This Is How We Did It
To support others who want to try this big change out for themselves, we‘re sharing how we did it:
What were our initial motivations and how did we get buy-in?
How did we initially research and determine our pilot’s guidelines?
When did we start our “active preparation” phase and what steps did we take?
What areas for efficiency gains did we spot?
What concerns and fears did we have going into the pilot and how did we address them?
What’s the 4 Day Week Vision statement we created with our team?
What are Expath’s 4 Day Week Best Practices that our employees came up with to focus on during the trial? How did we implement those Best Practices?
How did we communicate to clients about the trial and how did they react?
What KPIs did we measure throughout the trial and why? How were they affected by the 4 Day Week?
How has the 4 Day Week affected Expath and what are our key takeaways from the pilot?
How can YOU start a 4 Day Week pilot at your company?
Here’s a step-to-step guide on how we implemented the 4 Day Week trial at Expath.
01. What Were Our Initial Motivations and How Did We Get Buy-In?
TL;DR: We wanted everyone at Expath to enjoy a shorter work week and extra “me time” so we researched and found 4DW Global. It was love at first sight.
This part was very easy. We knew the interest was there because employees had been requesting to go down in hours or have a more flexible schedule years before COVID — we’d always handled the requests ad hoc and it didn’t feel quite balanced that we let some people do 25, 30 or 32 hours just because they’d asked, while others kept doing 40 hours. At the same time as a parent I was also a fan of fewer hours and more flexibility — and my COO Alexis wanted time to work on their book.
So I googled and found 4 Day Week Global, who were launching a European trial in January 2023. We met with them and loved their 100% pay, 100% results, 80% time model, as well as the fact that they’d successfully conducted multiple 4DW trials around the globe (at that time they were in the middle of the wildly successful and highly-publicized 2022 UK trial). 4DW Global had the know-how and resources to share with us, backed by world-class academic researchers who would help us establish and measure our KPIs.
We ran the idea of the six-month pilot by our team members and, no surprise, everyone was thrilled to try it out, even though we stated clearly upfront that we could not guarantee we would be able to keep the 4 Day Week in place afterwards. My favorite reaction: The employee who swore to me that they would do Whatever. It. Takes. to make sure the pilot was a success so they could keep the 4 Day Week forever.
02. How Did We Initially Research and Determine Our Pilot’s Guidelines?
TL;DR: Out of many variations, we chose “100% pay, 80% time, 100% results,” and staying open five days a week with rotating days off.
In the early days, 4 Day Week Global was instrumental in helping us understand how other companies did a 4 Day Week. We actually signed on not only for their January 2023 EU pilot but also to co-launch 4 Day Week Germany with them! So we met with them regularly in June-August 2022 and learned a lot about how other companies have implemented the 4DW, what problems they faced and solutions they introduced, and what impact the 4DW had on their bottom line.
There are a lot of different models of how a reduced-hours work week could work. Some companies are closed every Friday, others like Lasse Rheingans have implemented a five-hour day, five days a week. Some companies also reduce pay in line with fewer hours. We signed on to 4 Day Week Global motto of 100% pay and 80% time, aka 32 hours at full pay.
Since Expath provides relocation support and language training we need to be available for our clients five days a week and that meant figuring out a fair work rotation for days off. We let each team work out a fair system for themselves — our one-person IT and marketing teams got to do whichever day they wanted. Our largest team decided to have half the people off on Friday and the others off on different weekdays they chose — and after three months of the trial, to switch the arrangement so the other people could have Fridays off. This felt fair and ensured we always had enough team members present for our clients.
03. When Did We Start Our ‘Active Preparation’ Phase and What Steps Did We Take?
TL;DR: four months before the actual trial started, we did two in-depth workshops to prepare the company, with topics like efficiency gains and best practices.
From March-September 2022 we were busy with research and working with 4DW Global on a launch event for the 4 Day Week Germany campaign.
