A permanent 4-day work week isn’t all upside. One company had to introduce strict planning cycles and cut workplace chatter.

Coworkers colleagues
  • The CEO of British legal firm Arken introduced a 4-day workweek in June.
  • Although the firm experienced uplifts in productivity and wellbeing, there were challenges too.
  • These included getting out of the 5-day mindset, cutting extra chatter, and ruthless planning.

The normalization of hybrid working has reignited discussions around the four-day working week, and whether cutting employees’ hours while retaining their pay is desirable or practical.

Dave Newick is one CEO who has done it.

Newick is the CEO of Arken.legal, a digital wills and trustee business based in Kent, UK.

In June 2021, following a nine-month trial, the company told employees it would switch permanently to a four-day week.

All 22 staff now have one extra day off a week that they can spend how they wish. Most take every Friday, except for a couple of team members who provide cover on a rotational basis and take Monday off.

Staff work an average of 32 hours a week, typically starting at 9 a.m. and leaving the office at 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday, Newick told Insider.

Wellbeing and work-life balance have improved as a result of the switch, he said, with 85% of staff polled internally saying the trial had improved their view of the company. There’s also been no recognizable drop in productivity.

But there have been teething problems, mainly around changing up routine.

“Some of that is actually challenging your existing thinking,” Newick said. “I’m 54 years old. I’ve worked a certain way, five days a week, most of my working life.”

When he began the trial, Newick found himself working five days a week – and had to be told by others in his team he was inadvertently setting an expectation that others had to do the same.

Eventually, he said, he learned to step away on Fridays though it took time.

The business originally intended to introduce a three-month trial starting October to test the concept, but subsequent UK coronavirus lockdowns meant this was extended to 9 months.

Making a four-day week work has meant getting serious about productivity, Newick said.

“You realize that you think you’re a highly productive business – but actually when you really start to drill down on it, you realize that there is this kind of unproductive piece,” he said.

“Once you start measuring productivity and give people a reference framework to that, then you realize what the art of the possible is.”

Employees use software to map their time and tasks and operate according to two-week sprint cycles – an agile form of project management that sets each employee’s responsibilities over the next two weeks to ensure that they’re clear about what needs to be done and how to do it.

Adapting processes to ensure that as much as possible is automated has been important, added Newick, but the process also requires discipline from staff to ensure that they don’t message colleagues outside of hours or answer emails or other notifications when people are off.

Watercooler conversations have also taken a hit.

“You don’t appreciate just how much time can be frittered away in any one day. I’d go to the office sometimes and there were conversations going on just a little bit too long, around stuff that didn’t really matter,” said Newick.

He added that this wasn’t a diktat by management and that employees opted to cut down on conversations. He said the office continues to socialize regularly.

Ultimately, though, he acknowledged it’s not a way of working or transition that suits everyone, and that some people had left after the change.

Trust and hiring the right people is essential, said Newick. “You’ve got to make sure that they’re self-managing and that they’re actually doing this because they want to and because it matters to them.”