Working a 5 day week in 4: the reason for continuing /// IB

It is 3 months since we have been working a shorter week by concentrating 5 days of work into 4.The pros and cons have been much debated in the office but the anonymous decision is to continue for another 3 months, maybe for a full year.

The adjustment has been more difficult then we envisaged. The system does not work for staff who are commuting, some of us have not been able, or willing, to free Fridays of work, and long days are very tiring. There are concerns about productivity since we are all counting hours much more and overtime is impossible within the 4 days – challenging the overtime culture, established in our profession, was one of the incentives for this experiment but it is too early to assess its impact on business viability.

But there are also some great surprises – the ‘outside’ world has not been as condemning as might have been expected. We phonecalls on Friday have been very few – from 0 to 4 – and the volume of e-mails greatly reduced. It would seem that a lot of e-mails are generated by the office itself! Urgent phonecalls have been picked up on mobiles by job architects and none of them were really urgent.

Most clients and consultants respect the idea and wish they could implement it in their own offices. Many potential employees expressed the view that such working conditions would be a great bonus to them.

Other, less measurable things are emerging. There is a good moral in the team and a sense of purpose.  We are driven and creativity is flowing.

Private lives are enriched by longer weekends. We make different use of these: some for building homes, some for being with their families, and some for thinking, reading and working in a way that is simply not possible during a normal working day.

The big question that will eventually come up is whether we can reduce working week to 4 days of normal working hours – this will require a loss of earnings. The letting go of earning potential is the hardest obstacle of all – we need to get used to having less but this is easy for me to say because I am from a generation that had more then we needed.

But looking at the talented and accomplished people that make up our team we are all privileged and  we all have enough but the habits and values of consumer society made us dependent on having more. The ultimate purpose of 5 in 4 is to wean ourselves of this dependency.


More reflections on reduced working hours (as I was prior to 5in4 experiment) /// MM

Balancing up

I knew far long before I had the time available what I would be doing with it: working on a stack of projects that has built up over the years, from finishing renovating the house (long overdue already) as well as maintaining the car and various other projects that we have been unable to resist undertaking.   Since our baby boy has come along spending any extra time with him is also dearly treasured.  For a long time before I started working reduced hours/days it felt like I had a lack of time not money to complete such projects – with the house being the main concern. 

In regards to the house I think we could probably have ‘got people in’ in many cases but I think we felt like we could never quite afford (or at least justify) what it would have cost – we would have probably ended up with a massive debt to pay off, or at the very least not had the choice left of opting to work reduced hours. I don’t think these things are beyond the common desires of a young couple in our society – ‘moving up the housing ladder’ is labelled as a worthy if not compulsory undertaking.   Doing things for ourselves isn’t easy but it is fulfilling and does bring a sense of achievement and it feels like we’re making progress in life – although I have to say, this is usually felt on reflection a year or so later rather than at the time!     Our maintaining hopes are that doing things this way will put us in a more robust position for the future.  Slowly-but-surely, perhaps.

Fast living = Expensive living

Having a bit of extra time has also meant that I can spend some of it sorting out life’s necessities in a calmer manner rather paying through the nose to sort out problems that have stacked up and need to be done in a rush.   A good example of this is the car which at the same time as giving us our freedom, so often ends up being a ball and chain financially.   Now however, maintaining the car ourselves has saved us loads of money and has also been a rewarding thing to do.    I suppose we were already quite capable in our means of doing this but the great thing these days is that the skill threshold required (which has been increasing over the years as cars have become more complex) is being dramatically lowered back down again by the vast wealth of knowledge built up online, generally in forums.  Simply Google what’s wrong with your car and 9 out of 10 times you’ll find out how to fix it – often with step by step photo guides uploaded by other hundreds of people [truly deserving of commendation for their efforts] from all over the globe on practically any given problem.    Forget the old Haynes manual – crowd source!  I really love this because when it comes together I think it’s a great example of the communication revolution short-circuiting the usual regime, giving us the choice to take a step off the consumer merry-go-round, slow down and live more in tune with the things around us.


2 months update /// RJ

For me the first month of 5in4 mainly consisted of manageable and steady paced working which meant that I could really see the benefits of 5in4. The second month however saw the deadline of a competition entry that some of us were working on but this didn’t necessarily mean that 5in4 had negative impacts for me. In the second month my work spilled into the weekends, but this would have happened regardless of my contracted working hours. It’s the day-to-day overtime that we are seeing less of but the pre-deadline overtime is much more difficult to avoid and wasn’t a result of 5in4.

I still believe that the 5in4 strategy is beneficial to both my working life and personal life however the greatest benefits are geared more towards the latter. As an architecture student I spend a large portion of my weekends undertaking personal architecture projects and studies because it’s what I enjoy doing and I have the time to commit towards my future career. I have far less commitments outside of work than others in the office that have partners and children so my opinions of the experiment may differ greatly. I’m also not a main point of contact for a contractor or client say, so little to no correspondence is required from me on my Fridays off.

At BLA I feel that I’m achieving the same amount of work as I would over the original five day working week – which is great – but the difference that 5in4 has had on my personal studies and projects over the weekends has been hugely positive. Whilst this may not sound like 5in4 is benefitting my work at BLA there are also indirect impacts to consider – if I’m experiencing a happier personal life then is this in turn going to have a positive impact on my working life (such as feeling more refreshed on a Monday morning etc)?

