Small B.C. company sees success making move to 4-day workweek

Greater efficiencies lead to boosted employee productivity: Experts
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/28/2019
Beelineweb
Beelineweb’s office design in Lake Country, B.C., highlights the company’s environmental focus. Credit: Beelineweb

Last year, Beelineweb decided to try something radical at its workplace. Instead of sticking to the usual 9-to-5, five-day workweek, it decided to make the shift to four days.

The online marketing services company based in Lake Country, B.C., was looking to improve the health and wellness of employees by providing better work-life balance, according to Amy Gaglardi, Beelineweb’s director of business development.

“We always like to question the status quo and see if there’s a reason for it, instead of blindly following it. In this case, we questioned the need for a five-day workweek.”

The small company also has a big environmental focus, having built its office using rapidly renewable resources, reused materials and geothermal heating and cooling, said Gaglardi.

“Obviously, there’s a huge environmental benefit of people not commuting to the office those extra 52 days a year.”

The change also appeals to different demographics, she said.

“We have all ages in our office, ranging from mid-20s to late 50s. So everyone is appreciative of the extra family time or time to work on their hobbies, spend time with their friends, go on weekend trips... things that feed their soul.”

Beelineweb has always focused on a healthy workplace, with perks that include an office gym, fitness breaks and organic fruit delivery. It also recently switched to offering a set amount of personal days instead of sick days so employees could use the extra time to engage in healthy activities if they so desired, said Gaglardi.

And in making the change to a four-day workweek, employees’ workload, vacation time, benefits and salaries were not impacted, she said.

“They’re just having to come to work 32 hours and learning to manage their time more efficiently so that they’re getting this amount of work done in a shorter amount of time.”

Making the transition

The change from five to four days had a few hiccups before it ran smoothly. For one, while staff were happy with the extra day of leisure, some of Beelineweb’s goals and bigger projects weren’t progressing as hoped, said Gaglardi.

To help staff manage their time more efficiently, the team was flown down to California for a two-day course by Franklin Covey called “Extraordinary productivity: The five choices that drive success.”

His father, Stephen Covey, wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

“This course helps us focus on prioritizing scheduling and the big things — staying focused, not letting perceived urgency pull us off track — and it also touches on fuelling one’s fire, increasing energy, how to think more clearly, how to feel more accomplished on a daily basis,” said Gaglardi.

“It’s eye-opening to see where you’re really spending your time.”

The course focuses on four different quadrants of time: important and urgent; important and not urgent; not important and urgent; and not important and not urgent.

“Where you really want to be spending your time is in the ‘important (and) not urgent’ quadrant, that’s where you’re really getting things done and making big changes,” she said.

The results of the shorter workweek have made all the effort worthwhile, said Gaglardi.

“By shortening the workweek, employees have more time for personal hobbies, rest, family, which translates into more energy, happiness and focus in the workplace… People were more productive, energized, efficient and more motivated when they came back to the office on Monday after having that extra time.”

“It’s actually helped our office environment a lot in terms of people’s attitudes and having friendly conversations.”

Business clients have also been receptive to the change, knowing the office is now closed Fridays.

“Our clients have been extremely supportive. We haven’t had any negative feedback at all,” said Gaglardi.

The perk of a four-day workweek should also help with attraction and retention.

“It’s benefited our company and people’s attitudes and productivity in such a positive way that I would really hope that other companies would kind of follow suit and try and make it work,” she said.

Popular perk

Amazon is one of the more prolific employers offering a 30-hour workweek to some employees, but others have included a firm in New Zealand and retirement homes in Sweden.

For employers making such a move in Canada, it would be welcomed, according to a 2018 survey by Angus Reid.

Close to half of Canadians (47 per cent) said that moving to a 30-hour workweek from 40 hours is a good idea.

And 68 per cent said if they have to work 40 hours, they would prefer to condense it into four 10-hour shifts rather than five eight-hour segments.

“You see some small businesses and tech startups kind of flirting with this idea,” said Dave Korzinksi, research associate at the Angus Reid Institute in Vancouver. “I think Amazon, moving to their pilot project where they were doing a 30-hour workweek, is something that really might help to gather momentum for this type of movement.”

