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.