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Living The Four Day Work Week

Changing the working world, one day at a time. In these times of a competitive employment market, companies are looking at how keep and nurture the best, and 'time' itself, could be the best currency.

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In February 2017, independent online agency IIH Nordic based in Copenhagen, made the bold step to be the front runner in moving to a four day work week. From 37.5 hours per week, to 30. Same pay, same entitlement of 25 days holiday per year.

How can I validate the truth of this story? Well, I worked at IIH Nordic from August 2015 to July 2020 and I was a part of the transition into the four day work week. Since the transition, we had been featured in countless interviews for TV, newspapers and magazines from publishers and broadcasters all over the world so for me, it is memorable part of my career and this ‘experiment’ has changed my mindset and career trajectory forever.

What was the driver behind the 4 day work week?

At the core of the company philosophy is the mission statement “Fulfil your digital potential”. To put it simply, the company decided to use of its own philosophy, and by using digital tools, data combined with a top down lead vision of striving towards developing the company’s digital potential. Keep in mind, the transition was 2 years in the planning, preparation and experimentation before moving into the 4 day work week.

The CEO of IIH Nordic Henrik Stenmann, co-founded the company in 2005 with Steen Rasmussen with one of their core beliefs being to simply create the best working environment that enabled and nurtured the best of breed professional in the market. It is an ambitious goal, and one that is an ongoing work in progress, in an industry that seems to regularly change overnight. The four day work week is one of the initiatives designed to reach this goal, increasing retention, employee satisfaction and attracting top talent.

How was the four day work week achieved?

The IIH 4 day work week story has been covered in a book “The Secret of the Four Day Week – by Pernille Gard Abildgaard” so there isn’t a short answer to this question and as technology changes, so will the pracitices.

In reality, it is not so much about working 20% less, but it is about finding ways to increase the value from our work by at 30-50%. This is possible in most work places when you re-think the work-employee dynamic. Yes, in most instances today, more results and value can be achieved in less time. And sometimes, it’s about eliminating useless red tape and traditions that serve no value.

Here are some insider’s observations on a few things that makes the four day work week work.

  1. The vision has to be lead from top down: This needs to be a whole company decision made and lead by the leader of the company. It has to be done with the right intentions, and the right way.
  2. Pomodoro work sprints: This is a technique that has already been used by other companies and there are countless articles and blog posts written about it. Basically, having an ‘no disturb’ light on your desk, means that you have 25 minutes to focus on one task. Distractions and disturbances are like kryptonite to your productivity, so keep them scheduled away from your worksprints.’
  3. Shorter and more efficient meetings: We all know that meetings can have that unwanted creep factor into our precious work time. IIH incorporated two standard meeting length times. 20 minutes (Instead of 30) and 45 minutes (Instead of 60). All meeting rooms have timers and combined with the Nordic punctuality culture, people start on time, and leave on time. All meetings must have clear agendas, and if you receive a meeting invite without an agenda, you have the right to refuse the meeting.
  4. Adapt to the new company culture: The move to a four day work week, did see a culture shift that we may not have been expecting. With more compressed working hours, there was less time for water cooler chit-chat. These moments can provide priceless connections, solutions and ideas that couldn’t be planned, and it was acknowledged that this needed to be addressed. As a company more regular social activities are scheduled than before, and included the instigation of the ‘Thursday bar’.

Will the four day work week solve the world’s quest for work/life balance?

In short, the four day work week is not a silver bullet for every profession in every country. There are some jobs out there that are still operational or highly skilled that for now, are probably best suited for the standard work week. I do however, strongly believe that the vast majority of companies and organisations could move to the four day work week.

2019 saw many companies move to or at least experiment with the 4 day work week. The pandemic year of 2020 looks to have worked in favour of companies that have adopted the practices, and the discussion for the new normal has included restructuring the work week.

It looks that society will be moving to a shorter week, I also see the possibility of new industries and businesses serving a society with increased leisure time.

As for ‘quality of life’, I can only say that heading towards the third year of a four day work week, life is much better. But that is another story of 800 words that may follow.

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