- Australian digital marketing company Versa introduced a no-work Wednesday policy more than 12 months ago and the results have been hugely positive. Revenue increased by almost 50% and profits almost tripled over the period while the quantity and quality of job applicants improved markedly.
- Employees aren’t required to come in or do any work at home on Wednesday as long as they can keep on top of their workload across the four remaining days.
- The company had tried flexible work arrangements before but ended up with an ad-hoc system where employees were out-of-office on different days. Changing everyone’s day off to Wednesday meant everyone was on the same page.
- Versa CEO Kath Blackham told Business Insider the policy will remain as long as the company keeps getting results.
If you were told by your work to stop coming in so much, you might suspect you were getting the sack.
But that’s exactly what happened more than a year ago at Australian digital marketing company Versa when it instructed employees to stop working on Wednesdays. The news, however, was met with fanfare rather than fear.
That’s because instead of coming in, workers were told to take the day off every week. The only condition? They had to get their work done in four days instead of five.
In doing so, Versa joined a small, albeit growing, list of businesses willing to take a chance in order to create a better work culture.
“When I started the agency 10 years ago, I recognised there was this problem, particularly with women but across the whole industry, that people were leaving to go client-side because they couldn’t make it work with their different commitments — whether they wanted to start their own business or have kids or whatever,” CEO Kath Blackham told Business Insider Australia.
“From the start, I tried lots of flexible arrangements and we ended up in a situation where we had a bunch of people taking so many different days off that it became impossible. They were missing from meetings and when you have clients relying on you, you really need to be available for them.”
It got to a point where Blackham realised it simply couldn’t go on the way it had. Rather than lose the four day work week entirely, however, she realised she could create a single day off for everyone.
“I came up with the idea around April last year and, I’ll be honest, it took me a lot of time to prepare the leadership team to take the whole company to a four day week. I’ve got a reputation for these crazy ideas so when I put it forward I saw a lot of eyes go to the ceiling,” she said.
Despite that, Blackham managed to persuade the team to try out a one-month trial.
“It went so well that one month turned into three which turned into six and eventually more than a year passed, but to be honest, it’s always a trial. We make it clear to people that if it stops working, we’ll stop doing it and that keeps people motivated to make it work,” Blackham said.
It doesn’t seem like a radical idea: that as long as the work gets done, the hours don’t matter. Then again, most businesses in Australia are yet to leave their Monday to Friday behind. Despite a lot of talk about its benefits, the adoption of flexible working arrangements is slow.
So how did Blackham make it work?
“We work 37.5 hour weeks which is unusual in an industry that typically works 45-50 hours at a minimum. We spread those hours over four days and close the office on Wednesday,” she said.
“The other days don’t start until 10am but most people come in earlier anyway.”
What’s more is that Versa implemented it across its three offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore.
If employees need to, they are still allowed to come into the office and can take calls from clients on Wednesdays. Blackham estimates that about once a month people might need to come in on a Wednesday. Otherwise, most things can wait until Thursday.
“Our decision to make Wednesday the day was really purposeful. We didn’t want to give people a long weekend so they could go out and write themselves off every weekend. A break in the middle of the week also means they can get on top of work by Tuesday afternoon and hit the ground running on Thursday morning,” Blackham said.
Many employees use the time off to work on their own projects. Once a month Versa runs an entrepreneurs program where guests come in and speak. Other employees use the time to take a tennis lesson, spend time with their kids or catch up on errands.
“They can hang up the washing and go grocery shopping so on the weekend they can spend time with their family and have a proper break. It just makes people so much happier and healther,” Blackham said.
That’s not to say there aren’t real benefits for the business as well. Versa’s revenue has grown by 46% over the last 12 months and profit has almost tripled, according to Blackham.
While growth in Versa’s client base as well as a pivot in direction for the company has boosted that growth, the four-day week no doubt has had some impact.
“People have become more efficient, we’ve got better staff retention, there’s less work that needs to be redone and less people needed to be replaced and briefed as a result,” Blackham said.
That’s not to mention that the quantity and quality of applicants that Versa now sees has markedly improved.
“You do really notice that people are interested in more than just money. They are looking to make a life choice and people really value a job that accommodates them,” Blackham said.
While Versa is quick to admit it wasn’t the first to think of the four-day working week, in 2019 there are few Australian companies that appear to be open to the experiment. New Zealand estate planning company Perpetual Guardian is one of the bigger four-day week success stories in the region, with Versa sure to follow.
Since launching the program, businesses from around the world have contacted her asking for help setting up similar policies. They range from small local businesses to UK supermarket giant Morrisons. While some industries or the size of some companies can prevent similar arrangements being made, Blackham said it is a fear of failure that is holding back most businesses from trialling a similar program. It’s a trait she doesn’t share having experimented with a number of initiatives aimed at improving work life.
“At 3 o’clock every day we go for a ten-minute walk together and that’s to get people out in the fresh air, talking with their colleagues and coming at their projects a little differently. In the mornings we each go around and say something we’re grateful for — which I know sounds a little kumbaya — but again it’s to help people kickstart their day.”
Others initiatives haven’t worked out so well.
“At one stage, I tried getting everyone to do yoga at work but found some people just weren’t comfortable doing the downward dog with their workmate. We scrapped that.”