A 4-Day Work Week and the Sky’s the Limit
Vice President, Customer Experience
Ian Wild values his time in the shower. This is when he finds solutions to complicated problems or creative ways to work better. “Somebody who's clever once said to me, ‘The most important, valuable part of my working day is the 15 minutes I have in the shower, when I can actually solve problems,’ ” says Ian, vice president of customer experience at WANdisco in the United States.
He also values his time gardening, cycling, golfing, and sailing. A man of many interests, Ian has a whole list of activities on his docket, including developing his technical skills. And now there’s time, thanks to WANdisco’s four-day work week.
Ian was an early proponent of the shorter work week for what he says were purely selfish reasons. “I've been working really hard for a long time and I began thinking, ‘What does my future look like?’ ” Before the change, Ian might have spent 50 percent of his weekends doing chores around the house or running errands, leaving less time for fun.
The chores still exist — he’s taken on more of them since his wife, Hannah, has returned to the office — but now that he gets an extra day off each week, Ian has more time to pursue the things he loves. With encouragement from Hannah, who's not bitter but is rather a bit jealous of Ian’s schedule, he’s resurrected old passions such as flying Cessna airplanes.
Ian is also taking this opportunity to get fit and recently cycled 70 miles roundtrip from his home in Oakland, California up to Mount Diablo, which boasts a near 3,850-foot summit.
“Having Fridays free is about more than just the sum of that one day; it's like the whole experience of the weekend completely changes,” boasts Ian. This newfound way of living and working has completely transformed his life by making a major difference in his mental and physical health.
“The four-day work week doesn't mean you can't work on a Friday; it just gives you the freedom to manage your week better.”
Stress can be a factor in Ian’s line of work: there are project deadlines and customer demands, among other responsibilities. Given this, Ian doesn’t always have the luxury of taking off an entire Friday. For him, working that day is a choice. For example, he may take advantage of the quiet time on a Friday to write a document versus doing it on a Monday. “The four-day work week doesn't mean you can't work on a Friday; it just gives you the freedom to manage your week better,” he explains.
He also checks messages via the Slack app — the company’s preferred method for communicating internally — which enables him to manage unnecessary distractions and keep an eye on important communications. “There are still customers, and they don’t stop working on a Friday,” says Ian, explaining that within his team are customer-facing groups that have to be available at all times, either to respond to unforeseen issues that may arise or to meet project deadlines. “If there's work to be done, there's work to be done.” Yet, there’s a workaround for that: If people need to clock time on a Friday, then they can take a different day off.
Working smarter, not harder
Ian has a long history with WANdisco and attributes this to the many interesting roles he’s held there. He joined the company in 2009 as its first sales engineer for the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region, in addition to doubling up as a product manager. From there, he led the engineering organization's growth and subsequent expansion from the Sheffield office in England to Belfast, Ireland. In 2014, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, landing a customer-focused technical sales role and ultimately advancing to VP of customer experience.
The people and the company’s culture have also contributed to Ian’s tenure. “I love the people I work with and the culture of trust that we have,” says Ian, crediting WANdisco CEO David Richards for embodying a type of culture that resonates with Ian’s work style. So, it should come as no surprise that Ian was an early advocate for the four-day work week, not just for personal gain, but also for professional reasons. “I realized that the company could work smarter, not harder,” he says, adding that the idea of working fewer days a week provided an opportunity for WANdisco to remove unnecessary meetings, for instance, enabling people to better manage their time and work more efficiently.
Since the launch of the new work week, Ian says he’s definitely seen an uptick in efficiency. He attributes this not only to the team’s efficiency in managing their time, but also to the increase in employee retention. When the new idea was announced, some people worried that they might be getting a pay cut or that something else was going on. “It took them a while to realize that the company was making this change because it really does care about its people,” says Ian. This change has instilled a sense of confidence in the team that shows in their demeanor. “They seem more relaxed, more settled, more committed,” he muses.
Keeping employees has been a challenge for companies in the past couple of years, during which the job market has seen an influx in resignations, a symptom ignited by COVID-19 and further fueled by news headlines. Ian recalls how this had impacted WANdisco: “One person would go, and they would take two or three other people with them. There wasn't a lot we could do to counter it other than to offer more money, and doing that is a very unsustainable way of keeping people in the long term.”
WANdisco has retained far more employees since the four-day work week went into effect. Ian believes that this four-day model provides WANdisco with a tangible benefit that makes the company more competitive without having to make major operational changes or investments. In light of this, he uses it as a competitive tool for recruiting candidates. While Ian does discuss the work-life balance aspect in interviews, he emphasizes that the shorter work week is a benefit of the trust that WANDisco places in its people: it’s about encouraging efficiency and productivity and is not a symptom of working less. “You can’t come here and take it easy,” he says. “That's not the organization at all. That's not what we're looking for.”
Three days of separation
While the benefits of a four-day work week are clear — more personal time, better mental and physical health, improved productivity, empowered teams, and more — it has presented some challenges, but nothing that can’t be fixed.
For one, while the extra day off allows Ian to shut down his mind by end-of-day Thursday, it does challenge him at times to quickly come up-to-speed on Monday. “I finish work on a Thursday, and then I don't necessarily think about it again until Monday,” says Ian. Whereas, with a two-day weekend, by Monday, Ian was more likely to recall what had happened on Friday. To address this, Monday mornings now start with a review of the prior week followed by a discussion of goals for the current week, a tactic that the team hadn’t done prior. Thursdays have also been reorganized to allow time for a weekly wrap-up, something that wasn’t formerly done on Fridays due to the company’s “no meetings” policy, which was a precursor to the four-day work week.
The shorter work week also challenges Ian to make the most of the time he gets when working with his team in the U.K. For example, he now has more early-morning calls. “It’s forced me to become more of a morning person,” laughs Ian when admitting how he recently had to get up at the crack of dawn for a 6 a.m. call. Ian would prefer more in-person meetings with the team, but is concerned that the shorter work week might defeat the purpose of flying 4,000 miles to spend only four days with them. Regardless, seeing the team in-person, even if infrequently, is important for both business and morale. To get the most out of their time together, the team decided to set aside Friday for social events during Ian’s visits.
Finding solutions on their own is something in which Ian takes pride and says is a direct result of WANdisco’s culture of empowering its people. “We want them to be self-organized without having to go to their managers.”
This philosophy holds true for Ian, as well. The four-day work week has led him to become more focused and organized, leaving him more room for creativity and problem-solving. The result, Ian says, is less stress. Overall, the transformative power of the four-day work week can be seen in higher levels of happiness for both him and his teams. “I'm sure it’s made me a nicer person to work with,” he laughs.