All in all as a part one student who is trying to make the most of my year out between Part I and Part II, 5in4 is great and I’d be happy to continue with this way of working until I return to University.

Thursday isn’t the new Friday /// SW

2 months down for 5in4, I’m getting used to the ‘ins and outs’ of our experiment: what it means for work life, home life, carbon footprint, productivity levels, energy levels (!), and ‘satisfaction’ levels…

The latter point is, for me, most important. The 5in4 message could easily be weighted towards upshots for individuals: our increased free time, quality of life and personal satisfaction. This is important, yes (and I’ll talk about why in a minute), but as practitioners we must also meet the satisfaction of our Clients. Reduced office presence should not limit our capacity to deliver. Therefore the success of our condensed work-week is inseparable from the effectiveness of our time spent working.

We are continually finding ways to work more efficiently, to react to the circumstances of our projects, to provide the same dedicated service and to reduce waste. 5in4 brings these efforts into focus. They can include simple things such as self-organisation, resource planning and good communication. Others include better use of technology (smartphones are admittedly useful, although we try to avoid slavish dependency) and we engage with new and emerging software to save time & add value to our work. Significantly, we try to think critically and work smarter too – questioning commitment of time unless the purpose and value is clear. When we are successful, this sometimes alerts our collaborators to the consequences of lost-time as well.

We regularly grapple with exigent demands on our time; and are familiar with peaks and troughs of workload. But for the most part, we are trying not to allow the 5in4 trial to be unduly influenced by a culture of immediacy and 24/7 availability. Oddly, we have even discovered that not being in the office on a Friday can be advantageous to our Employers & collaborators – it gives them a chance to either catch-up or forge-ahead where we rely on iterative information exchange, and it gives us the impetus to issue necessary information (by Thursday evening) in time for them to respond in the stop-gap.

It’s true that some of us have extended work-hours occasionally into Friday & the weekend (at the office, or remotely) but when this has happened it has been a realistic reaction to extraordinary circumstances. Relevantly, it has also been quite rare for most, because ‘Thursday’ has taken on a new importance. For my part, since the weekend is visibly 1 day nearer, I am learning to match and improve on the outputs which filled 5 days in the past, and so extra time need not be routinely given.

This is not to say that we worked in a relaxed fashion over 5 days, few architects do. The reward at the end of the week, an extra day of personal time, is a drive for effective working and valuable for both the individual & the company. With the extra day I can relax, attend to domestic tasks and – lest we forget commerciality – return to work galvanised into action. Friday is spent doing meaningful things that are otherwise difficult to do on a Saturday; and I can recharge in 3 days, something that rarely occurred in 2.

By my reckoning, the increased rate of work is a function of the condensed work period, and can’t be consistently applied over 5 days. ‘Burn-out’ was a risk we sought to avoid with 5in4, and 5 days at increased velocity would inevitably bring this about. This reinforces the ethos – a more productive work-week and healthier balance is struck at a ratio of 4:3 than 5:2.

These findings are not aberrations; they align with reports from Holland & certain states in America, where condensed working borders on common acceptance. Many of our Clients are familiar with different forms of non-standard work-hours and the associated benefits – such is the increasing prevalence of ‘flexible working’ – and we have received encouragement from many sources; public sector, private sector, businesses and individuals – for deviating from an accepted norm in order to address work-life disparity.

Thursday isn’t the new Friday, but to me 4 days is the re-booted sequel to 5. And it’s better than the original.

2 months update /// TV

I consider myself quite an organised person, not militant but generally punctual and prepared. I thought I would be easily organised enough to contribute to a blog one post a week. The fact that I have not blogged anything for over a month and a half goes some way toward showing how busy with other things at work I have been.

A younger me, I think, would have completed the blog in my free time over the weekend, but recently I have become more and more attached to keeping this separated from work. How much of this is down to a new working pattern and how much is because of a six month old is difficult to say. Whilst I have found that letting go is getting easier I’ve found the week much harder- In the last two weeks, because of a work spike, I’ve found myself going home for tea and to put my baby to bed , then returning to work at 8pm and staying late. I am fortunate enough to live 400m from the office that makes this just about palatable but still I have missed 3 sets of visiting friends due to this in the last 6 weeks. Spikes in work are always going to be difficult to absorb in an office the scale of ours and especially difficult for a person in my position who is drawing and organising. To a certain extent they can not be avoided, but I think this one could have been reduced by more realistic resourcing – I am hoping it is a one off due to the unusual geometrical complexity of the project. Now the clocks have changed and the weather is thinking about getting better I’m keen to get my evenings back to do things with.

This last week has been particularly difficult, it took half a day to get through emails. I’ve had 3/4 of a day out teaching, with a bank holiday Monday and Friday off this has left 1 3/4 days to get some work done. The result has been lots of overtime.

I think my wife is OK with this, but we’ve not really had the chance to talk about it in depth. We see Fridays differently: for the most part I’m shattered  [especially if I get drunk on Thursday] and don’t want to do anything and she is shattered and sees it as an opportunity to offload the baby.

I have no real idea if my productivity has dropped/increased or stayed the same. I suspect quantifying this in a meaningful way is not possible,  but the queue difference at the bar between a Thursday and a Friday is definitely smaller.



I’m sending the occasional email on a Friday because I’m worried what others outside the office may think.