5in4: Working a 5 day week in 4: the reason for continuing /// IB

It is 3 months since we have been working a shorter week by concentrating 5 days of work into 4.The pros and cons have been much debated in the office but the anonymous decision is to continue for another 3 months, maybe for a full year.

The adjustment has been more difficult then we envisaged. The system does not work for staff who are commuting, some of us have not been able, or willing, to free Fridays of work, and long days are very tiring. There are concerns about productivity since we are all counting hours much more and overtime is impossible within the 4 days – challenging the overtime culture, established in our profession, was one of the incentives for this experiment but it is too early to assess its impact on business viability.

But there are also some great surprises – the ‘outside’ world has not been as condemning as might have been expected. We phonecalls on Friday have been very few – from 0 to 4 – and the volume of e-mails greatly reduced. It would seem that a lot of e-mails are generated by the office itself! Urgent phonecalls have been picked up on mobiles by job architects and none of them were really urgent.

Most clients and consultants respect the idea and wish they could implement it in their own offices. Many potential employees expressed the view that such working conditions would be a great bonus to them.

Other, less measurable things are emerging. There is a good moral in the team and a sense of purpose.  We are driven and creativity is flowing.

Private lives are enriched by longer weekends. We make different use of these: some for building homes, some for being with their families, and some for thinking, reading and working in a way that is simply not possible during a normal working day.

The big question that will eventually come up is whether we can reduce working week to 4 days of normal working hours – this will require a loss of earnings. The letting go of earning potential is the hardest obstacle of all – we need to get used to having less but this is easy for me to say because I am from a generation that had more then we needed.

But looking at the talented and accomplished people that make up our team we are all privileged and  we all have enough but the habits and values of consumer society made us dependent on having more. The ultimate purpose of 5 in 4 is to wean ourselves of this dependency.

5in4: 2 months update /// RJ

For me the first month of 5in4 mainly consisted of manageable and steady paced working which meant that I could really see the benefits of 5in4. The second month however saw the deadline of a competition entry that some of us were working on but this didn’t necessarily mean that 5in4 had negative impacts for me. In the second month my work spilled into the weekends, but this would have happened regardless of my contracted working hours. It’s the day-to-day overtime that we are seeing less of but the pre-deadline overtime is much more difficult to avoid and wasn’t a result of 5in4.

I still believe that the 5in4 strategy is beneficial to both my working life and personal life however the greatest benefits are geared more towards the latter. As an architecture student I spend a large portion of my weekends undertaking personal architecture projects and studies because it’s what I enjoy doing and I have the time to commit towards my future career. I have far less commitments outside of work than others in the office that have partners and children so my opinions of the experiment may differ greatly. I’m also not a main point of contact for a contractor or client say, so little to no correspondence is required from me on my Fridays off.

At BLA I feel that I’m achieving the same amount of work as I would over the original five day working week – which is great – but the difference that 5in4 has had on my personal studies and projects over the weekends has been hugely positive. Whilst this may not sound like 5in4 is benefitting my work at BLA there are also indirect impacts to consider – if I’m experiencing a happier personal life then is this in turn going to have a positive impact on my working life (such as feeling more refreshed on a Monday morning etc)?

All in all as a part one student who is trying to make the most of my year out between Part I and Part II, 5in4 is great and I’d be happy to continue with this way of working until I return to University.

5in4: Thursday isn’t the new Friday /// SW

2 months down for 5in4, I’m getting used to the ‘ins and outs’ of our experiment: what it means for work life, home life, carbon footprint, productivity levels, energy levels (!), and ‘satisfaction’ levels…

The latter point is, for me, most important. The 5in4 message could easily be weighted towards upshots for individuals: our increased free time, quality of life and personal satisfaction. This is important, yes (and I’ll talk about why in a minute), but as practitioners we must also meet the satisfaction of our Clients. Reduced office presence should not limit our capacity to deliver. Therefore the success of our condensed work-week is inseparable from the effectiveness of our time spent working.

