Wildbit is a Philadelphia-based software firm that implemented that a 4-day week in 2017; it’s one of the companies I talk about in SHORTER, after I spent some time interviewing co-founder and CEO Natalie Nagele. Recently, Wildbit started publishing about their experience, sharing what they’ve learned with an eye to helping other companies find their own way to a shorter workweek.
Now, Natalie has published a piece explaining why “4-Day Workweeks Can’t Work Without Deep Work:”
Successfully implementing a 4-day workweek requires a shift in how we perceive and approach work itself. It may sound harsh, but a significant amount of the “work” we do during an average week is perfunctory at best and performative at worst….
Deep work is the work we hire people to do; the specializations and expertise that define careers and helps businesses grow. Deep work is what a writer does when they write or an artist does when they paint or, in the software world, what a developer does when they write code. By contrast, much of the work that detracts from deep work—the emails, the meetings, the tedious but vital administrative tasks—could be considered “shallow” work. There’s no getting around the necessity of shallow work, but it’s not why we hire people. When you’re looking to reduce work time, you have to figure out how your team can use the remaining time in the most efficient way, and optimizing for deep work is the key.
Periods of uninterrupted time to think and concentrate is crucial to the concept of the 4-day workweek. This cannot happen accidentally—it must be treated as an organizational priority.
First, this is consistent with what I’ve observed at other companies: almost everybody sets aside periods in the day (or sometimes the week, depending on industry needs) when people can concentrate on important tasks that require long periods of focus, and are hard to get into and finish with the normal gale-force winds of distraction and sudden diversions that are part of too many days in the office.
Second, the need for deep work isn’t specific to what we classify as “creative work” or “knowledge work.” Just about every job that hasn’t already been taken over by a computer or robot requires moments of creativity, problem-solving, and self-management. (Conversely, with enough experience or low enough standards, professional and highly skilled work can be done with a minimum of creativity: think of professors lecturing from notes they made a decade ago, or attorneys reviewing the fine print of draft contracts.) This is one reason restaurants, nursing homes, and government offices can also see improvements in performance and productivity when they shift to 4-day weeks: underneath all the obvious routine is a lot of improvisation and decision-making. We don’t normally recognize this because we’re not primed to see this work as creative: we don’t call it creative, we don’t pay it well, and most of tend to dismiss it as unskilled or unimaginative.
But no matter your company, this is important stuff to figure out. As Natalie puts it,
Making the decision to actively reduce the length of the workweek can be difficult, and the financial and economic pressures are very real for new and established companies alike. But the fundamental nature of work is changing rapidly, and systems first conceived during the Industrial Revolution are simply no longer fit for purpose in the world of knowledge work.
Natalie also talked about deep work and the 4-day week in a recent talk at the Tugboat Institute.