Our active preparation phase, where we started to get the team directly involved with workshops and To-Dos, started in October 2022, about four months before we wanted to launch the pilot. 4 Day Week Global provided a lot of research, ideas, and input on how other companies have handled the pilot, but didn’t proscribe strict rules for implementing the trial. We had full flexibility in deciding how to prepare — what our day-to-day would look like, which areas to focus efficiency gains in, what KPIs we would measure, etc..
What was absolutely essential for my COO Alexis and me was to give as much ownership as possible to our employees. Somehow we needed to figure out how to do 100% of our work in 80% of the time, and we were not going to figure that out top-down. We knew that our employees would definitely know better our inefficiencies and what we might do about them, and where to spot potential time gains.
So, in Expath style, we did two big in-house workshops (being a trainer I was happy to run them myself):
Workshop 1 (four months ahead): We made the 4DW a key focus of our yearly offsite, with one big brainstorm on Efficiency (how we define and measure it, top pain points, ideas for improvement) and another on our 4DW hopes and fears. Our brainstorming revealed many critical areas that we would need to improve or focus on in order to be more efficient or manage the 4DW (f.e. Ownership to act, Meetings, Knowledge Silos, Accounting, IT systems, Client management, etc.).
See sections 4 and 5 for more details on these points!
Workshop 2 (one month ahead): The whole company met in person to draft a 4DW Vision statement and brainstorm pain points and possible Best Practices in the four key areas we had pinpointed after our offsite: Time Management, Knowledge Sharing, Communication Channels, and Delegation and Ownership to Act.
See sections 6 and 7 for our Vision and Best Practices!
What about in-between? Well, that’s a whole story… In September 2022 we got very difficult financial news that led to Expath needing to let go of dozens of employees. September-December 2022 were spent doing crisis management at Expath, and in fact, Alexis and I were not even sure if we would be able to keep the trial in place. We decided to withdraw from the official 4 Day Week Global EU pilot in order to focus all our mental and time resources on the company. We also did not want to mess up the pilot’s research data, since we knew the team and workflows would be in flux for many months.
Thankfully, by December 2022 we felt stable and confident enough to continue with the trial on our own — still keeping our promise of 100% pay, 100% results and 80% time!
04. What Areas for Efficiency Gains Did We Spot?
TL;DR: We collected dozens of ideas from team members and grouped them by main themes.
The team’s brainstorming in Workshop 1 revealed many areas we’d need to better define or focus on if we wanted to be able to do 100% of our work in 80% of the time. Here are just some of the main points that emerged:
First of all, how do we actually define and measure efficiency?
What are we already measuring at Expath that could be taken as a baseline measure of how efficiently we are doing our jobs? What data and tools do we have in place?
How can we measure efficiency in an efficient way (haha) during the trial so it doesn’t use valuable work time?
How can we spot bottlenecks in our processes? Can we focus on a few problem areas that would bring big efficiency gains, rather than trying to look at the entire process?
The team needs training on better time blocking and management skills.
Meetings consume a LOT of time on every team — what can we do here?
I get too many emails which are “not relevant to me”
Which technology systems are currently not very streamlined, and can we have better tools?
Knowledge gets stuck with one team/person, people are not sure who to ask or where to update info. when there’s a change to update
It’s not always clear which decisions an individual can take, when to ask the boss, etc.
Clients are always asking for “extra Wurst” and we can’t say no. We waste time on extra reporting, etc. that clients don’t end up using.
Accounting and invoicing processes are very inefficient (we’ve got many 100s of freelancer invoices to check monthly)
Work time is constantly interrupted by questions in the chat, spontaneous meetings, “urgent requests”, etc. and team is not empowered to say “No” (or just, “Later”).
05. What Concerns and Fears Did We Have Going Into the Pilot and How Did We Address Them?
TL;DR: Space to air our worries helped us focus on what we could control and plan for — for other worries we needed to start the trial and see what happened.
The team outlined the following concerns or fears during our Workshop 1:
Time management: will we need to do longer days/overtime to fit the work in? Will we start to cut corners because of lack of time? Will we feel super stressed all the time? Will we get stuck doing other people’s jobs on the days they are out? We’ll only have time to do the basic everyday tasks and lose all time to work on important side projects.
