In the last year, Australian digital marketing agency Versa has been doing pretty well. Revenue has risen 46 percent and profits have close to tripled. What does CEO and founder Kath Blackham credit for these enviable numbers?
Doing great work for clients is, of course, essential. But Versa has another, less expected trick up its sleeve: No Work Wednesdays.
Since July last year, the company has given its entire team Wednesdays off but continued to pay them for a regular five-day week. Some employees are on call in case urgent client needs crop up, but for the most part, it's been nearly a year of four-day workweeks.
It's also been a year of exceptional productivity, soaring profit, and extremely low turnover. Blackham and her staff don't think those facts are unrelated. "Everyone wants it to work because we love having the flexibility," one team member told the BBC. "If I want to keep that Wednesday off, I prep my week better."
Part of a larger trend
Versa is far from the only company cutting back to a four-day workweek, even though it may be one of the highest-profile successes in the often face-time-obsessed and client-focused marketing industry. A Swedish town generated a ton of buzz by cutting employees' working hours down to just 30. Tech education company Treehouse is the long-time poster child of the four-day workweek in the U.S. And a New Zealand financial firm beat Versa to the punch by successfully slashing working hours several months earlier.
Experts say reducing hours without denting (and maybe even improving) productivity is possible in far more businesses than most people realize. It just requires a ruthless focus on efficiency and clear communication with clients. That extra day off is a wonderful motivator to staff to get more done in less time.
But there's one thing a bit unique about Versa's take on the four-day workweek trend: Why Wednesday? Wouldn't staff prefer to take Friday off and give themselves a three-day weekend every weekend?
Nope, says Blackham. "You get that Monday feeling [of productivity] a couple of times a week," she explains to the BBC. Science suggests she's onto something.
The effectiveness of a mid-week break is down to the power of "pacers," according to University of Texas time and communication researcher Dawna Ballard. "Our human experience of time is ordered by 'pacers,' both internal (like being a 'morning person' or a 'night owl') and external, like the work week or a deadline," she explained to Quartz.
"A Wednesday holiday interrupts the externally imposed pacer of work, and gives you a chance to rediscover your internal rhythms for a day. While a long weekend gives you a little more time on your own schedule, it doesn't actually disrupt the week's pacing power. A free Wednesday builds space on either side, and shifts the balance between your pace and work's--in your favor," she concludes.
Breaking up work, in other words, makes it feel less like office rhythms dominate your life. It saps some of the power work exercises over our lives. That's incredibly refreshing and empowering. It also pushes you to be more thoughtful about how you schedule the two two-day work blocks that remain. All of which adds up to mean Wednesdays off just might be more productivity and sanity-boosting than continuous three-day weekends.
It's an idea that might be worth a trial at your office. Evidence is mounting that making a four-day schedule work is less challenging and more rewarding than you probably imagine.