Experimenting with alternative working patterns

Written by
Sarah Trounce

Every month we invite people working in the creative industry to share their views and opinions on a different theme concerning the creative working world.

We recently explored the opportunities and challenges presented by the 4-day work week. Our research for the piece uncovered a whole range of variations on the theme – from team members taking turns to enjoy ‘Freedom Fridays’ for extra-curricular enrichment, to 4.5-day weeks, and 9-day fortnights. Here we talk to a selection of studios about their alternative working patterns and the challenges around doing work differently.

Erica Routledge, Operations Director at Accept & Proceed

We adopted the 9-day fortnight a few months before the pandemic started in 2020. We'd been entertaining the idea in which our teams would take every other Friday off to explore new worlds and bring back fresh thinking, simply because the ratio of a 5-day work week and 2-day rest never sat well with us. We wanted to experiment with how prioritising rest and exploration might impact our team's mental health and creative work. When the pandemic hit, the 'optional experiment' became more of a necessity and we implemented it right away. After a few months of trialling the Friday Fortnight, we knew it was here to stay; two years on post-pandemic, it's become ingrained into our studio culture and benefits. We don’t ask for a report on how these Fridays are used — we only ask that they are used in whatever ways sustain or nurture each person. Our teams are better rested, have learned to use their time more productively and come back energised each week. This helped us significantly in getting through 2020, and has continued to better serve us today.

The earliest challenges were time management and resourcing but our brilliant project managers were quick to identify this and implement the Fortnight Fridays far out into our project planning and scheduling. With advanced notice and strategic planning, we were able to align feedback rounds accordingly and avoid any client impact. In addition, by sharing the rationale behind the time off, clients came to appreciate how we prioritised the work-life balance of the team — some even adopted the practice themselves! As one of the earliest studios to implement the 9-day fortnight over two years ago, we have the unique perspective of seeing how the benefits come together and impact the team's well-being and project outputs over time. Pre-pandemic, the idea of a shorter work week was quite uncommon and even now, it's still in its early adoption stages. We're happy to report that years later, the 9-day fortnight continues to be a well-received and respected benefit for talent attraction and retention, however, it should not be the sole benefit. At A&P we are continually reviewing our team's well-being and benefits package, and recommend constant evaluation to make the ever-evolving ways of working both relevant and rewarding.

Our teams are better rested, have learned to use their time more productively and come back energised each week.
Erica Routledge, Operations Director at Accept & Proceed

Mark Davis, Co Founder and Creative Director at me&dave

Exploring alternative working patterns can be super-rewarding and super-contentious. Firstly, all partners in the business need to agree on the right approach. Flexible working is increasingly important to new talent but our internal relationships are our strongest assets as a company. Our business is built on people being together and challenging each other together. Our policy for a 4.5-day work week came out of initially adopting ‘summer hours’ on Fridays during a set period of the year. The next step has emerged as ‘Keep It Free Fridays’ which means avoiding external and internal meetings wherever possible and people working from home until they all finish up at 2pm. Not only do the team get the afternoon off but we use Friday mornings as an opportunity to get our heads down and prepare for the coming week. Freelancers always work a 4-day week with us, so the rest of the team can focus remotely. We have considered a 4-day work week for everyone – and will continue to review the question in the future – but at the moment, as a small business, keeping our revenue on track and limiting over-working Monday to Thursday would prove challenging. I worry about where the current Friday morning admin time would get absorbed. Right now we’ve found a sweet spot, but it’s all about ongoing experimentation.

Ellie Thompson, Founder and Director at Ave

Work-life balance is really important to us at Ave, and so is making sure that our team has enough space to explore, experiment and learn. But also, as a team of six people, we don’t have the ability to simply drop to a 4-day working week. The only way this would be achievable would be to do the 40 hours work over four days, which would make them very long days! If we were to achieve a 32-hour working week, then we would need to dramatically restructure our overheads and running costs; i.e. not having an office, putting up our rates, and so on. We’re not saying ‘never’ but at a time of imminent recession, and having just got through Covid, we need to prioritise business stability during a period when things are about to get economically rocky across the UK. For microbusinesses the challenge to find a balance is really difficult. Since I founded Ave, eight years ago, we have had a ‘Freedom Friday’ policy, where each week one member of the team has a day to spend how they want. As it’s only one team member at a time on rotation, it makes it easier for us to schedule around. They then come in on Friday afternoon at beer time and share with the team what they have done, seen or learnt, and follow up with a blog in our journal. What people do really varies, from gallery visits, to mentoring students, to online courses, experiments in new softwares and so on. As a small studio, everyone appreciates this moment of time and really makes the most of it. It helps in our shared learning and works towards making sure everyone feels valued, trusted, and invested in.

As a small studio, everyone appreciates this moment of time and really makes the most of it. It helps in our shared learning and works towards making sure everyone feels valued, trusted, and invested in.
Ellie Thompson, Founder and Director at Ave

Stephanie Ireland, Studio Manager at Midnight

Midnight is a fully distributed company and always has been. One of the most unique things about Midnight is the fact that the team comes from so many different places, from all corners of the world. We believe our diverse experiences, backgrounds, and ideas make us a better team. Distributed working is more than working from home – it offers our team greater flexibility, balance and autonomy. It gives Midnight the benefit of a wider diversity of talent and a more agile and productive workforce, plus we're more resilient and eco-friendly. In addition to annual leave, we give our team every other Friday off – an additional 24 days of holiday. The need for alternative schedules has always been a focus for us as a distributed team and because of that, people who have time to disconnect come back more positive, engaged and focused. A 4-day week is certainly something we would consider in the future and some of our team already work shorter weeks. Communication and planning is key to making agile working work. To introduce a 4-day working week we would just need to plan ahead and communicate clearly to clients, freelancers and partners alike.

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The If You Could Jobs Journal is a space for the creative community to share their views and opinions into the creative working world. If you're interested in contributing in the future please get in touch hello@ifyoucouldjobs.com.

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