Triangle Tech Companies Weigh The Trade-Offs Of A Four-Day Work Week

Illustration by Jackie Sizing

When San Francisco-based fintech Bolt implemented a four-day work week for its employees in January, it got tech companies talking even more about a buzzy topic. Could a four-day work week truly replace the traditional five-day model and create the same or higher levels of productivity? 

For Bolt, the answer has been yes. The startup found that at the end of its three-month trial period, 84 percent of employees said they were more productive and 86 percent were more efficient with their time. And during the age of the “Great Resignation,” it was especially meaningful that 84 percent reported an improvement in their work life balance.

[Editor’s Note: Bolt’s 27-year-old CEO Ryan Breslow has been doing some resigning of his own at the high-flying startup that was just valued at $14B, leaving the CEO post for an executive chairman role either by choice or “encouragement” from the board. But his issues were unrelated to the company’s new four-day work week.]

Fred Stutzman, Freedom CEO

Carrboro-based Freedom, which offers tech solutions to block out Internet distractions and get work done, is one Triangle startup that has already implemented a four-day work week in some fashion—every other week during the summer. Although they haven’t committed to the schedule fully, CEO Fred Stutzman said Freedom is learning from its experiences and considering how to expand down the road.

“Companies don’t need to go all the way to begin—that’s a big leap,” Stutzman said. “You need to get your processes very much ironed out before you commit to a full-on four-day work week.”

At least during the summer, a traditionally slower period for the company, there have been no drawbacks to the schedule.

“We believe that we’re as efficient during our four-day work-week cycle,” Stutzman said. “It helps us synchronize our vacation calendars, and it gives the team a much-needed break during the summer. It gives them some days to vacation, or catch up on household chores, go to the DMV, etc.—all without the pressure of feeling like they are letting the team down.”

For a mostly remote, multinational workforce like Freedom’s, Stutzman said it was a fairly seamless transition. But it may be harder for other industries.

Spiffy CEO Scot Wingo

Scot Wingo, the founder and CEO of Spiffy, an on-demand car care platform, said his company wouldn’t consider a shorter work week since it offers services to customers seven days a week. Therefore, the headquarters team is constantly supporting the team out in the field.

But Wingo, who previously launched three successful software startups, said there are some companies that might do well with this type of work schedule.

“I think this makes the most sense for big companies that have established very lucrative business models,” Wingo said. He pointed out that Cary-based SAS has worked under the 35-hour work week for a while, and IBM/Red Hat, Google, Apple and Amazon all could potentially move to a four-day work week as a major recruiting benefit in this era of intense demand for talent.

When Microsoft tested a four-day work week in Japan in 2019, the company reported a 40 percent increase in productivity (shown by sales per employee). Efficiency also improved with a 23 percent reduction in electricity costs, and more than 90 percent of employees approved of the change.

Raleigh-based Pendo, which employs around 900 employees, is not considering implementing a four-day work week at this time, said the company’s Chief People Officer Kelli Dragovich.

Pendo Chief People Officer Kelli Dragovich

While Pendo is paying attention to new workplace trends and has fielded questions about the four-day work week at its biweekly internal Town Hall meetings, the company feels confident that it provides sufficient flexibility through other policies.

“We offer unlimited PTO, and we’ve added three designated mental health shutdown days for the entire company, so our employees already have a lot of flexibility when it comes to time off,” Dragovich said. “We do recognize that some employees may be dealing with burnout from various added pressures and concerns during the pandemic, and so we’ve also ramped up the benefits we provide.”

These offerings include access to outside resources. Those include a mental health platform called Modern Health, which provides employees with access to therapy and coaching; and the Twic platform, which gives workers the ability to choose a variety of health and wellness benefits.

Overall, offering your employees more time to recharge may be an integral way to recruit them to your company in a time where tech talent is hard to come by. But the size of the company plays a major role in assessing if the work schedule is actually feasible.

“In the context of startups, I don’t see it really working unless the startup is raising tons of capital and can afford it,” Wingo said. “The unavoidable math in a startup that’s fighting to get to the enviable position of the big companies of the world is there is X amount of work, Y people to do it and Z dollars to invest.”  

And for most growing startups, the math for a four-day work week just doesn’t seem to add up.

About Suzanne Blake 362 Articles
Suzanne profiles startups and innovation for GrepBeat. Before working at GrepBeat, Suzanne attended UNC Chapel Hill, obtaining a degree in journalism and political science. Previously, she wrote for CNBC, QSR Magazine, FSR Magazine and The Daily Tar Heel.