Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker. For this recurring feature, I’ve been hitting the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District at lunchtime to chat with tech employees about how the workplace is changing. This time I asked about the four-day work week, that elusive schedule that companies like Bolt, Signifyd, Panasonic, Eidos-Montréal and Wildbit have adopted and a number of others have tested or considered. Got a suggestion for a future topic? Email me.
The four-day work week may be the next frontier for tech companies using work-life balance to compete for talent. Since the New Year, Bolt, commerce protection platform Signifyd and Panasonic have all announced that they’re offering four-day weeks to employees.
Is this just a flashy trend that will prove unfeasible for most tech businesses, or is it poised to become the industry’s best perk? For early-stage startups, at least, it may be a tough sell.
“We’re just moving so quickly that enacting a four-day work week would be pretty difficult,” said Jake Disraeli, the co-founder and CEO of Treet, an eight-person retail software startup that raised $2.8 million in seed funding last year. When I caught up with Disraeli, he was having lunch at Salesforce Park, near the WeWork where most of his company is based.
Disraeli sees the appeal of a four-day work week from an employee perspective, and said it could give companies an edge when it comes to recruiting. Other founders in Disraeli’s network are thinking about four-day work weeks and discussing the idea with their boards, he said.
“I’d be really curious this time next year, once we’ve gathered data on what’s happened with those four-day work weeks,” Disraeli said. “It would be really interesting to see how those companies are performing, how happy people are.”
Four-day work week advocates believe that condensing the work week will make employees more productive. That’s what Bolt founder and CEO Ryan Breslow is hoping.
“Work will fill the space you give to it,” Breslow said in a company blog post explaining the decision to shut down the company on Fridays. “Because we’ll have less time, we’ll get more concrete work done.”
The pandemic in particular has allowed for tech companies to reimagine work, but also left many workers burnt out. Engineering consultant Mingjing Huang recalled a friend telling her, “‘I did 10 hours of work, but it took me 15 hours to get up the energy to do the 10 hours of work.’”
Huang is self-employed now, but has worked as a hardware engineer for companies like Basis, Synapse Product Development and Nokia. As an engineer at Apple in the mid-2000s, she said she knew of administrative workers who did a “job share,” each working a three-day week for a part-time salary.
The same concept could be applied to other jobs in tech, where salaries are high enough that even a part-time job could pay well, Huang said.
“It’s nice, but I don’t need that much money,” Huang said. “If I could work three days a week and I’d have four days off, I’d be really happy with that, to do my own projects.”
Tech might be better-suited to the four-day work week than other industries, like finance. Loson Stockton, a technology investment banking senior analyst at Vista Point Advisors, said it was easier to imagine his friends’ tech employers going to a four-day work week than his investment bank.
Still, even though those in the finance industry are “known to work a lot” and the job requires being ready to meet with clients “at a moment’s notice,” Stockton said he could imagine working four days a week.
“Sometimes, I find myself — whether it be on a Friday or a random day of the week — just really not having much in terms of actual workload,” Stockton said. “Especially combining that with the hybrid environment, I think it’s definitely doable.”
Technology itself could enable shorter work weeks, said Olivier De Wulf of IPSOFACTO IT Services. The four-day work week’s greatest challenge, he said, may be surmounting traditional ideas of work.
“The inertia, maybe, from the old paradigm — the old vision of what work is about — needs to change,” De Wulf said. “A lot of work is automated with artificial intelligence. The work that is left is definitely work that is more about the brain, knowledge, research, and this definitely requires more downtime to be able to perform.”