Buffer prides itself on being ahead of the curve. The 84-person social media company has long embraced remote work (it got rid of its office in 2015), salary transparency (it publishes everyone's pay online) and other workplace flexibility options since it was co-founded by Joel Gascoigne more than a decade ago.
When the pandemic hit, Gascoigne saw that employees were stressed gave everyone three-day weekends for the month of May 2020. What started as a month-long experiment has now become a permanent policy, and at the end of 2021, an employee survey found that 91% of workers were happier and more productive with a four-day workweek.
But the company had to overcome a few friction points to really make it work. Here are the four biggest problems Buffer had to solve to adopt a four-day workweek.
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The first order of business was figuring out how everyone would get their work done in time, says Hailley Griffis, Buffer's head of public relations.
During the first month, most teams operated with the mindset that they were doing the same amount of work in a shorter period of time, but they realized it wouldn't be sustainable.
"The short-term instinct is to do things the way they were in four days and power through," Griffis says. "But in the long-term you have to question: How should we do things differently?"
To get everyone closer to a 32-hour four-day workweek, they had to change how they worked. Buffer teams cut down on meetings (Griffis' weekly marketing check-ins were changed to monthly), moved to asynchronous communication tools like Threads, and adjusted expectations of how long it would take to meet project deadlines.
It required a big shift in mindset, starting with senior leaders, Griffis says. "Going into projects knowing we have four days instead of five, you get used to it."
Then comes another problem: Are people secretly working on Fridays in order to get all of their work done?
According to employee surveys, 73% of workers say they're indeed working on a shortened schedule, whether that's a four-day week or five shorter days. The remaining 27% of employees say they're working an average of four-and-a-half days, with a few hours on a fifth day to catch up on quick tasks or emails.
Structure vs. flexibility
Another big challenge was figuring out which day to take off. At first, Buffer gave each team their own choice. Griffis's team took off Wednesday: "You're never working more than two days at a time. It's really phenomenal."
But when that proved to be too disorganized — people still needed to work with other teams — Buffer standardized to Fridays off.
Buffer employees all get Fridays off with one exception: Their customer service department.
They offer customer support seven days a week, Griffis says, which means these team members still work shortened weeks but on a staggered rotation to cover the weekends.
With this in mind, the company hired additional customer staff during the pandemic in order to maintain coverage but still provide individuals a shortened week.
According to Buffer's 2021 survey, 84% of employees were able to get the work required of them completed in the new four-day week.
Company productivity has remained steady, but leaders found employee engagement took a hit. As it turns out, when Buffer reduced its meetings, it also cut down on formal and informal social time.
Now, they have to be more intentional and create space for team engagement, Griffis says, like by planning virtual social events so employees can connect beyond work meetings.
Griffis recognizes the biggest reasons Buffer has been successful in adopting a four-day workweek are because the CEO and senior leaders were committed to making it work, and because their smaller team can be more nimble.
The conversation has been less about "should we continue?" but rather "how do we make this work for us?" Griffis says. Now it's permanent: "This is what we're doing indefinitely."
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