My position leading the People function at Signifyd means I’ve had a front-row seat to the many, painful challenges that people have faced over the past two years. Many of these challenges have always been with us, but COVID-19 seems to have made everything we struggled with more acute, more real, more in-our-face.
But I’m not here to give you another accounting of how the pandemic has hurt all of us — I’m here to talk about a silver lining. Along with the health, financial and myriad other struggles the pandemic visited upon people throughout the world, it has also served as a forcing function for some incredibly important changes for the future of work.
For our part, Signifyd is embracing that future by shifting to a four-day workweek of fewer hours and more meaningful work. It is a change for the better for our employees, our families, our customers and our investors
Naturally, we all would have preferred to get here without a deadly pandemic, but much like its role in the rapid shift to ecommerce, the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of work in a way we would not have seen otherwise, at least not in our lifetimes. When the pandemic hit, it forced a moment of reckoning for many of us. Without the normal distractions to get us through the day-to-day drudgery of life, we asked ourselves — do I actually like what I do? Is all the stress and chaos worth it? What does it all mean?
The workday ends, but the laptop is relentless
Furthermore, with all of Signifyd’s employees shifting to fully remote, people were feeling the effects of not having a true, physical barrier between work and personal life. Time for dinner? OK, just shut your laptop and walk a few steps to the kitchen — oh, and now you are supposed to be “off.” But, that laptop just sits there all evening staring at you until you finally cave, crack it back open, and start responding to messages and emails or working on that project you’re behind on.
- After months of the pandemic and work-from-home, Signifyd began experimenting with a four-day workweek mid-way through 2021. The idea was to reduce burnout by spending fewer hours working in more meaningful ways.
- Employee enthusiasm was off-the-charts and the shorter workweek had no effect on productivity.
- Signifyd announced in December that the company would be going to a four-day week during the first quarter of 2022 and laid out plans to be sure its customers would continue to receive unparalleled service and attention
We saw this struggle first hand. We read it in people’s messages; we saw it on their faces over Zoom; we read between the lines when people resigned — not for a better opportunity but just because they needed a break. It became abundantly clear that if we were going to truly help our employees and, therefore, retain them, it was going to take something fairly drastic.
We began bouncing around the idea of a shortened workweek but with little certainty. Our business is so complex! Our top customers are so demanding! We are growing so quickly! We have such aggressive goals! It would never work. So we tried other things — monitoring and encouraging time off more aggressively. Trying to set no-meeting days. Working towards more asynchronous communication vs. live meetings. All of which helped — a little bit.
Summer Fridays blazed the trail for a four-day workweek
Then our R&D team (known for their innovation and forward-thinking culture) plowed ahead and piloted Summer Fridays, where the whole R&D org worldwide had every other Friday off. And between the anecdotal feedback (there were more positive mentions of Summer Fridays in our Q3 Engagement Survey than any other topic we’ve seen before) and the data itself, which showed no real difference in productivity during the pilot, we became more confident that we could achieve similar results to trials conducted in Iceland, Korea, and Japan.
Microsoft Japan didn’t see any decline — in fact, they saw a 40% increase in productivity. If they could, why couldn’t we? We have long assumed that current work hours are here to stay, but we forget that in the beginning of the 20th century, workers were putting in grueling 60 to 70 hours per week, every week. And we have all seen the data about diminishing productivity after a certain number of hours per day or week. Why do we continue to blindly accept that this burned-out reality is the best way?
It struck me, as we discussed the pros and cons of a four-day workweek, just how unique our executive team is. All of our leaders were in favor of giving this a shot — all of them! These are extremely ambitious, hungry, leaders who have bigger targets for 2022 than ever before. But not one of them was opposed to trying this experiment.
So we did.
Wellness days went company-wide in August
In August, we announced that we would have every other Friday off as “Wellness Days.” We figured this would be the perfect opportunity to observe any significant changes to our company performance, hear from our employees how it affected their lives, and allow departments to work out the kinks in case we decided to roll it out permanently. We didn’t tell the employees that we were considering a permanent change, because we didn’t want them to try to influence the data and we didn’t want them to get their hopes up in case it didn’t work out.
