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.
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.
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.
At first I thought “this is great’: the extra time together, the possibility of reducing child care costs and no more unpaid overtime. Like many architects, architecture is more than a job for my husband. I could describe it as a hobby but that would undervalue it. My husband would frequently come home for tea and then head back to work, disrupt a weekend by having to go into work for the day or get stressed because it was hectic juggling his social life and work. If he wasn’t working in the evening then quite often he would be looking at architecture blogs, websites or reading architectural books (or maybe just looking at the grey photos!). I understand that architects love architecture, they have to in order to work all the additional thankless hours but this knocks on to their family. That is why the shorter week appealed. It raised the possibility of my husband having more free time away from his job to enjoy what he wanted to do that wasn’t architecture and might end the common nag “can we just not do anything this weekend”.
After my initial positivity the unknowns began to surface. Would my husband get home in time for bedtime? How much additional stress would there be by squeezing the working week into four days? Would he be able to leave work at work? The list went on. Reflecting on the past couple of months, its difficult to form a clear opinion of the shorter working week because we were already in a state of flux because of a new baby. Some things are definite though; lengthening the weekend has made it more relaxed. We’ve got time to sit still between activities but have also made the most of the free weekday. However, overtime has not disappeared and, whilst my husband is getting used to the shorter week, completing his weekly tasks plays on his mind when he is at home. We’re fortunate that we live a short distance from his office and he can come home for his lunch. If he had to commute half an hour then he wouldn’t see our son awake Monday to Thursday and I would be pulling my hair out! I think being in close proximity to the office means that we have benefited more than staff that travel a long distance to work.
Wife of TV
It has been 8 weeks since we worked a 5 days in 4 week.
I know there are difficulties. It does not work for everyone: commuters, part time workers, families with school age children would not find many advantages. The 4 days of work are long and we get tired. Evenings are almost non existent.
Out of 8 Fridays I only had 4 that were work free.
But there is one benefit that outweighs all others.
The ‘free Friday’ is free for thinking. I never wanted mine to be free of work but rather to be free from the daily necessities of work : the meetings, the phonecalls, the e-mails, the pleasantries, the PQQs, the interviews, the cashflow, the fee negotiations, the chasing of everything, the website, the tweets, the chat with the cleaner, and the brewing and collective drinking of coffee……..STOP!!!!!!
The are so many ideas every week and so many decision to make. I always feel that if I don’t make time to consider, analyse, assimilate, synthesize and disseminate, I will miss the point and will just keep on running to stand still.
It has been invaluable to extract the thinking time and to drink coffee alone just now and then.