Workplace

Silicon Valley has a new recruitment strategy: The 4-day workweek

Everything you need to know about how tech companies are beta testing the 32-hour week.

Woman in hammock

Since the onset of COVID-19, more companies have begun to explore shortened workweeks.

Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

At software company Wildbit, most employees are logged off on Fridays. That's not going to change anytime soon.

To Natalie Nagele, the company's co-founder and CEO, a full five days of work doesn't necessarily mean the company will get more stuff done. She pointed to computer science professor Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work," which explains how a person's ability to complete meaningful work cuts off after just about four hours. That book, Nagele told Protocol, inspired the company to move to a four-day workweek back in 2017.

"We kind of jokingly and curiously said, 'Four hours a day times five days a week is 20 hours a week — what are we all doing for 40 hours a week?'" she said. "And that just spurred an experiment to say, 'Could we work less if we applied some of the philosophies from this book?'"

Since the onset of COVID-19, companies have begun exploring ways to make work more flexible, from implementing asynchronous work to extending remote work plans. But a handful of companies went a step further by introducing four-day workweeks, which they said boosts productivity and makes them more attractive than the next employer.

The policy has worked for Wildbit for years, but it's not a one-size-fits-all. Companies that have rolled out similar models have all taken different approaches, some of which never panned out.

Here's a rundown of what a four-day workweek looks like, who wants one, who doesn't and why companies are making the change in the first place.

What does a four-day workweek look like?

A shortened workweek looks different for each company, but the companies that have implemented the policy all have one goal in mind: get more work done in less time.

At Wildbit, Nagele said the customer success team needs to be available five days per week. To ensure the team still gets the same four-day weeks, she said some members of the division work on Fridays and take Mondays off, while the other handful of employees work on Mondays and take Fridays off. Employees across the company don't get a salary cut, she said.

Ecommerce company Shopify rolled out 32-hour weeks during July and August. During those months, Fridays are designated to "rest and refuel," Shopify communications lead Rebecca Feigelsohn told Protocol. She said the company hasn't decided whether it will continue the policy in the coming years.

Kickstarter, on the other hand, is still in the planning stages of a shortened workweek, which it plans to test by mid-2022. Kate Bernyk, the company's communications director, said Kickstarter will test out different schedules depending on the needs of each department.

Who wants a four-day workweek?

Essentially anyone who thinks their business can get the same — if not more — stuff done in less time is game for a shorter workweek.

Companies have run pilots of the work model over the years, but the realization that workers can do more in less time really took off in 2020. At least a dozen companies, including software application company Buffer and marketing platform AWIN, implemented shortened workweeks. In the U.K., more than 1 million companies have thought about logging off earlier in the week since the pandemic began, and thousands more have implemented some version of the policy.

"The majority of workers moving to work remotely overnight were steps we couldn't imagine before the pandemic. People have seen that you can carry on like that, and it's going to be quite stark for people to go back to the office," Joe Ryle, a campaign officer at 4 Day Week, told Protocol. "People are now realizing that's not the way you should be living our lives."

Ryle said there isn't one particular industry moving toward this model — businesses focused on everything from engineering to marketing have begun rethinking their workweeks. For companies that need to make themselves available all the time, like the hospitality and restaurant business, the implementation is a bit more difficult, but he's seen them roll out variations of a shorter workweek.

A handful of countries and government officials have considered the policy as well, including, Spain, Iceland, Ireland and Germany. In California, Rep. Mark Takano introduced a bill last week that would trim the standard workweek from 40 to 32 hours.

Who doesn't want a four-day workweek?

The thing is, almost no one is outwardly against a four-day workweek. But some companies haven't been able to make it work financially.

Wildbit and Kickstarter, and other U.S. companies that have introduced such a policy, are all relatively small; not fast-growing startups pressed by financial goals. Nagele, the CEO at Wildbit, said large companies aren't reaching out to her about the policy as much as smaller ones, which could be because large companies are moving too quickly to sit back and rethink their work day.

"Other companies are setting these goals for you, and in a lot of cases you have venture capitalists or whatever — the big folks that are really demanding this growth and acceleration," she said. "There's not a lot of time to pause and decide how we define work? How do we define enough?"

Gig workers could also become an outlier in a four-day workweek. In the legislation proposed by Takano, the California representative, gig workers wouldn't be included in the work protections, which could create a big pay inequity in the contractor business.

In other cases, shorter workweeks aren't always financially feasible. In 2017, workers in Sweden tested shorter workdays, which improved happiness among employees, but ended up costing too much money. An Amazon unit also tried it out, but the employees working fewer hours got a pay cut. Microsoft Japan ran a pilot in the summer of 2019 and saw a big boost in productivity, but it never continued the policy. Microsoft didn't return a request to comment.

What's the point in working fewer hours?

The bottom line is that a shorter workweek makes a company more competitive and makes workers happier, said Bernyk, Kickstarter's communications lead. And during a time when there's intense competition for tech talent, companies will bend over backwards to win their employees over.

"As we build a future that's more flexible, testing a four-day workweek is a continuation of that work," Bernyk told Protocol.

She added that the shortened workweek is one way to ensure employees are taking a proper break. A few years ago, Kickstarter gave its employees unlimited paid time off, but no one was actually taking a break. Cutting back weekly hours, and implementing a set number of paid time off, carves in a break for everyone at the company, she said.

For Wildbit, which had cut back weekly hours long before the pandemic, Nagele said a four-day workweek is one step closer to completely redefining work hours. It may be a pipe dream right now, but she said she eventually wants employees to figure out when to say "enough" and log out for the day or weekend, regardless of how much time they had spent working in one day.

"Can we say, 'We need to finish this one project and if we can get it done in two months, great. If it takes a month and a half, then fantastic,'" she said.

Climate

The West’s drought could bring about a data center reckoning

When it comes to water use, data centers are the tech industry’s secret water hogs — and they could soon come under increased scrutiny.

Lake Mead, North America's largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West is parched, and getting more so by the day. Lake Mead — the country’s largest reservoir — is nearing “dead pool” levels, meaning it may soon be too low to flow downstream. The entirety of the Four Corners plus California is mired in megadrought.

Amid this desiccation, hundreds of the country’s data centers use vast amounts of water to hum along. Dozens cluster around major metro centers, including those with mandatory or voluntary water restrictions in place to curtail residential and agricultural use.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Workplace

Indeed is hiring 4,000 workers despite industry layoffs

Indeed’s new CPO, Priscilla Koranteng, spoke to Protocol about her first 100 days in the role and the changing nature of HR.

"[Y]ou are serving the people. And everything that's happening around us in the world is … impacting their professional lives."

Image: Protocol

Priscilla Koranteng's plans are ambitious. Koranteng, who was appointed chief people officer of Indeed in June, has already enhanced the company’s abortion travel policies and reinforced its goal to hire 4,000 people in 2022.

She’s joined the HR tech company in a time when many other tech companies are enacting layoffs and cutbacks, but said she sees this precarious time as an opportunity for growth companies to really get ahead. Koranteng, who comes from an HR and diversity VP role at Kellogg, is working on embedding her hybrid set of expertise in her new role at Indeed.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Climate

New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Entertainment

Watch 'Stranger Things,' play Neon White and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Here are our picks for your long weekend.

Image: Annapurna Interactive; Wizard of the Coast; Netflix

Kick off your long weekend with an extra-long two-part “Stranger Things” finale; a deep dive into the deckbuilding games like Magic: The Gathering; and Neon White, which mashes up several genres, including a dating sim.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins