EXPERIENCE

From Five to Thrive
365 days of the four-day workweek

Daniela D’Amato

Ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder?” Perhaps that should be amended to, “Work smarter, not longer.”

Over the past nine months, Creative Words stood as an example for others in the language industry looking to navigate the world of four-day work weeks. Having experienced it firsthand, we hope the experiences and data we’ve gathered will inform and inspire many more to implement the structure in their business.

But let’s talk about money for a second. If you’re considering adopting a four-day workweek just for marketing sizzle, think twice. It’s more involved and expensive than it might seem. The math might scare you off unless you’re in it for the right reasons. What’s the right reason, you may ask? It’s simple: better work-life harmony for everyone involved.

However, if you think achieving that balance means cutting off 20% of work time and driving up costs, you should consider reading further.

Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and explore the journey!

Graph 1: Overtime (in hours)

How it started: our first assumptions

Productivity will increase

A report by the Four-Day Week Global Initiative revealed that companies scored an average of 7.7 out of 10 for productivity with a shorter work week. This suggests that condensed work weeks could boost productivity for company owners.

Like other language service providers (LSPs), our business model mixes in-house and outsourced linguistic teams. In our case, in-house linguists often handle language and quality roles, giving them flexibility. This means shortening the working time would not affect the number of outsourced words.

Studies show productivity goes down after certain work hours. As stated earlier, working smarter is preferable to working longer.

Here’s the gem: Empowering teams to find smart ways to work less boosts creativity. The short workweek announcement spurred our teams and individuals to discover their paths to make this happen, sparking unforeseen innovation. Our already-creative team reached new heights.

Moreover, by making the whole team accountable for finding ways to work more efficiently, all company owners can tap into their team’s creativity and innovation to achieve even better results. Try it; you’ll be amazed.

 

Clients would not be affected by this change

Despite transitioning to a four-day work week, our office remains open Monday to Friday, ensuring continuous service to our customers. Our team maintains availability through a rotating shift model, ensuring responsiveness for our customers like we did before.

In the realm of LSPs, project managers are pivotal for client communication. To maintain excellence, we’ve streamlined our project management structure. A single inbox handles all job requests and is managed by the first available project manager. Our PM team divides into sub-teams, enhancing day-off and holiday management while minimizing past overwork.

Our premium customers retain a designated contact for regular calls and urgent matters. Also, to improve day-to-day communication, we have implemented Monday.com, which has been a game-changer for our team.

While “single inbox and sub-team” is a familiar approach for round-the-clock service, we’ve tailored it for our unique needs, ensuring seamless interactions and workflow optimization.

Figure 1: Stress level impacting personal lives

Stress levels will decrease

Introducing the idea of a shorter work week initially met resistance and stress among our team members. Remember that salaries, days off, and contractual time remained unchanged.

The concern primarily centered on fitting the workload into four days, which seemed daunting and pressure-inducing. Most of them were 100% sure we would have pushed them into working under a much higher pressure than ever before.

However, a positive shift occurred. We embraced the benefits of the shorter week and the extra day to recharge. Our commitment to collective success quickly changed minds. The “all for one, one for all” approach fostered shared accountability and fueled the initiative’s success.

 

Workload per individual will decrease

The transition to a shorter work week at Creative Words wasn’t an overnight change. It became possible from our ongoing effort to streamline processes across all departments, a journey we embarked upon from day one. The short work week has been the result, as well as the cause, of our efforts to improve overall efficiency.

Our reliance on integrations and connectors spans everything, from back-office and project management to language work and quality control. This resilience to human labor fluctuations enhances scalability. Of course, this does not mean we have replaced some of our team members with a few lines of Python code or off-the-shelf software. Our team has grown proportionally with our revenue, and we are still growing our staff.

Our team members now focus on more engaging, less repetitive tasks rather than mundane data entry. Isn’t this the essence of technology?

Our guiding principle is that we don’t work more within the four days we work. Full-timers put in eight hours a day, over four days a week. If we work overtime, we try to understand why this happened and tackle the cause.

