POV: The 4-day workweek is not the future of work. The future is flexibility

By Mathilde Collin

November 09, 2021

The traditional 9-to-5 work day is full of inefficiencies. 

And clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks this. From companies like Unilever and Kickstarter, to entire governments like Japan and Spain, many are claiming that a 4-day workweek is the future of work. 

I think they’re optimizing for the wrong thing. Instead of changing the quantity of work we’re doing, we need to be thinking about the quality

Simply shortening the number of days we work won’t solve our problem. In fact, it might even increase stress and burnout: squeezing more meetings into a shorter number of days means there’s even less time to focus and get creative, thoughtful work done. 

No, less working days isn’t the answer. What do we really need? More flexible work. 

Why focus on flexibility?

We can all see that the Great Resignation is happening. I think the rigidness in our traditional work schedules is a big part of it. The 5-day work week has been around for over a hundred years

But so much about work and the workforce has changed since then. For jobs done on computers, why are we forcing ourselves into strict schedules that don’t accommodate our differences and needs? 

We not only can but should be more flexible. In a Gartner survey, 43% of respondents said that flexible working hours helped them be more productive. But it’s not just about productivity—it’s about happiness too. Over half of employees surveyed from around the world would consider leaving their job after the pandemic if they are not given some form of flexibility in where and when they work. 

Our test with flexible work

For my company, Front, we started an experiment in spring of 2021. It’s called Flexible Fridays. Every Friday, employees are unreachable. No meetings, no expectation to answer messages or emails. They can work, or they can do anything else they want. 

Our thinking was this: if we could prove that the team could be just as productive while introducing some flexibility during the week, that’d be amazing for our employees and company culture. It could also give us a strong edge for hiring. While competing for talent with companies like Apple and Google that have infinite cash, we could offer candidates more time—something these tech giants can’t quite match. 

With Flexible Fridays, we were aiming for little to no disruption to the business; we wanted to be able to serve customers, execute on an ambitious product roadmap, and keep regular interview schedules with candidates. The goal was to give everyone a day of deep work and focus, while preventing burnout and promoting work-life balance. 

The results: efficiency and balance

Flexible Fridays force us to fight inefficiency. Fewer days to meet means you need to have fewer, more productive meetings. And on Fridays, if you choose to work, you have a full day of uninterrupted deep focus time.

The team felt relief to have a day where they could work if needed, yet nothing was expected of them. If you need focused time, you’ve always got it. And if you want to spend time with your kids or take a bike ride or go to a dentist appointment, you can do that guilt-free.

We surveyed our team throughout our 6-month trial. Results were overwhelmingly positive: 95% of employees have seen no impact to collaboration with their colleagues, and 89% say they work happier because of Flexible Fridays. But perhaps the thing I’m most proud of is this: 87% say Flexible Fridays have positively impacted their desire to stay put at Front. 

One teammate gave us the feedback: “Flexible Fridays have changed my life for the better. I really can’t get over the impact this has had on my overall well-being. Don’t get me wrong—I work 80% of my flex Fridays like I would a normal workday, but when Thursday night comes around, I feel (mentally) free.”

Flexibility breeds productivity

I believe that Flexible Fridays give employees the ability to work the way that works best for them while also creating structure to the week that we don’t have with full time remote work. What if Friday became a no-meeting, no-email, no-chat day across all industries? How much more productive could we all be?

Mathilde Collin is CEO and cofounder of Front, a customer communication platform.