridays.
- We’ll use two strategically placed “in” Fridays to reflect on the experiment as a group and make adjustments as needed.
- Weekly surveys and accurate time tracking will allow everyone to see how people feel and how much we’re truly working.
- We’ve set a goal to work four eights. That is, four days, eight hours per day.
- We are explicitly asking people not to do four 10s. The point is to work smarter, not harder.
- Overall compensation is unchanged.
- The experiment ends in August. From there, we’ll evaluate and decide what’s next.
I could write an entire essay on how we hammered out the logistics, but I’m trying to keep the focus on our philosophy. Let us know if you have a burning logistics question, though!
Why We’re Doing This
Because of burnout
While our team reported feeling positive about Upstatement in general, we knew that by year three of the pandemic, everyone felt ground down from the low, steady hum of anxiety. So we sent a survey to assess burnout, just in case. The results were astounding.
- 100% had felt symptoms of burnout in the last three months
- 56% experienced symptoms usually, frequently, or all the time
- 62% felt more stress at home compared to the previous year
- 67% felt more stress at work compared to the previous year
- 49% said that, all things considered, they were not too happy—double the national average
Obviously, the findings concerned us. We care deeply about cultivating an environment where everyone can be happy, healthy, and do their best work. So we went into problem-solving mode. Why do people feel like this way? What role does work play? Could we do anything to help?
When we polled the 4-day work week, the results were equally eye-opening. 100% rated it as desirable or very desirable, by far the highest score on a menu of interventions that included a 1-month leave, unlimited health days, mental health stipends, and more.
Because of life-work harmony
If work has been stripped bare, we can’t bring it back to life with more screen time. We can make the office more fulfilling by changing our relationship to work.
Remote has shown us that work doesn’t fit into tidy little boxes. There’s fluidity between life and work. As our survey showed, that tension can cause people to feel more stressed and less happy, even if work is going well.
That helped us understand the high levels of reported burnout despite our regular pulse surveys and NPS remaining universally strong. So, the flexibility of a 4-day work week could really help. In some cases, it has been shown to reduce stress by up to 45%.
Most important, we’ll all show up to work happier if we make more time to be present for our partners, to be there for our kids, to find time for ourselves, to cultivate our hobbies, and pursue passions outside the office. That’s just common sense, but there’s data to back it up too.
Because we can
I’m not being cute. This is really hard for most client-service businesses, especially if they’re selling time and materials or need to be on-call for emergencies.
Upstatement has three unique advantages that make it possible to try this experiment.
1. We already work four days a week For years, clients have been told: “We’re all yours Monday through Thursday. But Fridays are for us—they’re internal days.”
In fact, this started as a similar experiment which I’ll explain a bit later. Every client we work with is already primed to pause communication on Fridays.
2. We sell value, not time Upstatement works on big, transformational projects. And while it takes time to deliver amazing products, that’s not the measure of our value. That’s our process. Our expertise. Our talent. Our decision-making. Not the number of hours worked. Time spent doesn’t correlate with results, which is why we don’t charge by the hour.
3. We don’t do maintenance Clients are trained to care for their product and are supported by their own internal teams or external maintenance partners. So besides launches (for which we already have a rule: “Never launch on Fridays”) our team is rarely on-call.
Because it’s in our values
One of our values is “Hold the Highest Standard.” It’s all about quality, talent, and making a positive impact—attributes that align with a 4-day work week. There are two key elements when it comes to high standards:
Work with the Best: When we ask people why they stay at Upstatement, the answer is always, “Because I love the people. I have the best co-workers: Smart, talented people who help me to be better.”
And we know that the best talent is capable of the best work. We hope that trusting our teams with flexible schedules attracts even more quality people at the top of their games. And we’re betting that a balanced, well-rested team is capable of doing higher quality work in four days than a team that feels frazzled and frayed over five.
Make the World Better: Our work strives to do this at scale. But it starts at home. My dad used to have a poster in his office that said, “Think globally, act locally.” That’s the idea here. Let’s model the world we want to see.
Because it’s part of being a remote-first company
Like many companies, Upstatement wasn’t founded as a remote organization. The pandemic forced it upon us. While we’ve chose to embrace this brave new world, we’re still learning. That’s why one of the goals from our Annual Plan is “Become a remote-first company.”
So much has changed, but old habits are hard to break. We hope that having less time will force us to be more efficient. To adopt more healthy asynchronous styles of work.
In the survey, one person worried that Upstatement might be “addicted to real-time communication.” If that’s true, this could help kick the habit.
Why We’re Experimenting
Because it’s in our DNA
Experiments like this have been part of our company story from beginning.
In our first year, we paused client work for the summer to build a product that was like Instagram for type nerds. Glyphosaurus might have failed, but it taught us to try. And produced some really fun t-shirts.
Later, we experimented with 4-day work weeks for client work, reserving Fridays for internal initiatives and education. That proved that the team could spend 20 percent time making ourselves better while still delivering world-class products.
The 4-day work week is just the latest in a long line of experiments.
Because it’s hard to model
Upstatement is full of product people who learn by testing ideas in the market. It would be amazing if we had the quants to reliably model the impact. But we don’t. And even if we did, we’d still apply agile mindset.
Test. Learn. Revise. Repeat.
Because we need everyone to make this happen
The company has deeply rooted rituals and routines that grew around a 5-day work week: Friday is for shares, weekly resourcing, internal meetings, project schedules. It’s a lot.
For this to work, change can’t be dictated from a central control tower. We created this together and we need everyone in the studio to build a new reality. Especially with unanswered questions like: How will meetings have to change? How will project teams be impacted? Can we consistently achieve the same level of quality?
This all-hands approach aligns with the way we run things. If we have an organizational philosophy, it’s “Highly aligned, loosely coupled.” Netflix popularized the phrase. It’s the idea that companies should provide a clear vision and trust teams to make the best choices in support.
Which is exactly what we’re doing with this entire experiment.
Our first Friday off is tomorrow! Wish us luck. I’ll be back at the end of the summer to let you know how it goes.