Customer impact: Will this have a negative impact on customer relationships or give the impression of unavailability to clients?
Decision making/empowerment: When the decision-makers are gone I won’t be able to act quickly because I need approval from someone who’s off that day. It will be super slow to act — i.e. team members really need to meet but are off on different days, so an important meeting happens three days too late. What if it’s an emergency and the right person isn’t there!?
Measuring productivity: What if we don’t hit our targets? What if we really can’t do 100% of the work in 80% of the time?
Unfair workload distribution: The best workers will end up doing more. People will have to pick up slack for colleagues who are not as efficient. People who work on certain days (i.e. Mondays, when we have more emails) will have to work harder.
Fairness of scheduling: Who gets long weekends? What about public holidays? How will vacation planning work?
What if it doesn’t continue past the pilot!?
Some of the fears were not directly actionable and just needed to be heard. We agreed that we couldn’t actually know until we tried, and that if this fear actually happened we would need to address it at that time. Many other concerns could actively be addressed in advance by incorporating them into our 4 Day Week Best Practices.
06. What’s the 4 Day Week Vision Statement We Created With Our Team?
The team worked together and we came up with a beautiful vision statement:
We will shape the future of work by creating a 4 Day Week at Expath where we have more personal time and fulfilment, leading to increased productivity and satisfaction.
07. What Are Expath’s 4 Day Week Best Practices That Our Employees Came up With to Focus on During the Trial? How Did We Implement Those Best Practices?
TL;DR: Our team created our company best practices on communication, information management, time management, and ownership to make decisions.
After collecting ALL our ideas in Workshop 1, we grouped the feedback into four main areas we could come up with Best Practices on. Then we divided all our employees into four project teams (one for each area) to draft and present the Best Practices to the rest of the company. Our aim was to really work bottom-up and ensure every individual team member felt involved in planning our trial. We wanted our Best Practices to be simple and straightforward to implement, and we are proud of how well it worked. Here’s an overview of the team’s ideas:
1. Communication channels.
We defined when we would use chat, meetings, emails, tagging in sheets, etc. depending on the purpose of the communication. This has streamlined communication to be faster and closer to the place where people need the answer (i.e. if someone needs help with an email ticket, a colleague is tagged in the ticket rather than chatted to in Google chat).
We also set labels for emails to mark each one in the subject line as [INFO], [ACTION] or [REQUEST]. Emails include a TLDR, context, instructions, deadline and action points, so that it’s very clear when you read it what you are supposed to do.
We set guidelines for meetings so that they would be purposeful, well-prepared with a clear objective and agenda beforehand, documented with action items, and as streamlined with time and number of participants as possible.
2. Knowledge silos & organizing information.
We ensure everyone understands which information is stored in which tool, and who is responsible for updating the info.
In order to share and centralize information we set up a company wiki on Notion before the trial, and this is being used, updated, and expanded daily as a living document.
We send [INFO) email to company with any important updates about new processes, systems, etc. so that everyone has updates but knows it’s just an FYI and no action is required.
We streamline the process for making requests to our IT Department (aka Chris) and invite other teams to participate in those brainstorms when they might have similar needs.
3. Time management. This was the biggest area of potential gains while preparing for the trial, especially since each employee needed to somehow shave eight hours of work time a week!
We plan our weeks and block time on Google Calendar, and understand how to use Google Calendar tools well. Carve out focus time by stacking meetings together, scheduling email/ticket/message time, and setting blocks of labeled “Focus Time” on Google Calendar which set you to “Do Not Disturb” in the chat. We create labels in Google Calendar to get automatic time insights.
We protect our “Focus Time” aggressively and are empowered to say NO. It’s OK to close your chat/email completely during “Focus Time”.
We understand prioritization and are each free to use our favorite methods. (We looked at the Eisenhower Matrix for prioritization and other methods like Pomodoro, Eat the Frog, Get Things Done, as well as this quiz to find which productivity method is best for you.).
We don’t forget to schedule lunch and breaks and we leave work ON TIME. (On the rare occasion overtime happens, we take the company time off ASAP — the next day/same week).