Well, you guessed it — our trial run was a rousing success. The feedback from our Wellness Days was completely overwhelming. Our employees felt recharged, refreshed and cared for. They documented hikes, trips, time spent with kids and pets and friends, knitting projects, and those DIY home renovations they’d been putting off. They reported that they were more excited and motivated about their work and getting more done on any given day! And in the process, we figured out how we could adjust our processes to ensure that our customers never suffered as a result. Productivity did not wane, and we had our biggest sales bookings quarter in company history. The next move was becoming pretty clear.
The day finally came, during a Dec. 2 Zoom-based all-hands. Our CEO was able to surprise our employees with the news that we would be moving permanently to a four-day workweek by March 1. It is a moment in time that will live forever in Signifyd history. I personally was overcome with emotion — simultaneously tearing up, while also laughing hysterically at the employee who forgot he was unmuted and screamed, “Signifyd is moving to a four-day workweek!!!!” to his wife at home. The outpouring of gratitude and excitement from our employees was truly indescribable. (The most unforgettable comment? “That’s it… I’m getting a Signifyd tattoo.”)
A successful four-day workweek takes a sincere commitment
The emotion was no doubt the result of many things. We have a track record of taking our commitments to employees seriously and so we needed to get this right. It was paramount that our push to advance the future of work not be just lip service.
We’ve seen other hyper-growth companies hop on the four-day bandwagon as a corporate culture play. While their intentions might have been good, their planning and socialization were not. So their efforts resulted in frustrated employees who felt they were given an empty promise. And by coming up short, they failed to deliver on commitments to customers, investors and shareholders.
This is complicated stuff, and moving deliberately to capture data and feedback, ensure buy-in from the top-down, across all sectors of the business, and troubleshoot through critical issues, was crucial to ensuring we could follow through on our promise and make the shortened workweek an actual reality. We also never lost sight of the fact that every single Signifyd employee is also a shareholder, so balancing their happiness with company results is always the ultimate goal.
As we prepare for the launch of our shortened workweek, we are zoning in on a few things in particular. The most important tenet of this endeavor is to focus on outcomes, not activities. In order to make an abbreviated workweek possible without it just becoming four extremely long days, employees need to become more efficient. That often means doing less, but doing it better. So some of the things we may have traditionally looked at as leading indicators of future success might actually set us back.
We are encouraging everyone to reexamine how they do their work and think of new ways to achieve similar (or better) outcomes. We also are working together to drastically decrease the amount of time spent in meetings. Wherever possible, we are consolidating, reducing frequency, or canceling altogether and handling async (which has the added benefit of being more inclusive to different communication styles).
Customers will continue to be covered constantly
Flexibility is also key. As a growing business with big goals, it is not feasible for some of our functions to go completely dark on a normal workday. So some of our teams will be utilizing a rotational schedule whereby instead of Friday, some team members take the following Monday off, in order to be available for our customers’ needs. Other teams are expanding their current PagerDuty or on-call escalation procedures. Some team members prefer to work on their day off, as it allows them time to think deeply without interruption.
Regardless, the goal is still to have as much of the company take the same day off as possible, because we all have experienced the massive difference in noise between being off on a day when everyone else is off too (like a holiday), versus taking a day off when everyone else is working.
Lastly, we are prioritizing communication. Where there are special circumstances required to keep Signifyd responsive to our customers’ needs or to ensure the success of a new initiative, we are working to make sure that teams are fully aware ahead of time of how they may be impacted.
The four-day workweek will one day be the norm
Ultimately, we knew it would be better to launch a four-day workweek fully expecting to make some adjustments than it would be to not launch it at all. Our teams have been incredibly accommodating and appreciative, and continue to be heavily involved in planning. We feel infinitely more confident we can be successful, having worked deliberately up to this point rather than trying to launch a new work model suddenly or all at once.
We genuinely believe it is only a matter of time before an abbreviated workweek becomes the norm. While we love the competitive advantage this provides Signifyd in the short-term, we will be the first ones celebrating if (when!) this becomes table stakes for companies wanting to compete for top talent. I truly believe companies and people all stand to gain from this transition. The energy, creativity and fire that a well-rested and appropriately refreshed employee can bring to a company is an opportunity we can and should all try to harness to our shared benefit.