This has been talked about a lot in the last 5–10 years. As the internet enabled the rise of remote work and distributed teams, we started to ask questions about our typical, expected, current ways of working. One specific question has been whether the amount of time for a week should remain as it has for the past century.
As companies in the SaaS and design world asked these questions, some have come to the realization that the maximum amount of time possible does not necessarily equate to the best end results. Sadly, others are still firmly buying into the idea of hustle, of working as many hours as physically possible each week. Simply because investors require a return on their investment and the clock is running (and the investors are not afraid to back teams making competing products).
So what is the best way for a team (small or large) to structure their week?
The answer is it depends.
Dave Martin from Help Scout makes a case for simply keeping things to their 40 hours. And he gives tips for doing just that. And for people in our industry, especially start ups, that’s an important message.
There are too many places putting the pressure on to work up in the range of 60 hours per week. There’s enough research out there now to make a strong argument that this is actually a detrimental approach — you’ll produce worse results rather accomplishing more. Even if some teams achieve success over the short term, our businesses should support us living a successful life, so we must measure the different approaches over the long term.
Mikael Cho from Crew takes it further and says that it’s time to get rid of the 40 hour work week. The de facto norm is a holdover from another time, when work was structured in different ways with people doing vastly different things. And while I agree with him in a sense, this is not the reality for some industries. For knowledge workers, that’s great. For tradespeople, not as much.
Some careers are seasonal; you’ll work more than 40 hours a week in some months, then no work at all for others. And some trades provide services in emergency situations and, as a result, some weeks will end up being longer. As long as it’s not the norm and workers are compensated, this is not necessarily an evil. There is no “one right way” to how we should work.
But for many of us, is the century old practice of putting in a solid 40 hours a good one? The team at Basecamp has experimented in this area and settled into the rhythm of 40 hour work weeks for most of the year, then switch to 4 day work weeks over the summer months (32 hour work week). Other teams have since followed suit and seem to do all right.
In his post, Mikael addresses a few more related points; this discussion is not merely about the total number of hours. If we’re going to consider changes, then we should also answer the question of what hours of each day make the sense. Is 8–4 or 9–5 the best time for everyone? And do they have to be consecutive hours, or does it ok to break your hours into chunks?
My opinion? Well, I certainly value that we’re blessed in this day and age to ask these questions. In most cases, our parents and grandparents were not having this type of discussion.
Overall, I also enjoy the flexibility and freedom provided by my employer, Wildbit. We’re firm on no more than 40 hours, but if you get your best work done in 32 hours and the remaining 8 would just be filler, no one will complain. In fact, I feel more driven to do my best because of the grace I’ve been given to guide my own efforts.
And in my own life, I’ve watched my habits and tendencies as my overall life changed. When our children were 5 and under, our days felt very different than what they feel like today (our youngest is 6). And so having a role that can shift with those needs feels like the best possible option. Exactly what hours of the day I do my best work will change over the season of life.
Hopefully, the nature of work is changing enough that we can adapt.