One year on from adopting the four-day working week, what has this indie agency learned?
As the Scottish government prepares to kick off a four-day week pilot scheme, we catch up with an English indie agency one year into its own shorter work week experiment.
Yorkshire agency Punch Creative is one year in to its four-day week experiment
Everybody loves a long weekend. A chance for barbecue weather and the absence of Sunday night dread are part of what makes Labor Day, St Andrew’s Day or, if you’re French, Bastille Day special.
That needn’t be a rare sensation, say proponents of the four-day business week, an idea that’s gained ground since the beginning of the pandemic.
The results of the pilot, set to be launched within the current parliament, will be closely watched. And the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR Scotland) has called for the government to expand the trial to include as many types of businesses as possible.
But could a four-day week work for advertising and marketing agencies? At Yorkshire indie agency Punch Creative, the answer’s an emphatic yes.
Punch shifted to a four-day week last year, just months into the coronavirus pandemic. According to Richard Lowes, creative director at Punch, the pandemic cleared the way for the policy to become reality. “The four-day week was something we’d read about happening in Sweden and New Zealand. Perhaps if Covid hadn’t come along, it would have stayed as a pipe dream.
“But Covid coming along helped us see that the working day could be different, that change could happen.
“You know what it’s like when you’ve got a bank holiday – it’s a complete mindset change. Your relationship to the counterbalance of your free time to work time, that shift seems huge.
“You don’t get much time to recharge in the creative industry and obviously a lot of our time is spent in creative pursuits. So we hoped it would enrich people’s creative lives as well, which I think it has done – and it’s made people happier all around and given them a good reason to come and work at Punch.”
While Punch has seen commercial benefits – Lowes says its client engagement is up 20% – he asserts: “We did it because we wanted to do it, and we felt it was a better way to live and work.”
Punch’s 20 staff don’t work Fridays and didn’t take a pay cut – instead they work longer days Monday to Thursday. “We simply make the working week more efficient around four days, so we don’t lose very much time.”
Lowes explains: “Friday afternoon, we always saw a huge lull in email traffic and across the country people get off early – you just have far less going on. And like many businesses we let people tip off early if they were going away for a weekend or whatever. So even just saying ‘let’s take off Friday afternoon’ started to make it possible in one step.
“We work a slightly longer day Monday through Thursday and people have a slightly condensed lunch hour because they all agreed that they didn’t usually use the whole hour. So we said, ‘OK, if we trim the fat off our working days and not do Friday, is that a good idea?’ That kept it really simple.”
Settling on a formula that worked required plenty of consultation with the wider team. Lowes says: “We didn’t just dictate it, it was a series of conversations.”
Punch also considered a range of variations – including splitting the team into shifts to ensure someone was working on Fridays, while making it an overall four-day week. But, Lowes says, “it just became more convoluted than it needed to be.”
One potential obstacle? The company’s offices. Punch’s premises, a restored chapel in west Yorkshire, now sees one day without use by its team, which is currently working in-person at least three days a week.
“It is an interesting one ... in the doldrums of Covid we thought, ‘Gosh, the building has become a white elephant overnight,’” Lowes reflects. But Punch owns its premises, and has been able to let out sections of the building to other businesses – meaning that fifth day hasn’t been sent down the drain.
As well as the personal benefits, the policy has helped Punch’s recruitment efforts. “We’ve had far more applications for available roles that have come up in the last six to 12 months than we’ve ever had before. We’ve even had one member of staff return, having left to join another agency.
“We don’t plan to change back – definitely not.”