News & Opinion
James Hill, CEO : A year ago Flexys decided to make a big change…
This decision was founded on two things; doing better things for our team and to challenge the status quo.
On 1 May 2022, Flexys started a four-day working week trial which was to run for 6 months. Ahead of the four-day working week (4DWW) national trial starting, and in the face of some extraordinary economic and social pressures, we acted as a people-first organisation.
We made a conscious decision not to talk externally about our 4DWW trial. We didn’t advertise this as a benefit when recruiting, and we asked our team to use their discretion when talking to clients. We wanted to test whether the 4DWW could work for Flexys without any external preconceptions.
This was about living by our values and trying to embrace a new way of working that would benefit our teams and our business. But a year on, it now feels like the right time to share our experiences – what we learnt and what we do next.
This was a leap into the unknown…
As a small, fast-growing business, we knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but that is never a reason not to try something new. The principles were simple; same pay, fewer hours, same impact and outcomes. We defined a set of metrics and agreed on a schedule that provided coverage across all teams, Monday to Friday. Our core focus remained on achieving our ambitious sales and growth targets, progressing our internal objectives and delivering excellent service to our clients.
By the time we reached October, the team’s feedback was incredibly positive. We had learnt a lot, but there were challenges. The schedule of non-working days didn’t work for all teams, but our team managers quickly adjusted this. In client-facing teams (Delivery, Support, Client Success, Sales and Marketing), managing increased and ad hoc demands meant it was hard to keep to a rigid four-day working week. At this point, we decided that we need to make some adjustments, so we extended the trial to 30 April 2023 and made some team-specific changes. Our Sales and Marketing teams reverted to a 5-day week, and our implementation teams changed their approach for inflight projects.
This was a tough decision. When we embarked on our 4DWW journey, we did so for the benefit of all our teams. When we extended the trial and adjusted the approach, we changed the benefit from something that was wholly inclusive to a team-specific exclusive benefit.
So what’s next?
Fast forward, and it’s now April 2023 and time to review the trial and what we do next. This should be easy, right? We have metrics and team feedback so presumably, if we’ve ticked all the boxes, then it’s time to move to 4DWW permanently.
Well, not quite.
With hindsight, it was clear that our metrics would always have been incredibly hard to either prove or disprove the success of the 4DWW. Certain teams had adapted to a new way of working with relative ease, the output remained consistent, and people were happier and more refreshed. But in other areas, this had been harder to achieve.
The rigidity of a 4DWW posed a challenge. Shifting to a completely new way of working overnight with different protected non-working days for different parts of the business was difficult. Quite simply, moving towards asynchronous working is easier without external demands, pressures and distractions.
But we had to make a decision. We drew up a shortlist of what we could do next:
- Move permanently to a four-day working week
- End the trial and revert to a five-day working week
- Move permanently to a four-day working week in specific teams
- Extend the trial on the same terms
- Extend the trial but redefine the approach and underlying principles
We chose the latter.
The way forward
From 1 May until 31 December 2023, all teams will work a 4DWW pattern, with the fifth day being a non-core day. We are providing everyone with the option to flex their working pattern so that they can complete their tasks across four days and take all or part of the non-core day off. In return, we ask for flexibility where the business or clients require it. We aren’t moving to compressed hours and will provide a full annual leave entitlement of 30 days.
We have defined examples of what is ‘critical work’ and are empowering our team and team managers to make decisions on non-core days through effective communication and time management.
The key to success is flexibility, cooperation and communication. Teams and individuals have the opportunity to plan and execute their work so that they can take the non-core day off, so long as the demands of the business are met.
Our metrics are simple: achieving our business targets and objectives and a happy, healthy, refreshed and motivated team.
We have to remain flexible, responsive and agile with clients, sales and progressing our internal objectives core to our focus.
We also agreed on one overarching principle. If we see negative impacts attributable to this new way of working rather than treat individual teams differently, we would pause the trial for all teams. Benefits have to be inclusive and not exclusive.
Reflecting on our experience
- Is the 4DWW guaranteed to work for your business?
- Should you consider adopting a 4DWW or changing the way you work?
Reflecting on our experience, my conclusion is that when it comes to changing the way you work, one size very much doesn’t fit all. As leaders, we always have to balance people-first decisions with business decisions, but there is no reason why these should be mutually exclusive. One fact remains true, which is that happier, healthier and more productive teams provide a business with a platform for success.
In 1926 Henry Ford took his own leap into the unknown, challenged the status quo and moved to a five-day working week, “Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity, so the five-day week will open our way to a still greater prosperity”.
Fast forward nearly 100 years, and how, when and where we work has changed dramatically, so if you are thinking about trialling or adopting the 4DWW and want to know more about our experience, feel free to contact me.