We are continually finding ways to work more efficiently, to react to the circumstances of our projects, to provide the same dedicated service and to reduce waste. 5in4 brings these efforts into focus. They can include simple things such as self-organisation, resource planning and good communication. Others include better use of technology (smartphones are admittedly useful, although we try to avoid slavish dependency) and we engage with new and emerging software to save time & add value to our work. Significantly, we try to think critically and work smarter too – questioning commitment of time unless the purpose and value is clear. When we are successful, this sometimes alerts our collaborators to the consequences of lost-time as well.

We regularly grapple with exigent demands on our time; and are familiar with peaks and troughs of workload. But for the most part, we are trying not to allow the 5in4 trial to be unduly influenced by a culture of immediacy and 24/7 availability. Oddly, we have even discovered that not being in the office on a Friday can be advantageous to our Employers & collaborators – it gives them a chance to either catch-up or forge-ahead where we rely on iterative information exchange, and it gives us the impetus to issue necessary information (by Thursday evening) in time for them to respond in the stop-gap.

It’s true that some of us have extended work-hours occasionally into Friday & the weekend (at the office, or remotely) but when this has happened it has been a realistic reaction to extraordinary circumstances. Relevantly, it has also been quite rare for most, because ‘Thursday’ has taken on a new importance. For my part, since the weekend is visibly 1 day nearer, I am learning to match and improve on the outputs which filled 5 days in the past, and so extra time need not be routinely given.

This is not to say that we worked in a relaxed fashion over 5 days, few architects do. The reward at the end of the week, an extra day of personal time, is a drive for effective working and valuable for both the individual & the company. With the extra day I can relax, attend to domestic tasks and – lest we forget commerciality – return to work galvanised into action. Friday is spent doing meaningful things that are otherwise difficult to do on a Saturday; and I can recharge in 3 days, something that rarely occurred in 2.

By my reckoning, the increased rate of work is a function of the condensed work period, and can’t be consistently applied over 5 days. ‘Burn-out’ was a risk we sought to avoid with 5in4, and 5 days at increased velocity would inevitably bring this about. This reinforces the ethos – a more productive work-week and healthier balance is struck at a ratio of 4:3 than 5:2.

These findings are not aberrations; they align with reports from Holland & certain states in America, where condensed working borders on common acceptance. Many of our Clients are familiar with different forms of non-standard work-hours and the associated benefits – such is the increasing prevalence of ‘flexible working’ – and we have received encouragement from many sources; public sector, private sector, businesses and individuals – for deviating from an accepted norm in order to address work-life disparity.

Thursday isn’t the new Friday, but to me 4 days is the re-booted sequel to 5. And it’s better than the original.

5in4: 2 months update /// TV

I consider myself quite an organised person, not militant but generally punctual and prepared. I thought I would be easily organised enough to contribute to a blog one post a week. The fact that I have not blogged anything for over a month and a half goes some way toward showing how busy with other things at work I have been.

A younger me, I think, would have completed the blog in my free time over the weekend, but recently I have become more and more attached to keeping this separated from work. How much of this is down to a new working pattern and how much is because of a six month old is difficult to say. Whilst I have found that letting go is getting easier I’ve found the week much harder- In the last two weeks, because of a work spike, I’ve found myself going home for tea and to put my baby to bed , then returning to work at 8pm and staying late. I am fortunate enough to live 400m from the office that makes this just about palatable but still I have missed 3 sets of visiting friends due to this in the last 6 weeks. Spikes in work are always going to be difficult to absorb in an office the scale of ours and especially difficult for a person in my position who is drawing and organising. To a certain extent they can not be avoided, but I think this one could have been reduced by more realistic resourcing – I am hoping it is a one off due to the unusual geometrical complexity of the project. Now the clocks have changed and the weather is thinking about getting better I’m keen to get my evenings back to do things with.

