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The 5 day work week is a relic. Here’s how we’re moving away from it.

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I’m going to assume that most folks reading this, on the website of a progressive agency, are familiar with the plentiful and data-backed arguments against the five day work week. So I’m not going to use this space to try to convince you of the merits of a more flexible work schedule. Instead, I want to share how Do Big Things has implemented one and how we used it as an opportunity to reflect the culture we’re working to build.

It started last spring when our leadership team contemplated what kind of Summer Friday schedule we wanted to use.

In the past, we’d tried encouraging folks to log off early on Friday afternoons – a relatively common practice at agencies like ours. However, we’d all experienced how that schedule just… doesn’t really work. 

Once you’ve started working for the day, it can be hard to step away midway through. It also doesn’t do much to provide folks with any practical flexibility nor does it reinforce a norm around genuinely taking time off. All it really says is “Hey, if you’re not too busy Friday afternoon, you have official permission to stop putting in extra facetime. Aren’t we benevolent!”

We didn’t just want to have a policy where people could take a few hours of extra time off on paper; we actually wanted people to stop working. The trouble was that our clients (many of whom are doing work that is not only vitally important but genuinely time sensitive) are working on Fridays. 

So we problem solved.

We divided the team into two groups, with each group alternating to take every other Friday off entirely. We took into consideration the staffing of account teams and key functions to make sure there is always someone available for each client and that no balls get dropped. 

To help make sure this schedule can be successful, we’ve worked to clearly establish norms: 

1. No meetings on Fridays so that those on their “Work Free Friday,” as we’ve dubbed it, don’t need to worry about missing important conversations (and creating an excellent fringe benefit of a meeting-free day for those who are scheduled to work, providing quieter time for better focus).

2. Planning ahead and communicating clearly with your colleagues who will be working, to make sure they’re set up for success with the information and resources they need to keep things running smoothly. 

3. Setting clear expectations for when and how you might need to be reachable on your Work Free Friday if something genuinely urgent comes up – you’ll get a call or text only so you don’t have to be checking email or Slack all day. We strive to minimize these sorts of interruptions, and have found it’s usually avoidable with appropriate planning and hand off. Additionally, if you need to be fully unavailable, just communicate in advance that you’re taking a day of regular PTO (which we provide unlimited to all full time employees). 

This approach worked great.

So well in fact that it went from being our Summer Friday schedule to our year round schedule. We’ll pause it for a couple of months during the height of election season when we’re busiest, but otherwise we’ve found that our team loves it and our clients – if they’ve noticed – don’t seem to mind. 

Most importantly, it’s helping us build a culture where every member of the team knows they are recognized as a full human being, not just an employee. We want you to show up and work hard for the changing-making clients we partner with, but we also know you’ll be able to do that best if you have the time and space to lead a full life. When you have the flexibility to take care of your family, of your community, and yourself – without the pointless pressure of needing to put in facetime. 

Work Free Fridays aren’t perfect and they aren’t a complete answer. But they are a tangible opportunity to create a more flexible schedule for our team and to live the people-centered values we’re helping our clients fight for everyday.

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