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.
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.