This last week has been particularly difficult, it took half a day to get through emails. I’ve had 3/4 of a day out teaching, with a bank holiday Monday and Friday off this has left 1 3/4 days to get some work done. The result has been lots of overtime.

I think my wife is OK with this, but we’ve not really had the chance to talk about it in depth. We see Fridays differently: for the most part I’m shattered  [especially if I get drunk on Thursday] and don’t want to do anything and she is shattered and sees it as an opportunity to offload the baby.

I have no real idea if my productivity has dropped/increased or stayed the same. I suspect quantifying this in a meaningful way is not possible,  but the queue difference at the bar between a Thursday and a Friday is definitely smaller.

 

 

I’m sending the occasional email on a Friday because I’m worried what others outside the office may think.

 

5in4: 2 months update /// Wife of TV

At first I thought “this is great’: the extra time together, the possibility of reducing child care costs and no more unpaid overtime. Like many architects, architecture is more than a job for my husband. I could describe it as a hobby but that would undervalue it. My husband would frequently come home for tea and then head back to work, disrupt a weekend by having to go into work for the day or get stressed because it was hectic juggling his social life and work. If he wasn’t working in the evening then quite often he would be looking at architecture blogs, websites or reading architectural books (or maybe just looking at the grey photos!). I understand that architects love architecture, they have to in order to work all the additional thankless hours but this knocks on to their family. That is why the shorter week appealed. It raised the possibility of my husband having more free time away from his job to enjoy what he wanted to do that wasn’t architecture and might end the common nag “can we just not do anything this weekend”.

After my initial positivity the unknowns began to surface. Would my husband get home in time for bedtime? How much additional stress would there be by squeezing the working week into four days? Would he be able to leave work at work? The list went on. Reflecting on the past couple of months, its difficult to form a clear opinion of the shorter working week because we were already in a state of flux because of a new baby. Some things are definite though; lengthening the weekend has made it more relaxed. We’ve got time to sit still between activities but have also made the most of the free weekday. However, overtime has not disappeared and, whilst my husband is getting used to the shorter week, completing his weekly tasks plays on his mind when he is at home. We’re fortunate that we live a short distance from his office and he can come home for his lunch. If he had to commute half an hour then he wouldn’t see our son awake Monday to Thursday and I would be pulling my hair out! I think being in close proximity to the office means that we have benefited more than staff that travel a long distance to work.

Wife of TV

5in4: 2 months update /// ED

I started working at Bauman Lyons only a few weeks before the ‘5in4’ trial began, so the new working hours were part and parcel of me settling in, and didn’t feel like too much of an adjustment.

As a Part 1 I see my year out as a good chance to develop ideas and reflect on interests both within and outside the field of architecture, and working a four-day week definitely allows for this. It allows time to challenge and explore architectural thinking and prepare for what awaits in Part 2.

My 3 months of working in the office have flown by, and I can imagine working intensely for 5 days a week, as well as the occasional weekend (which most of my friends do) would make it go by even quicker – without really allowing any rest time to take a step back to look at what I’ve learnt/am learning.

Unlike my colleagues, I’m not a stage where I can compare ‘5 in 4’ to previous working routines, but it is an invaluable experience which I will undoubtedly reflect on in the future and something which I feel extremely lucky to be a part of.

The first couple of months of ‘5 in 4’ have felt positive and motivated, and despite my initial worries that longer hours would feel less productive I don’t think this has been the case – there is a definite sense of drive and purpose within the office.

5in4: 2 months update /// IB

It has been 8 weeks since we worked a  5 days in 4 week.

I know there are difficulties. It does not work for everyone: commuters, part time workers, families with school age children would not find many advantages. The 4 days of work are long and we get tired. Evenings are almost non existent.

Out of 8 Fridays I only had 4 that were work free.

But there is one benefit that outweighs all others.

