Event highlights: why Type A Media’s Ross Tavendale introduced the four-day working week

The hustle hard, obsessed with productivity brand of startup culture can be exhausting. But some fed-up founders have been trying out an alternative approach.  

One of the antidotes is the four-day working week, which compresses five days into four. The Henley Business School  estimates that a third of UK businesses have adopted this way of working, and it’s saved them  £92bn a year thanks to having happier workforces that take fewer days off.  

Does shaving off a day from the working week really lower stress levels? What are the pitfalls, and how can you make sure it doesn’t affect your ability to deliver for clients? Entrepreneur Ross Tavendale, founder of digital marketing agency Type A Media, introduced the four-day working week years ago and says it’s one of the best decisions he’s made. We spoke to him at our latest founders meetup to find out what he’s learned 

 

Attracting and retaining talent  

Ross didn’t adopt a four-day working week as part of a long-term strategy. Instead, he did it to entice the best talent to his new agency (and keep them around). He explained: “I was leaving one business to go and start my own and I wanted to bring the staff with me, so I said I’d do them a four-day week and bonuses.” The entrepreneur knew that one of the biggest challenges for agencies was having high turnover rates (which leads to poorer client service). He figured that offering this benefit would allow him to compete with the “glitz and glamour of the big daddy agencies”. On a more selfish front, Ross – who considers himself to be an outgoing introvert – wanted more time to himself without interruptions.  

Having a four-day week is also an important tool for creating the sort of company culture he wanted. Ross wanted to enable his team to achieve balance rather than chasing endless productivity gains. “I’m a workaholic but it would be weird if everyone in my company was like me. I’m like this because it’s my dream to do this – it’s not my employees’ dream to run an agency. I want to build something that allows my team to earn money, have a good time and grow intellectually,” he said. But afterwards, close the laptop. Go and live your life.”  

But is it working? Ross had a clear answer: We’ve been in operation for four years and we have a lot of our original team still with us. It’s as simple as that.” He also believes his team are happier for it: “People are much happier and they’re much more relaxed. And if you’re relaxed you can make smarter decisions and you can get more things done with less resources.” 

 

Measure outputs, not inputs 

From the start Ross wasn’t concerned about any drop in productivity. Starting the weekend early on a Friday (everyone at Type A Media takes the same day, a Friday, off), doesn’t reduce the agency’s outputs because everyone tends to be in weekend mode on that day anyway. Agency life is all about going out on a Thursday and then being less than 100% on a Friday, Ross told us. You’ve got to get real about what your staff are doing and what their productivity is actually like. Friday’s a bit of a bum day anyway. There’s also no work that should ever be shipped on a Friday.”  

Ross also says that having Friday off is discretionary: his employees have client deliverables they have to get out the door each week, and it’s up to them to manage their own time. This has helped the agency become more focused on what matters rather than meaningless metrics like the number of hours people are clocking. It was part of a wider revaluation of a client services business and what actually matters. You’ve got to think about what is your output, not what is your input. Because that is really what matters. 

But he rejects the idea that a four-day working week can miraculously help businesses get more done. “This whole idea that we work less and get more done is kind of nonsense,” he said. “And I can firmly say that we don’t get more done working less.”  

 

 

7 lessons and strategies for four-day working week success

 

Cutting 20% of your agency’s working hours is not without its challenges. Ross shared some of the strategies that work for him.

 

  1. Having Friday off is not a given. Ross’ team get 28 days statutory holiday and Friday is considered a normal working week. Employees only get to stay at home if they’ve completed their deliverables and it’s at their line manager’s discretion. He told us that while most people don’t abuse the system, he noticed at one point that some junior members of the team were shifting due dates on project to get round this early on, but “that gets cracked down on very severely”.
  2. Manage the way holidays are booked. Ross took the controversial decision to allow holidays to be booked in week-long or two-week blocks only. This was because some staff were essentially gaming the system by booking the same days off near bank holidays strategically. “I work with SEO people who naturally just gamify everything, so immediately everybody just took the complete piss,” he recalled. He also thinks that it’s healthier to have a culture where people take proper chunks of time off. “It forces you to take an actual break”.
  3. Everyone manages their own time, which is empowering. The standard way for agencies to work is to have a project manager plan a team or department’s time. But Ross said “that is fundamentally wrong”. He wants his team to have freedom – both financially and when it comes to their work-life balance. So everyone working at Type A Media plans their own week and makes sure they’re delivering on their individual objectives. “Giving people the right access and the right power really makes a big, big difference,” he said.” This approach has also allowed Ross to keep his team lean – which was especially important in the early days when the agency needed it to make a profit quickly as it was running on his personal investment. “We hired software developers before we hired consultants because we needed to make sure that the functional part of the business was taken care of.”
  4. Bring in library hours. Between 8am and 1pm every day there are no meetings, no calls, no instant messages. If a client tries to book a meeting during this time period, their emails are set up to automatically decline the request. Ross says this creates no issues when it comes to client satisfaction because clients still have plenty of time slots during the week when the team is available for meetings.
  5. Protect your productive hours and never work without a brief. Ross is fiercely protective of the hours when he is most productive during these library hours and has trained his team to be the same. “Get them off of Slack, and get them doing writeups instead. We don’t do anything without a brief, there is no ad-hoc allowed.”
  6. Make sure you create space for feedback. Ross recognises that trust has to be earned – and it goes both ways. Employees give him 1-to-1 feedback, which he then makes publicly visible so there’s total transparency. “I’m a human being, I’m a young MD and this is my first time running a company and there will naturally be mistakes and it’s important that they see that.”
  7. Make your onboarding process slick. To make sure new starters can work efficiently and adjust to a slightly different way of working, Ross says it’s important to invest in your information infrastructure. Type A Media’s information is categorised into Pillars (clients and people), Pipelines (things like new business or project management processes) and Information Vaults (information that doesn’t change often).

 

 

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