2020 April-May Analysis Featured

Taking the four-day work week for a spin in Georgia

Recent experiments done by large companies like Microsoft suggest that employees may be happier and more productive when they work 4 days a week, instead of the standard 5. Two Georgian companies discuss why they decided to make the switch.

The 40-hour, 5-day work week has been the business standard for the last century, but some companies are starting to rethink this model.

Recent experiments suggest that employees may be less productive when they work a normal 40-hour week, and many full-time white-collar workers complain of creative burnout and cognitive overload.

When Microsoft Japan decided to test drive a 4-day work week in August 2019, the company reported a ‘40% rise in productivity, more efficient meetings and happier workers who took less time off’

There are other ways to tinker with the orthodox work week – one experiment in the Harvard Business Review from late 2018 shows that a decrease from the average 8-hour work day to a 6-hour workday may increase productivity.

Georgian companies are starting to experiment as well.

Takaka Abramia is the co-founder and creative director of Studio Impulse, a Tbilisi design studio which started with a four-day work week when the company first launched back in April 2018.

“I had the same problem everywhere else I had worked – I didn’t have time for myself, for my personal development. I have many interests aside from my job, and need to pursue them as an artist. When I was working five days a week, and going home at 10 in the evening, I wasn’t particularly happy”, Takaka says, noting the four-day work week at Studio Impulse is actually an approach to cultivating the talents of the company’s personnel, and not just time off work.

“People in general need time for themselves to pursue what they are interested in – otherwise they become stale, stop growing and their work suffers”, she adds.

In one of Studio Impulse’s early concept videos, Abramia says design is a highly cerebral process: ‘I think about it while en route, in the bath, while sleeping. My subconscious is always hunting ideas and chasing inspiration in unconscious pools.’ When asked how one can be thinking about work all the time and finding other hobbies to engage in, she laughs:

“This is a description of the creative process in general. The creative mind is always running in the background, even when you appear to be thinking about something else. I’ve often seen my projects in dreams, or ideas will come to me while my attention is elsewhere.”

At the heart of the decision to work only four days a week was a decision to approach the task of creative differently:

“Partially because we have a four-day work week, but also because this is how we prefer to work — we only take projects that have longer deadlines, because we want to do quality work, and not in a rush. For some clients, that doesn’t work, and we have to turn them away. But a customer who can tell good design from mediocre, and who is still paying the same amount, will know that the time is valuable and much needed”, Takaka says.

The reader, in disbelief, may ask: do they work more hours during the week?

To which Takaka responds: “nope, we work from 12:00 – 19:00.”

“I chase them out of the office if they remain after hours”

Headhunting and HR company Insource also decided to make the switch to a four-day work week in November 2019.

Director Medea Tabatadze says the company received a mixed bag of feedback after announcing their transition, ranging from encouragement to discouraging messages as well.

“We were told that we shouldn’t be working less, that we should be working more. That Georgians should work 25/7, and that ‘skipping’ working days won’t result in anything good. This touched on something of a sensitive topic for some people”, Tabatadze says.

The impetus to switch, Tabatadze claims, came from the stressful nature of the company’s work, which “can often translate into improperly used working hours, slack and a lack of efficiency.”

“For an agile, five-person team, this isn’t a very hard task. I very firmly believe that if you are sacrificing your free time for work, it’s more than likely you’re not doing it right. There are exceptions of course, but if you find someone is working extra hours, it’s probably because they’re badly organized”, Tabatadze says.

In her estimation, on average just about 20% of time spent at the office is actual work. To ensure productivity, Tabatadze and her team stick to a strict task list and calendar.

“Time management skills on the team have changed drastically. Every minute and every hour has its price now. For some of us on the team, this has been a challenge, for others it has been an opportunity to blossom. It’s not for everyone though, if companies want to make this transition, they have to ask themselves whether their employees are responsible and conscientious, and also if they have good time management skills – these are two very different things”, Tabatadze says.

The new schedule hasn’t forced the company to take on less work, either.

“Our 10 years of experience helps us be more agile and exact, and so we can handle the same workload. We try not to spend too many hours on unnecessary tasks. That is where our agility comes from, what makes us flexible. And we never take work home with us – I respect my personal time, and other people’s time.”

She comments on the process of adjusting to the new schedule:

“It took us a month to get used to our new work rhythm, and how to readjust our focus. The second month we needed to become adjusted to the new ways of communicating with not only between ourselves for projects, but with our clients. This has now more or less coalesced into a division of work per weekday: Monday is when we kick things off, and divvy up our tasks. Tuesday we’re hard at it. Wednesday is when we troubleshoot, and Thursday is for communicating between ourselves and customers”, Tabatadze explains.

Like Studio Impulse, Insource keeps an orthodox number of office hours as well.

“10? 10 is too much. We have eight working hours. We avoid even an extra 30 minutes of work. I chase anyone out who tries to stay on longer”, Tabatadze jokes.

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