‘We instantly regretted it’: Why one company ditched its four-day work week

After moving to a strict four-day working week, RedSprout Media bumped up against challenges and has since shifted back to a five-day week, but one that offers more flexible options

Content marketing agency RedSprout Media introduced a four-day week with the hope of making the most of some of the improved employee wellbeing and productivity benefits many claim it brings. However, a month after implementing the change, the company’s shortened work week was scrapped.

“We made a decision recently to move to a four-day week. We instantly regretted it,” says company co-founder Olivia Webb. 

The initial change in working hours saw RedSprout’s eight employees go from working a regular five-day week to having Fridays off. Webb hoped that by giving people more free time, they would come into work “refreshed, happier and therefore more productive”.

But this new system of working proved to be too inflexible and was quickly scrapped. Co-founder Mark Gaisford says: “On the surface, four days a week is great but the problem we found was that it is still too rigid as a system. Some people are night owls, some people are early birds. By allowing people to work at a time that their brain is at its best, we hope to get more out of our employees.”

The company now has an “anytime, anywhere” policy, which requires employees to work 30 hours a week but allows them to decide when and where this happens. Gaisford adds: “It’s no longer about hours at a desk, it’s about what you achieve in the hours that you’re working.” 

Adopting an anytime, anywhere policy

Despite the fact that employees can now choose their start times, a period of adjustment was required for people to break from their usual routines. Gaisford says: “It takes time for everybody to get used to it, not just as the employer but also the employees. We often have to remind people that they can work at any time, they don’t have to be here at 9am.”

Gaisford and Webb believe it’s important for them to set the right example for others to follow in this regard. “Seeing the boss starting early in the morning and not leaving until late at night, sends a message to the rest of the team,” Gaisford adds. “As a management team you’ve got to constantly reinforce the idea that being late isn’t a thing anymore.” 

A new project management tool has also been key to organising individual’s workloads under the new 30-hour work week. The software can assign tasks to individuals and provide an estimated amount of time that it will take to complete, it’s then up to each team member to decide what hours in the week they dedicate to each project, Gaisford explains.

There’s a revolution happening now with employees coming back after Covid looking for a greater work-life balance. Companies need to be thinking about this now

With fewer hours in each week, improving efficiency has also been important. Some brainstorming sessions or video meetings, which once took up to two hours out of each employee’s day, have been cancelled because the company realised it could be more productive without them.

The change in system has come with some challenges. There are still times when everyone is needed in the office, particularly for collaborative or creative projects, and planning these meetings in advance, rather than on an ad-hoc basis, has become critical.

“Compromise has got to happen,” he adds. “There’s got to be some ebb and flow. If you’re called in on your time off, you’ll be able to take it at another time.”

It’s also important that company culture isn’t lost, as the team will naturally be spending less time together. “Unproductive moments, like chatting, are still important,” Gaisford adds. As a result, he has decided to increase the budget for team events, with plans to host monthly get togethers.

Balancing profitability and flexibility

When judging whether the new flexible work week is a success, profitability and productivity will be crucial. To date, the business has seen no decline in productivity, while Gaisford anticipates this will improve as people get used to the new way of working. He adds: “Those two things have got to balance out. It needs to be a great environment for people to work but equally we need to remain profitable and productive.”

Some of RedSprout Media’s clients have also shown an interest in its shorter working week experiment. “A lot of our clients have been asking us for guidance around developing their own flexible work practices,” Webb says. “Some people think that it requires getting the lawyers involved to redraft contracts, but it remains a work in progress and we’re all learning how to adapt. It’s about figuring out what works best for your individual business.”

More companies are looking to follow suit, with Kickstarter signing up to pilot a more flexible four-day work week in 2022. Meanwhile, CEO of the 4 Day Week campaign Charlotte Lockhart has claimed the idea that a four-day week means an extra day off is a misconception and that organisations should be looking at any way they can reduce working hours without cutting pay. 

Gaisford and Webb both hope that introducing a shorter working week at their organisation will put them ahead of the competition in regards to post-pandemic working practices. Gaisford adds: “There’s a revolution happening now with employees coming back after Covid looking for a greater work-life balance. Companies need to be thinking about this now.”