EuroFOO: Working a four day week

This session was lead by Ryan Carson, and it was one I was particularly interested in. My aim for the next few years is to work part-time on the stuff that pays the bills, and spend the rest of my time writing books and stuff like that. I’ve thought a lot about this issues, and it’s one I want to write more on in future. But certainly this was one of the most enlightening sessions of EuroFOO, partly because I didn’t realise that there were other people who were challenging the tyranny of the over-developed work ethic.

Anyway…. to my notes:

We don’t need to work five days – there’s no rule that we have to work five days. It’s just a matter of choosing. We [Ryan and his wife Gillian] have total control, so why not choose to work less and that will give us more time to experience things outside work.

It wasn’t because work is bad, we love what we do, but it was more that if you work in the web industry it can be all consuming and can take over your life completely. And you end up checking email, and post on blogs, and it’s Monday and it’s time to work again.

We decided to work Monday – Thursday, 9-6, and have two employees, and pay them a full salary but they also only work 4 days a week, and they get 30 days holiday a week. And the idea is that people tend to work 5 days because they spread their work out over five days instead of thinking ‘gotta get stuff done because I’ve only got 4 days’.

In the run up to the Future of Web Apps, they didn’t abide by that rule but the rest of the time they do.

Martin: Law firm, 17 employees, had a discussion that the best thing would be prolong the weekend with an extra Monday or Friday, but not everyone takes the same day.

Ryan: Good thing is that everyone else is working on a Friday, and it’s quiet to be out and about. Very empowering.

Part of this is that we have products instead of clients, so if you have a client you can’t tell them not to call on Fridays.

Protestant work ethic, Lutherian, divorced from religion now, but people are almost perversely proud to be working 16 hours a day. In many non-western countries people are a lot less about working, they are happy to avoid work. In the west, particularly UK and US, this work ethic has become rampant.

Company cultures, top-down, decide what’s important, and what the holiday culture is. So Carson can decide how to live, and then let their employees live like that two. If you’re at a company and your boss isn’t going to do a four day week, then you aren’t going to be able to.

Have to realise that it makes sense to give people more time off. Why is it that Scandinavian societies are more productive with shorter working weeks? When you measure productivity in America, or between Denmark and Sweden, those with more time off are more efficient.

Yet also need to allow for downtime, for chatting, and getting to know people and what’s going on. Having 4 days to work really focuses you and you cut out what’s not important. If it’s not important it doesn’t get done, but that doesn’t matter because it wasn’t important.

Can easily create an unreal pressure to work more. But that pressure is in your head, it’s not always real.

What’s interesting from working 4 days a week is that they have to leave the laptops at work over the weekend else they just log in to email and then that turns into work.

Me: I need to turn laptop off at 10pm so that my brain has time to wind down before bed. But there’s a real blurring between work and play, so you end up feeling you’re ‘faffing’ all day.

Ryan: Important to challenge our perceptions of how much we are supposed to work. If you enjoy playing scrabble on your laptop, then that’s cool, but we decided that it’s best for us to force ourselves to do that. But that sort of constraints are not for everyone.

Realised that by being on the computer all the time, we weren’t experiencing very much.

Martin: Question of focusing and being more aware of instead of trying to process a lot of information. Trying to powernap. Programme that generates power-naps. Does a power-nap at 1pm and 7pm.

Paula: Expectation management. People don’t care how much you work, they care that the thing that they care about gets addressed. It’s important to set expectations with people right from the beginning. Felt so passionate about it, didn’t think about setting limits. But energy levels aren’t sustainable if you don’t.

Me: Also need to set expectations for yourself, and realise that other people’s expectations may not be what you think they are. Email is the biggest stressor. Have had to set ‘away’ messages saying ‘I have too much email’.

Paula: Have to set boundaries early on. Have to also give yourself permission to think of every moment away from home as a ‘work’ moment, when you travel.

Ryan: Martyrdom pride in the tech industry, and ‘oh we’re launching a product and working 7 day weeks’ but that actually means that you’re doing it wrong.

If you can, get a PA. Getting rid of phones for some people. Email – can react later – doesn’t have to be immediate.

Paula: Ask more. Interrogates requests, asks for more info, when do people need things? To what depth? Because assumptions are: immediate; to the greatest depth.

Martin: and people like being asked those questions.

Paula: Teaching people to give info in the first place. Starting to get more qualified requests which helps her to prioritise.

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