The ‘free Friday’ is free for thinking. I never wanted mine to be free of work but rather to be free from the daily necessities of work : the meetings, the phonecalls, the e-mails, the pleasantries, the PQQs, the interviews, the cashflow, the fee negotiations, the chasing of everything, the website, the tweets, the chat with the cleaner, and the brewing and collective drinking of coffee……..STOP!!!!!!

The are so many ideas every week and so many decision to make. I always feel that if I don’t make time to consider, analyse, assimilate, synthesize and disseminate, I will miss the point and will just keep on running to stand still.

It has been invaluable to extract the thinking time and to drink coffee alone just now and then.

5in4: 2 months update /// LC

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There’s been a lot of this in the last 2 months!

2 months have gone by pretty quickly and we’ve entered our last month of this trial.

So far it has been an interesting challenge and journey in evaluating whether this for me is a valuable and viable way of working.

As I started to understand at the end of February, this intensely condensed working pattern is not suited to my situation (I’m Manchester based).

I continue to notice the diminished contact with colleagues and directors, by being in the office one less day a week than my ‘standard’ days.

And although I travel less, saving 4 hours a week of commuting, the overall tiredness I accumulate in the days I work 10 hours, coupled with 4 hours of commute, is surprisingly overwhelming. The rest of the week is filled by other commitments in Manchester, so it’s not like as if I just put my feet up and rest.

I think 5in4 can work well, and I see some of my colleagues enjoying this work pattern, for those people who live locally to their work place and have no commuting time to add to a 10hr day.

I also realise, more strongly now after this experience, that such a different working pattern (i.e. the office being closed on a Friday) can work, without added stress, if others share and understand this. At this moment in time the construction industry has still a long way to go before the above can happen.

One discussion we had, in the office, right at the beginning of this trial, was the wish to find time to do personal activities that we would find enriching, activities that currently are not as valued as paid work, such as volunteering, looking after your own children, looking after the elderly, undertaking research and so on.

If there’s something that this recession has taught me is the importance of placing renewed value in non-paid work, as much as paid work. If we are to break the capitalistic society that isn’t making us more happy, on the contrary, then I think it’s imperative to wean ourselves off an all consuming working life.

Based on my personal experience, I think 5in4 can allow this to happen for those who have no added commute, as it still enables some flexibility to be retained in the hours at either side of a 10hr working day. When you add a commute like mine, for example, that flexibility unfortunately is lost.

This interesting article from the Guardian discusses the recent phenomenon of “work-life merge” where technology is allowing us to flip between private and work life seamlessly, which may be viewed as a good ‘solution’, but that has inevitably blurred the boundary of where one starts and one finishes. I don’t think this is an inherently good thing.

I have reached a point where I’m now weighing the positive aspect of less commuting – in fact for me the most positive aspect of this trial has been the ability to reduce my personal carbon footprint – against the negatives of increased tiredness and reduced interaction with my colleagues.

Stay tuned…

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This month we asked our partners to give us feedback on their experience and impact by our longer days. Here’s my husband’s input:

What I have mostly noticed since my wife has been working her new work hours/day pattern is that she is a lot more tired when I do see her. This is probably down to the fact that she leaves the house an hour earlier than previous (around 6.30am) and arrives home an hour later than before (around 9.15pm) and consequently often misses breakfast and eats her main meal of the day late. Although it is only for two days of the week, being out of the house for close to 15 hours for those two days is taking its toll and I doubt its sustainable in its current format beyond this short trial period.

I suspect that this arrangement may be better suited for those who don’t need to commute as far as she does and is contracted to a full week’s work – but I may be wrong. My personal feelings are that a part-time employee (3 days week) should continue to work just that – 3 days at normal hours – and that to create a 5in4 version for a part-time employee is more problematic than a feasible solution. It also runs the risk of making a flexible work pattern of 3 days/week less flexible for her and her commitments to both Bauman Lyons and those back in Manchester.