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In the endless U.S. debate over work-life balance for the new year and beyond, a hot topic has emerged: the four-day workweek. From tech early adopters like Buffer and Basecamp to the United Auto Workers in September, a shorter week has been touted by many as not only a solution to burnout but the natural evolution of labor for today’s connected world.
As a creative company, creating sonic branding and sound experiences for brands, we wanted a meaningful path forward through the burn-out running rampant at creative companies, and our founder, Joel Beckerman, has never been a fan of incrementalism. We aren’t going to address an industry epidemic of creative exhaustion with snacks and summer Fridays. Big swings only and the four-day week fits the bill.
So, last spring, we embraced it. We were excited, the staff was excited and even our clients seemed kind of excited. What kind of creative ideas can you come up with if your mental health is better cared for? And the more companies that prove this works, the closer we may all be to a new normal.
But what’s interesting about big swings is that you can’t hit it out of the park without first mastering the basics. It’s the attention to foundational skills, a well-thought-out game plan and consistent practice hygiene that set the stage for moments of glory. The four-day week is no different, with the unexpected effect of exposing your company’s foundational weaknesses. Sometimes with a bit of nuance to age-old problems. Below are the top three we continue to work through.
Lack of boundaries
We know many of us are not good at setting boundaries at night and on weekends, but the four-day week exposed the dire need for a culture of boundaries during the workday.
When we flipped to the four-day model, most folks instinctually went into overdrive with their eye on the Friday prize. But science shows we all need structures and breaks during the day to be effective. Five minutes with a cup of tea. An off-camera meeting. 52 minutes for head-down work. Scheduled Slack time versus an always Slack habit. It all requires setting boundaries and being vocal about them without fear.
Creativity at the highest level takes time and space. We are working to design music and sound IP or experiences intended for longevity far beyond ordinary commercial music use. We need to protect our boundaries to protect our creativity in crafting each unique solution for each unique client circumstance. No sonic branding experience sounds like the last one did.
Did our company encourage boundaries on nights and weekends? Sure, whenever possible. Did we actively enforce boundaries or call folks out for not drawing boundaries during the day? Not enough. Language around protected time, and how to prioritize it, continues to be an area we need to work on.
Reactive meeting culture
If I had a penny for every time we discussed meetings … too many meetings, too short meetings, too many attendees, too few attendees, too unorganized meetings. Meetings can sink a four-day initiative, and this topic is particularly difficult for client service businesses where strategies like time-blocking meetings are impossible.
But what the four-day training exposed was a deeper weakness. The psychology behind meeting overload was both insightful and, at times, painful. Having language put to the “selfish urgency meeting” and “mere urgency effect meeting” was eye-opening.
Addressing the root cause promises more efficacy than superficial adjustments we’ve tried in the past. But it will take time, and a culture that allows us to call out meeting issues when we see them. Work in progress.
Lack of focus
Both on the personal and company level, lack of focus will kill a four-day week.
For the individual, this can go back to the lack of enforcing boundaries to get work done, no clear prioritized tasks to start your day, or a disastrous inbox that requires you to read and reread time and again. We learned a lot of personal focus hygiene hacks that we continually review and experiment with as a team.
More critically, company-wide the four-day week is an excellent reminder that cultures of creativity or innovation need a balance of discipline and strong decision-making. You need to be laser-focused on clear goals easily communicated, and you need to say no when an initiative does not align with or support the goal. Crafting a focus-driven culture necessitates consistent efforts, and we’re committed to that journey.
The truth is the same flaws that make for a difficult four-day are burning people out during a five-day week. The cultural flaws just have more room to hide.
If you want to shine a light on how to be a better culture and creative company, try the four-day week. It’s humbling, exhausting and at times stressful, but we will be a better company built on a rock-solid foundation with time and practice. And we are sticking with it.
There is real transformative potential in the four-day week, both in expected and unexpected ways.