 

Employees care more for a good work-life balance than monetary incentives

As previously mentioned, we’ve refrained from altering contracts to avoid switching them to part-time status, which would have meant reduced salaries and less PTO. Instead, with some much-needed legal input, we have crafted contract addendums, virtually granting all full-time workers eight hours of weekly time off for use within the same week.

If you think you can buy people’s engagement with money, think again. Time is our most precious resource for family, friends, hobbies, and more. This holds especially true for younger workers, who value work-life balance and personal pursuits more than prior generations (and rightfully so).

Last consideration: End-of-year bonuses are promises of extra money based on performance. Yet, working for delayed bonuses or higher salaries doesn’t always outweigh working long hours or five days a week. While offering fair wages in the face of inflation is vital, the prospect of more free time remains invaluable. 

Figure 2: Allotted time

Figures unveiled: How it’s going behind the scenes

To gauge the experiment’s success, we have been tracking three distinct KPIs. All three must yield positive results within the trial’s initial year to guide our decision: whether to retain, adjust, or entirely discard this working model. Should we continue, ongoing annual KPI monitoring will persist, ensuring that the four-day workweek model remains aligned with our goals and performance benchmarks, warranting renewal as needed.

Customer satisfaction

Being ISO certified, we adhere to our quality management system, consistently measuring quality results over time. Our primary KPI concern, linked to retaining or altering the new working model, centers on maintaining customer requirements and enhancing their perceived satisfaction through calibration.

While ISO compliance measures the percentage of deliveries with pass scores and our customers’ net promoter scores, these metrics don’t entirely reflect our intended assessment of the model’s impact on clients. To ascertain this, we ventured beyond conventional testing. We introduced a straightforward question into our annual customer satisfaction survey, which we conducted around June. The question posed was:

“On a scale of 1 (not at all affected) to 10 (very much negatively affected), to what extent has the implementation of the four-day week affected the performances of our team and the cooperation with your company?”

Out of all respondents to our survey (around 30%), the average result to this question was a mere 1.6/10, with only one vote higher than 6/10. Some of them added a comment along these lines: “I had no clue CW moved to a four-day work week,” or, “I forgot you have a four-day week.” And to us, this is the biggest of the successes.

Figure 3: Stress levels changes

Overtime

As previously mentioned, eliminating overtime was the driving force behind transitioning to a four-day work week. Since the initiative’s inception in mid-October 2022, we have been closely observing the overall overtime hours of our staff. In the initial two weeks following the introduction of the shorter work week, the cumulative overtime for our 20 employees reached 17.9 hours, which truly scared me at first. However, this figure progressively decreased in the subsequent months (see Graph 1), settling at an average of four hours per month across the entire team of 20 employees.

Stress levels

The most challenging aspect was quantifying something that is typically hard to measure. Over the months, we have tracked the overall well-being of our complete staff, comprising around 20 individuals. This observation coincided with the adoption of the four-day workweek. We initiated surveys to gain insights into potential changes in stress levels caused by this shift.

We conducted three identical surveys within the past nine months, each consisting of the same set of 10 questions:

  • The initial survey was conducted before the implementation of the shorter work week (September 2022).
  • The second survey took place in January 2023, three months following the launch of the new model.
  • The third survey occurred in July 2023, nine months since the new model’s implementation.

Highlighted below are some of the critical results meriting your attention:

  • We inquired with our team members about the extent to which work-related stress impacted their personal lives, using a scale of 0 (“not at all”) to 10 (“way too much”). Before adopting the four-day workweek, the average score across all team members was 6/10. This falls somewhere in the middle — not dire, but not particularly favorable. Three months after implementing the shortened work week, this score dipped to 4/10. Nine months after the trial’s commencement, we observed a marginal increase as opposed to the previous result, resulting in an average of 4.8/10, which is still notably below the 6/10 score recorded last year. We consider this change to be a noteworthy enhancement in the quality of everyone’s lives. For a more precise visual depiction, refer to Figure 1.
  • We also inquired about whether the allotted time for our employees to complete their daily tasks was sufficient, using a scale of 1 (“not at all enough”) to 10 (“way too much time to do my job”). Curiously, three months after the commencement of the trial, the average response was higher compared to when we operated under the five-day workweek. Allow me to clarify: On average, the team expressed that working four days a week afforded them more than ample time to fulfill their responsibilities, in contrast to the previous five-day schedule (see Figure 2).
  • We also tried to measure whether the stress levels of all our employees had changed throughout this trial. The first survey was more hypothetical, centered on the coming months: “How do you think your stress levels will change?”
  • Looking at the orange bar in Figure 3, you will notice that we primarily house optimistic individuals. Most of our employees foresaw reduced stress levels due to the shorter work week. Looking at the subsequent two bars (blue after three months and gray after nine months), while we generally concur that stress levels haven’t shifted significantly, there’s an overall consensus that stress has decreased, thanks to the new model. Only a couple of individuals confirmed a rise in stress directly linked to introducing the four-day workweek.
  • The last question we posed, also worth noting, revolved around the future. In the initial survey (pre-implementation of the new model), we inquired whether the team was concerned about this change. This time around, examining the orange bar in Figure 4, the pessimistic ranks of Creative Words balance out quite well with the optimistic ones. Initially, a majority of individuals held reservations. Yet, when you shift your gaze to the subsequent two bars, a transformation emerges. Nearly everyone, save for a few, stands untroubled (or slightly so) by the continuance of the shorter workweek model.

Figure 4: Are you scared?

Building better tomorrows

After introducing the four-day workweek model a year ago, we’ve reached a significant milestone since its implementation in October 2022. As we reflect on the past year, we focus on assessing the insights gathered during the initial months of this unique endeavor. 

In an attempt to demystify and address prevalent objections, we’ve gone through a journey of understanding the potential viability of such a transformation and took it as an opportunity to become a stronger team of individuals.

The essence of our exploration lay in the initial assumptions that guided this transformation:

  • Productivity, a quintessential metric of any operational shift, emerged as a positive force. Introducing a shorter workweek shifted the traditional productivity equation and unveiled a realm of innovation and creativity that had remained untapped within our team members.
  • We maintained a commitment to customer satisfaction with a strategic shift that balanced reduced work hours with seamless customer support. The rolling model, adept project management, and enhanced communication platforms collectively ensured that our customers remained unaffected by this transition.
  • Balancing stress levels was a pivotal challenge. What began as skepticism and apprehension transformed into a collective effort to maintain a much-needed work-life balance.
  • The careful orchestration of workload reduction through continuous process enhancement and automation affirmed the essence of working smarter, not harder. The symbiotic relationship between technology and team members enabled a transition towards more meaningful, engaging tasks, enhancing efficiency. And now, as we stand a year into this transformative journey, we reflect upon the figures and insights.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Our commitment to maintaining unparalleled customer satisfaction echoes in the survey responses that mirror a seamless transition with minimal negative impact.
  • Overtime: A gradual decline in overtime hours is a testament to the success in cultivating a more balanced workload within four days.
  • Stress levels: Reducing stress impacting personal lives resonates with our dedication to crafting a happier work (and life) environment.

A paradoxical yet heartening shift was observed in the perception of task completion time, highlighting the strength of a streamlined approach. The progression from initial apprehension and skepticism to a growing acceptance highlights the adaptable nature of our team, but what makes me particularly proud is to witness that shared sense of accountability across every team member.

In retrospect, this journey redefined our approach to work and ignited a culture of camaraderie, innovation, and well-being. The four-day workweek experiment is not just about a shift in hours; it’s a testament that embracing change, fostering collaboration, and nurturing individual growth pays off. As we move forward, these principles will continue to guide us, prompting us to reach new heights.

So, the question is not, “Is Creative Words going to keep this model?” but rather, “Why don’t you start doing this yourself in your business?”

Daniela D’amato is the operations manager at Creative Words, a language service provider in Genoa, Italy

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