4. Ownership to decide.
Team members are empowered to take decisions whenever possible, using a delegation board and prioritise based on urgency and impact.
If a key person is off today, we are able to react appropriately by making our own best decision, talking to colleagues, another manager, etc.
When approval is needed on a decision, we propose solutions to our manager using CIRCLS:
Report customer’s wants
Summarise your recommendations
08. How Did We Communicate to Clients About the Trial and How Did They React?
TL;DR: We didn’t make a big announcement as we did not believe client service level or response time would be affected — and it wasn’t!
Because we stayed open five days a week to ensure that we’ve always got plenty of team members available to support our clients, we decided not to make a formal announcement to our clients.
We did announce our trial on LinkedIn (a lot!) — and received really positive feedback from our clients. A few checked with us whether this would affect our reachability (like would the office be closed Fridays?), and we assured them we’d still be there five days a week and would keep measuring our client satisfaction and response time to make sure we kept delivering. (And we did!)
09. What KPIs Did We Measure Throughout the Trial and Why? How Were They Affected by the 4 Day Week?
TL;DR: We took several measures of our own responsiveness, customer satisfaction, and employee happiness, and we comfortably reached our targets throughout the trial, performing the same or better on all measures.
We wanted to make sure that reporting on our KPIs was simple, fast, and preferably something we were already set up to measure. So we chose to measure responsiveness efficiency (how well are we answering clients) and customer experience (how happy are they), both of which we could already easily measure with existing tools.
And of course we wanted to make sure the 4DW had a positive impact on our team, so we also measured employee satisfaction and employee well-being.
How did we measure each point and what were the results for our KPIs?
Responsiveness efficiency was easy to track with our email ticketing software on two measures: ticket response time (how quickly emails are answered) and ticket backlog (how many tickets remain open/pending at any given time).
Our target for ticket response time is always within 24 hours, and during the trial we moved from a baseline measure of 17 hours in February to nine hours in August 2023.
We measured ticket backlog (number of unclosed tickets) as well — that hasn’t changed significantly throughout the trial (26 tickets in February vs. 22 tickets in August).
Customer experience scores are at an all-time high on both our measures! Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is at 85%, up from the baseline of 77% in February, and Net Promoter Score (where a score 20 is good and above 50 is amazing) is at 75, up from our starting point of 56 in February!
For our employee KPIs, employee satisfaction remained steady on each of our four measures: happiness, company motivators, personal motivators, and relationships. And I’m happy to report that our employee Net Promoter Score (where again, 20 is good and above 50 is amazing) rose from 20 in February to 38 in August 2023.
10. How Has the 4 Day Week Affected Expath and What Are Our Key Takeaways From the Pilot?
TL;DR: We’ve seen positive benefits for the company and for our private lives both, and we can’t imagine going back to 40 hours a week!
Our 4 Day Week pilot was the perfect opportunity to look at all the ways we could work more efficiently, save time, work smarter and enable every team member to work independently. The changes we made in these areas have had a positive effect on our processes.
And on the personal side for our employees, it’s been an interesting mix. Some of us used the chance to pick up an ambitious new hobby or special project (f.e. learning to code). But it seems that more of us are spending the time quietly to just rest and recover, go to the gym and focus on our mental health.
And most of us are also using our day off to do the appointments and errands we used to squeeze into the weekends, which means our weekends are now free for real relaxation and more quality time with friends and family.
All in all, having a 4 Day Week is the most valuable way we can show our employees at Expath — and ourselves — that we care about them and their work-life balance.
11. How Can YOU Start a 4 Day Week Pilot at Your Company?
But don’t just take our word for it — try the 4 Day Week out for yourself!
We hope this guide offers a practical and detailed roadmap you could adapt for your own trial, and we’re happy to meet with you or answer questions at 4DW@expath.com.
If you like the idea of joining an existing organization that offers a lot of support, training and mentoring, definitely get in touch with 4 Day Week Global here!
And if you’re an employee looking for a 4 Day Week job, try this great website: https://4dayweek.io/.
Best of luck to you, and may we all have the work-life balance we deserve!