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A 4 day working week – the new normal?

3D printed model displayed as part of a design meeting
Architect sketching

Why did we not do this sooner…


4-day week, hybrid working, flexible hours. I have read several articles recently about the different ways of working to improve morale, efficiency, and a better work/life balance. The concept of a four-day work week has been gaining momentum in recent years as more and more companies are adopting this new approach. The traditional five-day work week has long been the norm for most companies but, with advances in technology and changes in societal attitudes, there is a growing recognition that a four-day work week can be just as effective, if not more so, in increasing productivity and improving employee morale.


Before Covid I was working 9-5 Monday to Friday like most within my profession, if not all professions. I often found these days would be long due to commuting to and from the office. I would roughly spend 2 hours a day travelling for just 5 miles from home to the office and by Wednesday I was often tired, waiting for Friday and the 2-day weekend. Friday would often be a day of hopefully winding down or winding up if there was a deadline. Weekend is finally here! Saturday comes along and I assume everyone else is in the same boat with this, the house needs cleaning, you need to do a shop, you want to spend time with family, exercise and Saturday disappears before you know it. Sunday. Work tomorrow…maybe I should look at some emails…before you know its 6pm and you are preparing for the working week and the cycle starts again; don’t get me wrong I love my job, but I am not sure if I was refreshed to start again. Back to Monday morning…. coffee!!


I had previously worked within a hybrid system at my last practice, which was a result of the Covid pandemic. This in my mind brought about mixed results between colleagues where generally there were varying amounts of productivity, distractions and engagement with both colleagues and clients. At the same time, hybrid working offered me a balance within mornings and evenings on the time saved commuting however, this came at a cost of social interaction, collaboration, and focus.


On joining Henry Mein my director approached me with an alternative way to provide the work/life balance by implementation of the 4-day week. My first thought was that this was too good to be true! A 3-day weekend for the same salary? This was quickly followed by how do we still meet the client requirements? How can we maintain standards and collaboration with colleagues? Collectively we were anxious about not finishing our work in time. We were nervous that some huge email would drop on one of our off-days and we’d not be able to respond with the added concern of less drawing time. Attempting to fit five days of work into four also seemed like an impossible task. Each day already felt packed with a full list of tasks. In my eyes it was a bold move.

 

Initial thought 1: When you need to condense five days of work into only four days, having a properly planned schedule greatly helps with time management.


My director then further explained the implementation with a particular focus on our processes and procedures. I found this to be particularly important to ensure a smooth transition from a 5 to 4-day week with careful planning and coordination to ensure deadlines are still met, and clients are satisfied. It was a great exercise to be involved with shaping the practice and understanding the requirements for future projects. There are several ways in which an architectural practice can implement a four-day work week. Our approach at Henry Mein was to split the working week into four longer days, with each consisting of an 8-hour day with a 30-minute lunch break. I was, however, still slightly worried about the work running into our day off.


Next thought: When necessary, you must be willing to sacrifice extra time on your working days in order to clear out your schedule for your off day. This could mean staying later or starting earlier to get tasks done.


This approach I thought would particularly be beneficial for complex projects that require a high level of concentration and attention to detail. It would also help to reduce commuting time (avoiding the need to travel during rush hour) and costs, as well as providing flexibility with other commitments, such as in my case childcare or personal appointments. We would also look to split who would be off on Mondays and Fridays. Collaboration in my opinion is key to a successful practice and so the concept would be further strengthened by buddying up with colleagues on projects to ensure when one of us is off, there is always cover and a constant engagement with our clients.


Architecture is a field that requires a high degree of focus and creativity, and as architects we often work long hours to meet tight deadlines. However, the demanding nature of the work can also lead to burnout and fatigue, which can be detrimental to both the individual and the practice. By adopting a four-day work week, our practice provides employees with more time to rest, recharge and pursue personal interests. This can help reduce stress levels, improve mental health, and increase job satisfaction, which in turn hopefully will lead to greater productivity and better-quality work. All of these points for me personally have been true, with a desire to succeed within my profession whilst balancing this with our 8-month-old, Arlo. I have found in both my work and personal life an improved focus in all activities; I am less stressed; more organised in my approach and I equally look forward to both work and the weekend. I have a default diary which I keep to throughout the working week to ensure my deadlines are met. My mindset is now driven to do my best for the company and pay back the faith and trust shown by this implementation of the 4-day week to my directors. I even look at my emails on my day off, and if particularly stretched still I will look to complete tasks within my weekend knowing that it is my choice.

 

3rd thought: Getting used to just relaxing on your day off might take some time. You might even feel tempted to do some work, but there’s no hard rule that dictates you can’t or shouldn’t do work on your day off anyway.


The 3-day weekend I look to now as using this extra day much like a transition day from winding down to getting jobs done in my personal time such as appointments, food shop etc leaving enough time to spend time with my new family.


Within an architectural practice, the benefits of a four-day work week in my opinion are particularly significant. We have since completed a 3-month trial and I believe the skills mentioned above such as collaboration, time management, productivity and engagement have all significantly been improved by its implementation. I also believe that whilst keeping the office open 5 days a week with a smaller team, there will be no reduction in client engagement.


Final thought: If you are looking to condense from five days to four days, having a properly planned personal and team schedule is not a bonus, it’s a must!


As a result, we are continuing our 4-day weeks with a monthly review to ensure our standards are maintained throughout the practice. I am intrigued to see what the results towards the end of the year will be and to see if the change has brought about any differences in the productivity and ultimately the growth of the practice. I personally believe currently the change has worked. It will depend on every member of staff being invested in its long-term success, but we will see the rewards of this.


If you found this blog interesting, then there are further articles and report findings on the success of the 4-day week implementation below:


https://autonomy.work/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/The-results-are-in-The-UKs-four-day-week-pilot.pdf


https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/21/staff-happier-productive-four-day-week-spare-time-working-life


https://news.sky.com/story/major-breakthrough-most-firms-say-theyll-stick-with-a-four-day-working-week-after-successful-trial-12816198


https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-testing-four-day-week-companies-say-they-dont-want-to-stop-a06089cc


https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64669987

Written by Ashley Stanworth

Associate Director

Ashley Stanworth
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