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Four-day week for digital agency

Staff at Shropshire digital agency Ascendancy have been counting the days recently . . . quite literally, as part of a UK trial into the benefits of a shorter working week.

The company has completed a six-month pilot project to trial the four-day working week and it has proved so successful that the Newport-based company has decided to make it a permanent arrangement - with Ascendancy now an officially accredited Gold Standard 4 Day Week business.

The trial was initiated by 4 Day Week Global with companies from the USA, Ireland and the UK taking part - but has seen hundreds of other companies internationally experimenting with the idea. It has proved to be a major success with reports of increased productivity and reduced levels of fatigue, stress, insomnia and burnout.

Helen Culshaw, director of Ascendancy, which took part in the UK trial from June to December ,said: “We put a huge amount of thought and planning into how this was going to work. Deciding that we were going to work four days a week was one thing but we still needed to provide a five-day-a-week service while still maintaining our high standards.

“Each permanent, full-time member of staff is included in the scheme once they have passed their probation period and get either a Monday or Friday as their ‘rest day’. The remaining four days are slightly longer than before, but overall we have reduced the working week from 37.5 hours to 32 hours, with no reduction in pay.

“We have introduced a ‘buddy’ system where each team member pairs with someone with a similar skillset and has the opposite rest day. They each check the other’s emails and ensure that anything urgent can be dealt with.

“The trial period was carried out in partnership with Boston College and meant us having access to a community of other businesses to compare notes with, all doing the same thing as us at the same time. We have also provided productivity and wellbeing data to academic researchers. 

“There were concerns going into the trial, the main one being could we get all the work done? But this hasn’t been a problem and we are doing just as much work now, if not more, as we were before.

“Most of the issues have been administrative: holiday allocation, employment contracts, coming up with an HR system to meet demand, how to treat our part-timers and apprentices, and the scheduling of team meetings, but we have managed those challenges well and the key thing to running this kind of system is to be super-organised.”

Helen said she believed the four-day week was an attractive proposition in the recruiting and retaining of the most talented staff in a competitive marketplace.

“One thing that works particularly well for us is ‘focus time’. Three hours spread out over each day when the office goes quiet and we don’t interrupt each other with questions. We also have a daily stand-up meeting where we name a chunky task that we are going to get done that day, say whether yesterday’s task was achieved and highlight anything we need help with.

“This means any potential interruptions can be aired at the start of the day and scheduled on our calendar. We also have a quiet room where staff make video calls to clients, so as not to disturb anyone in the main office.

“The trial period worked really well for us. We are happy to make it part of our permanent working routine and are proud to be an officially accredited Gold Standard 4 Day Week business. If any business is thinking of trialling the four-day week, I would be happy to share my thoughts on how to go about it.”

Pictured: The Ascendancy team