Three years ago, my partner and I gathered our employees at TopGolf to announce something exciting.
Our digital advertising agency, Chamber Media, was moving from a 5-day to a 4-day workweek.
In truth, it was a decision likely spawned in laziness, backed by fragmented third-party data, and empowered by a general desire to "stick it to the man." But when we did it, we didn't fire anyone, we didn't cut wages, and we didn't change our offerings. We just did it.
It was scary. Ninety-nine percent of our billable revenue at that time in our company came in a literal exchange of dollars for hours, so theoretically this decision was destined to cut our revenue by 20 percent overnight...yikes.
But we had noticed something that gave us hope. Since the beginning of our modern-day society, our workweeks have been getting shorter.
What the history of labor dictated
Scientists believe that our foraging fathers worked about 20 hours per week (before that number climbed up with the advent of the farming cultures) over 10,000 years ago. But "labor" may have been a 24-7 ordeal. Not even leisure time would have been completely stress-free with survival a perpetual concern.
Then, for religious purposes, we moved to a six-day workweek thousands of years ago and began "resting" on the seventh day.
Fast-forward to 1926. Henry Ford took a gamble on the standardized five-day workweek without any decrease in employee pay. Want to know why he was able to take that risk? Because technology enabled him to do so. Ten years later, FDR established a five-day, 40-hour workweek. And then...
So, you mean to tell me that since 1938 there hasn't been any significant leap in technological advancement that enables a baffling increase in output and productivity? Nothing? Not email, not jet travel, not the internet, not improved health, not cellphones, not urbanization, not Zoom or Slack, or even Volley's development of asynchronous video conversations?
Any single one of those things 200 years ago would have sparked the economy generally, and productivity specifically, in ways that are hard to calculate. We can hardly compute it today, because for better and worse, most of them have really crashed together in the last 30 years.
FDR used the Great Depression as a catalyst to spur fewer hours. Instead of letting employees go, he encouraged employers to just decrease their employees' hours (I wonder if there's an analogous global event that could encourage similar behavior today). And once employers tested it and realized they were yielding the same output with fewer hours, they chose to keep it.
Buttoning up results in scaling up
Which brings me back to modern times. We rolled out the four-day workweek, and guess what happened?
Nothing. And then after a little bit more of nothing happening...a massive spike in growth.
For the next three years, our company tripled in size to being a $14M company with more than 120 employees (and still growing rapidly).
How was it possible? How could our fledgling advertising agency cut out a workday but retain our output?
The answer was a combination of technology and vision alignment.
We buttoned up. We implemented Slack and Google Hangouts. We replaced 30-minute meetings with three-minute emails. We asked our employees to "make hay while the sun shines" and put in more meaningful hours during the four days, which of course they gladly accepted. In turn, they came into the office better rested and more energized on Mondays (most of the "Sunday Scaries" were completely eradicated). We attracted better talent and held on to them longer. We retained more momentum than was historically lost due to long vacations, and we asked employees instead to focus on taking far more frequent four- or five-day trips, leveraging the long weekends. And with all of these things combined, we increased our output, built a more scalable business, and landed a spot on the Inc. 5000 this year.
So, before you begin rattling off all of the reasons you can't move your business to a four-day workweek, take it from someone who tried it with a service company and grew as a result... you absolutely can.