Can a 4-day work week work?

5 days of work in 4 days: can it work for both a developer and their company?

Background

I have been working as a professional software developer for over 13 years. In that time a lot has changed about the way I work: sometimes in an office, sometimes remote; sometimes in the centre of London and sometimes in the sticks. One thing has always been constant though: 9-5 (ish), 5 days a week.

Ok, sure, that’s what it said on the contract and in practice there’s plenty of flexibility in those working hours but it’s always been 5 days, and in my current role that’s worked out as 4 days in London and 1 day remote each week.

I live a fair distance outside London so when I come into town for my (nominally) 8h working day I’m spending a solid FOUR hours commuting on bikes, trains and tubes. Most of my non-weekend free time is a desperate attempt to get enough sleep.

This is not fun.

Proposal

Working remotely definitely solves some of these problems. I’m a great believer in remote working and when done right it can be incredibly effective, but I wanted to know if I could go one better.

Instead of shaving a couple of hours from the end of a couple of days, could I claw back an entire day?

I had already agreed to working remotely on Wednesdays (it breaks the week up nicely) but I was still coming into London 4 times every week. If I’m already spending 4h travelling, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend more time working and reduce my (hours worked)/(total hours) ratio?

Here’s my proposal:

Day Place Hours
Monday Office 10h
Tuesday Office 10h
Wednesday Remote 10h
Thursday Office 10h
Friday “On Call”

Through the week I would would work long days on Mon-Thu and then have Friday effectively free. I didn’t want to cause blocks for my team so I planned to be available on email, chat etc. but not actively working.

Overall this should mean that I’m working more-or-less the same hours every week. We’re in an industry where “hours worked” really shouldn’t be the metric by which we judge people but I’ve tried to make it tally up anyway.

Why this is a great idea for me

On the face of it this seems like a pretty big win! Who wouldn’t love extra time off??

The most important thing for me is seeing my kids for more than the half hour before bedtime that I currently get. It’s rarely their best time (they’re young) and weekends are always busy so it will be nice to have some one-on-one time with them. Maybe get a bit of that “work life balance” I’ve heard so much about.

Beyond that I’m looking forward to a bit more sleep and a little less time on trains!

Why this is a great idea for the company

If this works out then there should be a bunch of upsides for my company as well as my family.

Besides the correlation between “happy employee” and “hard-working employee” I’m hoping to come back from the longer weekend full of ideas and energy. You know how you go away on holiday and have enough headspace to come up with the really great ideas? That. But every week.

Another bonus is that I will have great availability on Mon-Thu. We have a lot of people working offset hours so some people do 8:00-16:30 and some 10:00-18:30, with both ends of that spectrum in my team. With my new working pattern I’ll be able to work with both the early risers and the night owls equally.

Finally, I am hoping that my regular semi-absence will encourage my team to act more autonomously. It’s harder to delegate decisions to someone senior if they’re not around!

Why this might be a disaster

Ok, I’ll admit there are a few things that could go wrong with this plan. I might be exhausted every day and not get any work done. I might be so exhausted by the end of the week that I spend my Fridays as a zombie. I might even be tempted to work on Friday as well if we’re under pressure.

Beyond various flavours of exhaustion, it may turn out that my absence on a Friday is a real problem for the team. It could be a blocker, even when I’m on email. It might turn out that it’s harder to book meetings or client visits.

The only way to find out if these problems are real or imagined is to try it out!

The plan

I had a chat with my boss and they’re happy for me to give this a try. I was a little surprised – I thought this was a fairly unusual request – but it’s nice to see a company that doesn’t just pay lip service to employee work/life balance.

We agreed that I would trial the new working pattern for a few weeks and observe the improvements (or otherwise). There isn’t really a good metric for “developer output” so the results are going to be largely subjective but I’ll be focussing on:

  • personal energy levels (work & home)
  • feedback from my team
  • feedback from other teams and departments
  • a fuzzy “quality of life” feeling

It’s not particularly scientific but I suspect it will become obvious quite quickly if it’s not working.

If nothing else, it’s going to be interesting finding out!

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