“Whether or not that will ever translate to implementation on a large scale, it’s hard to say but … with increasing automation and less of the physical burden in a lot of jobs, it really does appear that this is something that is going to gain steam,” he said.

“I can see the space for this type of movement continuing to grow, especially with some of the big players looking at it, and the successes that you’ve seen in some of the European countries.”

If shorter workweeks are implemented, “it would certainly not be in a uniform capacity across the economy, but in different sectors where the companies are able to absorb some of the cost of experimentation, if you will, and really see if they’re getting the right productivity,” said Korzinksi.

Recent research has shown that improved mental health can have an impact on physical health, said Korzinski.

“As more companies are engaging in this and as the data becomes more available and more reliable, I think that’s when the movement could start to turn a little bit when you’ve got a number of different companies who can show their outcomes and can point to data and say, ‘We’ve had people here for an average of five years — they used to be here for an average of three-and-a-half years.’”

However, there are also a lot of people who like to work outside of their regular hours, checking email or responding to work calls, he said.

“And then there’s a lot of people who take pride in working their 10-hour days, their 12-hour days, who are just not really willing to give that up; they want the opportunity to earn more.”

Plus, many companies are concerned about meeting deadlines and production quotas, where their whole structure is built on a 40-hour workweek, he said.

Another obstacle would be if employers slash pay as they cut workdays, said Korzinski.

“A lot of people don’t think that they can afford to take a pay cut,” he said, and if the salary remains the same at 30 hours, “will the productivity allow for the company to remain profitable while still paying somebody for fewer hours?”

Improving time efficiencies

A 2018 survey by Kronos also found one-third (34 per cent) of global workers (including 304 in Canada) would consider four days their ideal workweek, compared to 28 per cent who are content with five days.

Canadians (59 per cent) are the most enthused about a four-day workweek, compared to Australia (47 per cent) and the United States (40 per cent).

And 35 per cent of global workers would even take a 20 per cent pay cut to work one day less per week, found Kronos.

“That’s a pretty big chunk, and I think what that points to is that people in general are feeling a lot of stress related to the work life. People have elder-care issues. They have child-care issues; they just want to spend more time doing things that they find rewarding or enjoyable outside of work,” said Joyce Maroney, executive director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos in Salem, Mass.

“People are just feeling very stretched in their work life.”

But workers could be more motivated to increase their personal productivity when they have less time, she said.

“You’re not going to take a 90-minute lunch, you’re not going to chit-chat with your co-workers… there are things under employees’ personal control to change behaviour, whether that’s showing up on time, managing how much time you’re spending on social chatter as opposed to work-related chatter (or) managing time you’re spending on social media feeds.”

Correspondingly, employers must self-reflect, said Maroney.

“Are we really helping people focus their time and their talents on the best possible things that they could be doing? And what can we remove that are administrative or low-value things that really are not advancing our mission?”

It’s up to managers and senior leaders to check in — frequently — on efficiencies, she said.

A lot of businesses, “once they get something working, they’re disinclined to disrupt it. So sometimes you find that processes get put in place based on assumptions that are becoming increasingly out of date, where people are still expected to follow a set of rules that maybe don’t work so well anymore.”

Nearly nine in 10 employees (86 per cent) said they lose time each day on work-specific tasks unrelated to their core job, while 40 per cent said they lose at least an hour on administrative tasks that do not drive value to the organization, according to the Kronos survey.

“Especially in our current climate, where unemployment is at historically low levels, I think employers need to take these kinds of insights very seriously. Not necessarily that everybody should get a four-day workweek — because that’s not practical at every organization — but to really look at ‘What can we do to give our employees the flexibility that they need to have the balance they need between work and everything else that they’re responsible for?’” said Maroney.

“It’s not about piling more low-value work on, it’s about finding ways to remove the lower-value work so that people can spend more time on things like customer interaction or… how can we make this product better or this service better that we deliver, versus just keeping the wheels spinning the way they have always been spinning.”

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