Four Day Work Week: How and Why We Work Less

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

August 27, 2021

Illustrated by

 Jeffrey Phillips

The idea of working less isn’t new, but it’s gaining even more traction as people re-evaluate their lives and needs in the face of a global crisis. People didn’t always work so much, and overworking wasn’t as glorified as it is now. Even whole countries are embracing this fundamental shift in workplace culture—working less.

Here, at Calibre, we firmly believe this approach is better for people and the business.

We don’t tie the number of hours worked to output.

Usually, the longer you work, productivity dips, and stress and exhaustion rises. As a people-first company, we constantly look for ways to create a supportive and healthy environment. Last year, we trialled switching to a four day work week (one of many people-first strategies). What we found is that fewer working hours and more flexibility bring more happiness and better work quality. Now, this is how we work permanently.

Here’s how we decided to make the switch, the benefits we saw and considerations we had when changing to a four day work week.

First 32 hour work week experiment

We first adopted a four day work week in May 2020 as an experimental response to the worsening COVID pandemic. At the time, our team were living under lockdown conditions, and the future felt uncertain (little we knew that most of us would be spending 200+ days over the next year confined to our homes—in a very different way to “working from home”).

As the pandemic and restrictions were taking a toll on mental health and wellbeing, Ben, Calibre’s CEO, decided to switch to a four day (32 hours) work week, every two weeks, effective immediately. The intention was to allow more space and time to rest and process a one-in-a-hundred years event we were now living through. Nobody needed more work.

This first experiment lasted around five months. We transitioned back to a five day work week (40 hours) in November 2020, when it felt like Australia’s health measures yielded the country effectively COVID-free. After several months of a lower workload, we felt refreshed and optimistic about the future. We were also about to hire for the first time in a long time. Having more time to search, onboard and support a new hire felt like a solid reason to go back to five days, at least for a while.

That initial experiment was a necessary survival strategy that allowed us to show up for work and honour our personal needs. We didn’t notice a productivity decrease. 2020 was the biggest year in terms of new and improved features in Calibre.

Permanently transitioning to four days

In May 2021, we were still feeling the toll of the pandemic and burnout. Work was challenging, so we started discussing going back to a four day work week permanently. Collectively, we decided it aligned with our values and wouldn’t harm running the business or serving our customers.

This decision was easier based on small team size and the fact that we all cherish work-life balance. While we’re ambitious and driven, we also very much like not working (it’s okay to admit this!). With no extra convincing needed, Calibre was a four day work week company as of June 2021.

With this change, we made sure to be clear about expectations:

  • We don’t work longer days.
  • We keep existing day-to-day flexibility (going out to exercise for few hours, dropping kids off at daycare, etc.).
  • We still have no deadlines. We ship when we ship unless it’s time-sensitive.
  • No change to salary or paid leave.

Benefits of a 32 hour work week

Better work-life balance

It’s not a dream of ours to dedicate the majority of our lives to work. On the contrary—one of the reasons Calibre exists is to serve its employees. Now, we have more time to rest, connect with family and friends, cook, exercise, or even catch up on life admin tasks. It doesn’t feel like life happens in short bursts between workdays.

No productivity loss

One of the most significant claims against a shorter workweek is the loss of productivity. We haven’t seen any decrease in output. If anything, we’re now more productive because we show up to work well-rested and with a clear mind. No ”oh no, it’s Monday!” groans.

Richer company culture

Four day work week isn’t a strategy existing in a vacuum. Implemented well, it contributes to an overall strategy to put people’s needs first instead of monetary gains or arbitrary goals. With better company culture, we see happier employees, positive reception from the community and attract potential hires who identify with our values.

Higher quality of work

Our best work doesn’t happen when we’re exhausted or distracted. When rested, we have our best ideas and solve problems we might have been stuck on faster. With additional focus, we work only on the most impactful initiatives.

How we implemented a four day work week

Four day work week is a radical change. That’s why you need a strategic approach, instead of assuming that everything compresses in a lesser amount of days. The decision to shift to four days might be a no brainer, but implementation must be deliberate to succeed.

Choose the best day

Mondays or Fridays? These are best for making the weekend longer but might not work for your business or employees. What’s important is context.

