2 months update /// Wife of TV

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

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2 months update /// ED

I started working at Bauman Lyons only a few weeks before the ‘5in4’ trial began, so the new working hours were part and parcel of me settling in, and didn’t feel like too much of an adjustment.

As a Part 1 I see my year out as a good chance to develop ideas and reflect on interests both within and outside the field of architecture, and working a four-day week definitely allows for this. It allows time to challenge and explore architectural thinking and prepare for what awaits in Part 2.

My 3 months of working in the office have flown by, and I can imagine working intensely for 5 days a week, as well as the occasional weekend (which most of my friends do) would make it go by even quicker – without really allowing any rest time to take a step back to look at what I’ve learnt/am learning.

Unlike my colleagues, I’m not a stage where I can compare ‘5 in 4’ to previous working routines, but it is an invaluable experience which I will undoubtedly reflect on in the future and something which I feel extremely lucky to be a part of.

The first couple of months of ‘5 in 4’ have felt positive and motivated, and despite my initial worries that longer hours would feel less productive I don’t think this has been the case – there is a definite sense of drive and purpose within the office.

2 months update /// IB

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.

2 months update /// LC

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There’s been a lot of this in the last 2 months!

2 months have gone by pretty quickly and we’ve entered our last month of this trial.

So far it has been an interesting challenge and journey in evaluating whether this for me is a valuable and viable way of working.

As I started to understand at the end of February, this intensely condensed working pattern is not suited to my situation (I’m Manchester based).

I continue to notice the diminished contact with colleagues and directors, by being in the office one less day a week than my ‘standard’ days.

And although I travel less, saving 4 hours a week of commuting, the overall tiredness I accumulate in the days I work 10 hours, coupled with 4 hours of commute, is surprisingly overwhelming. The rest of the week is filled by other commitments in Manchester, so it’s not like as if I just put my feet up and rest.

I think 5in4 can work well, and I see some of my colleagues enjoying this work pattern, for those people who live locally to their work place and have no commuting time to add to a 10hr day.

I also realise, more strongly now after this experience, that such a different working pattern (i.e. the office being closed on a Friday) can work, without added stress, if others share and understand this. At this moment in time the construction industry has still a long way to go before the above can happen.

One discussion we had, in the office, right at the beginning of this trial, was the wish to find time to do personal activities that we would find enriching, activities that currently are not as valued as paid work, such as volunteering, looking after your own children, looking after the elderly, undertaking research and so on.

If there’s something that this recession has taught me is the importance of placing renewed value in non-paid work, as much as paid work. If we are to break the capitalistic society that isn’t making us more happy, on the contrary, then I think it’s imperative to wean ourselves off an all consuming working life.

Based on my personal experience, I think 5in4 can allow this to happen for those who have no added commute, as it still enables some flexibility to be retained in the hours at either side of a 10hr working day. When you add a commute like mine, for example, that flexibility unfortunately is lost.

This interesting article from the Guardian discusses the recent phenomenon of “work-life merge” where technology is allowing us to flip between private and work life seamlessly, which may be viewed as a good ‘solution’, but that has inevitably blurred the boundary of where one starts and one finishes. I don’t think this is an inherently good thing.

I have reached a point where I’m now weighing the positive aspect of less commuting – in fact for me the most positive aspect of this trial has been the ability to reduce my personal carbon footprint – against the negatives of increased tiredness and reduced interaction with my colleagues.

Stay tuned…

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This month we asked our partners to give us feedback on their experience and impact by our longer days. Here’s my husband’s input:

What I have mostly noticed since my wife has been working her new work hours/day pattern is that she is a lot more tired when I do see her. This is probably down to the fact that she leaves the house an hour earlier than previous (around 6.30am) and arrives home an hour later than before (around 9.15pm) and consequently often misses breakfast and eats her main meal of the day late. Although it is only for two days of the week, being out of the house for close to 15 hours for those two days is taking its toll and I doubt its sustainable in its current format beyond this short trial period.

I suspect that this arrangement may be better suited for those who don’t need to commute as far as she does and is contracted to a full week’s work – but I may be wrong. My personal feelings are that a part-time employee (3 days week) should continue to work just that – 3 days at normal hours – and that to create a 5in4 version for a part-time employee is more problematic than a feasible solution. It also runs the risk of making a flexible work pattern of 3 days/week less flexible for her and her commitments to both Bauman Lyons and those back in Manchester.

HAT Projects /// on flexible working

We are delighted to introduce our first guest post, by HAT Projects

Intrigued by their tweet in response to us announcing our 3-months trial of a 5in4 working week, we contacted Hana Loftus, co-director of HAT Projects, interested in knowing more about their experience of flexible working.

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The HAT Projects team!

                                                                      The HAT Projects team!

We were intrigued by Bauman Lyons’ recent announcement that the whole office was trialling a 5-in-4 day week, as a way to allow their team more time for family and other interests.  As a smaller practice, we’ve taken a flexible approach to our work patterns from the start – and would hope never to enforce a conventional working week.

The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, my co-director Tom and myself started a family at the same time as our practice. We were committed to real equality in childcare without having a nanny, so this meant a big change in the way we worked. From when our first child was three weeks old we split childcare 50/50, which was a tough mental shift for two naturally hard workers, but has paid huge dividends. We now work a more conventional week, but each of us still has a half-day off to spend with the girls. We never told our clients or collaborators how we managed – we did everything we could to maintain the quality and intensity of our work, and if this meant Tom getting up crazily early so that he could still pick up the girls from nursery at 5.15, so be it.

The second reason derives from our experience as employers. We started working with freelancers and part-time assistants as a way to limit our financial outlay while filling our needs. We realised that we would rather have several people working for us part-time, than packing those hours into full time roles. Partly this has been about using people’s skills appropriately – we need admin and architectural support but one person is unlikely to cover both. But also, as a small practice, the office dynamic is much healthier with more people coming in and out each week, and an early experience having a full-time employee also made us uncomfortable that she spent more time in the office than our 4.5 days a week. We made a decision that our employees should not work longer, or less flexible, hours than us.

We like having a team who have other projects on the go, bringing varied experiences to us – whether it’s running markets, studying, teaching or work for other practices. For the same reason, Tom and I also volunteer time as trustees to charities. We currently have a graduate working with us and although she would (naturally) like to be paid for five rather than the four days we employ her for, when we asked her about this for the piece, she commented that her ideal would be the 5-in-4 that Bauman Lyons are doing – full pay and Fridays off. Our other employed team member has just come back from maternity leave for a day and half a week, and will increase her hours over the next year. We have a wonderful freelancer who works with us when we need his skills in model-making or prototyping.

Of course Tom and I work far more than a ‘conventional’ work week when you include the evenings working late from home or in the office, but that’s no different from anyone else who owns their own business. I will confess to spending far too much time on my Blackberry. But we are both proud of the equality in our family and interested to see whether, as our practice continues to develop, we can keep having a team who work unusual hours. For us, it’s about getting the job done well, not watching the clock: trying not to set unreasonable expectations for what can be achieved in a certain number of hours, but also hoping our team takes seriously the responsibilities we give them. We’re ambitious and want hard workers, but we want people to have a life outside the practice too – and we hope that we lead by example.

                                          Jerwood Gallery by HAT Projects. ©HATProjects

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Thanks again Hana for your contribution, a great insight into how flexible working can be a viable model for architecture practice. 

If you want to find out more about HAT Projects and their work, we highly recommend their website and blog. You can also follow them on Twitter.