For us, the majority of customers are in the United States or Europe. We all take Monday off—the quietest support day (that’s the benefit of being in Australia, where we’re effectively a day ahead of those timezones). This doesn’t mean choosing Monday has no business or customer impact at all, but it’s the least impactful day.

Right now, we don’t need to alternate the day for different team members—all of us have Mondays off. This might change with the rising support load and growing our team.

Set hours and boundaries

“You must be working ten-hour days!”. We chose a four day work week not to work more than 32 hours. No longer days. No pushing through for a deadline (we don’t set them!). In most cases, work can wait.

We work 6 to 8 hours per day. SaaS can be demanding, especially at small team sizes. We guard our time off with boundaries. We’re not here for the hustle or startup grind. We might check in on support on off days, but we are firm about not working longer hours.

Make sure support and sales are covered

Fewer days worked means less support coverage. While Mondays are our least busy support days, Fridays and Saturdays can get busy (sometimes, the timezone shift isn’t in our favour!). Because excellent customer experience is the backbone of Calibre, we ensure people receive timely replies.

We use a Whole Company Support approach to manage support and sales as a small team without dedicated support hires. This means everyone talks to customers and leads. While three days without mention of work would be ideal, in a small company, that’s not realistic. So there’s always someone quickly triaging conversations on Saturdays and Mondays to make sure any urgent conversations are responded to. We don’t find that this approach hurts our work-life balance, either, as we rotate responsibilities.

Our customer support satisfaction rating (95%!) hasn’t dropped with a shorter week.

Think about salaries and time off

Reducing the workweek by 20% poses business questions. Do we lower salaries since people are working less? Do we reduce paid leave since it’s accrued based on time worked? While it might seem fair (mainly to the business, not the employee), we treat those questions with a different mindset.

For us, the four day work week is the new, normal way to work. Not a reduction of the business as usual. When people’s wellbeing and the ability to live full lives outside of work is at the front of your mind, the answer becomes apparent. Since the switch, we pay the same salaries. Our leave policy remains at four weeks annual leave and two weeks of sick leave, fully paid.

Imagine finding out one day that your salary is 20% lower because of a change in company policy. While the additional time off is a benefit, a drastic change like this wouldn’t feel right.

Focus on what’s business-critical

We’ve always been focused. Calibre grew from a solo founder to two, and now three people, with no external funding. This context puts fundamental limitations on what you can achieve. That’s why we’ve always been ruthless about what’s worth our attention and what isn’t.

We automate what we can to avoid wasting time. We outsource tasks that we can’t pick up due to lack of time or targeted skills (for example, getting marketing audits or illustration commissions). We regularly check in on our mission and goals to ensure we’re working on the right things—both for our customers and maintaining the sustainability of the business.

When you’re working in an environment of scarcity (of time, resources or both), asking ”should we be working on this? why?” becomes essential. Even without a four day work week, being intentional about impact has benefits. It rallies the team around a shared goal. It makes sure you’re delivering for customers and the business.

Be wary of meetings

Imagine 5 to 15 people in a call every few days to be on the same page. That’s more than 3× our whole company capacity! Meetings break focus and waste time. They were never in our teams’ lifeblood.

We’re all independent and wary of distractions, so the only catchups would be occasional one-on-ones or all hands on company direction. We have no regular calls that take up our days. We execute without issues through synchronous and asynchronous communication and in-depth documentation. We respect each others’ focus and time.

What’s next?

While there were no bosses to convince of this radical shift, it wasn’t a light decision.

Cutting out 20% of the capacity of a small company might seem dangerous to the business, but it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Since, Calibre grew both in features, improvements and revenue.

We continue to observe how four day work week shapes our company. As we grow, we’ll surely tweak the way we work to best support our employees and customers. At some point, some of the strategies above might no longer work or be sustainable. We’ll continue sharing our journey in building a people-first company. If a three-person company with a customer base of thousands can work a four day work week, why can’t you?

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

Karolina is a Co-founder and Product Design Lead at Calibre. With years of design experience under her belt, she’s responsible for the comprehensive user experience spanning over product, visuals and content. Find her on Mastodon or LinkedIn.

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