This Is Uncharted
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This Is Uncharted

Our experiment with 4-day workweeks

A minimalist desk.

This summer, we’re launching an experiment to try out a 4-day workweek. Everyone’s salary is staying the same, but our team will work 32 hours every week between June 1st and August 28th (This is not four 10-hour days. This is four eight-hour days.).

As an organization, the quality and quantity of our work will remain the same, but every person will get every Friday off.

100% pay and benefits, 80% hours, 100% contribution.

If this summer experiment works, we’ll make it a permanent company policy. If it doesn’t work, we’ll return to 40-hour five-day workweeks. To help us evaluate this experiment, we’ve hired a third-party evaluator to capture quantitative and qualitative data about our experiment.

Why are we doing this?

We hypothesize that we can deliver 100% of the work at 80% of the time, while increasing team mental health, reducing team stress, and maintaining team culture and cohesion.

While the origins of this experiment began before COVID-19, the pandemic has underscored what we’ve known for a while:

Those things and more add up to a vulnerability in our society’s collective mental health. At Uncharted, we don’t pay people to sit at their desks for 40 hours a week. We pay people to contribute to our mission. For our specific circumstance (and I recognize that we’re unique and privileged), it’s the contribution that matters, not the hours.

We’re curious if moving to a 4-day workweek will lead to positive impacts on team mental health, reduced stress and increased flexibility for working parents, and will give our team the added space to pick up new hobbies or get lost in the mountains and forest-bathe. If we decrease the number of hours stuck to a screen, do we increase the chance that our team can live healthy, creative, audacious lives while also taking Uncharted to new heights? We think so.

On a Personal Note

I will confess upfront that I often work more than 40 hours per week. I’ve told myself a story that working more than 40 hours is essential for me to fulfill my responsibilities. But for this experiment, I need to walk the talk. So I started tracking my hours (I often work 50+ hours), and I learned many things about where my time goes, how much of it is nonessential to the big objectives I’m responsible for, and new ways to get my most important work done. I’ve been a brute-force entrepreneur for years where I have just put in the time to do it all. I love working, and I love Uncharted, but I know this experiment will force me to strengthen my ability to stay disciplined and be decisive. I imagine it will be a crucible that will make me a far better contributor and leader while giving me the chance to tend to my garden, get better at my Spanish, and spend time outside.

How we’re preparing

We started preparing for this experiment in November 2019, and we’ve been doing the internal work of building organizational alignment around OKRs and equipping our team with the tools needed to assess what is mission-critical and what is superfluous. Just planning for the move to a 4-day workweek has already made us smarter about the meetings we’re in, the goals we set for ourselves, and the ways we ask for and lend help. Going forward, reducing our hours by 20% while maintaining the same quantity and quality of work will require us to be more incisive decision-makers, clearer communicators, and more judicious planners. We have a brilliant, hardworking, and creative team, so I’m not too worried.

In the last month, our team has taken the following steps:

  • Department heads are restructuring team meetings, goal setting, and department coordination and collaboration.
  • Each person on the team has completed an individual reflection and self-analysis of how they spend their time and what they can do to focus on the essential.
  • We’re doubling down on Asana and we’ve begun to codify well-worn processes and steps into playbooks and project management templates.
  • We are all reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown and discussing in a team-wide book-club about prioritizing what’s essential and cutting out what’s nonessential.
  • We’ve hosted internal forums on topics about how to optimize meetings, how to maintain culture, and how to block time and plan out our weeks. These conversations have led us to reimagine the preparation that goes into meetings and how we structure our weeks. As one example, our team has committed to blocking off the same hours each week for protected, heads-down work.

How the experiment will be evaluated

A third-party, arms-length evaluation partner is crucial for us to evaluate the experiment successfully, so we’ve hired Coeffect, a Denver-based company that helps organizations leverage data more effectively. We’ve worked with Paul Collier and the Coeffect team for years. For this experiment, they have designed an evaluation process that evaluates team performance, hours worked, cultural impacts, self-reported mental health, personal life attributes, and stress levels (you can see the survey here). Coeffect is capturing baseline data this week, a mid-summer survey to understand if the team has actually changed working practices, and end-of-summer survey to understand how these dimensions have changed. They will also be conducting focus groups with our team to capture our lived experiences and reactions from our clients over the course of this experiment.

To evaluate our performance, we’ve also created specific OKRs for the three months over the summer, and we’ll be evaluating our performance against those objectives and key results at the organizational, departmental, and individual levels. This data will help us assess how successful we were at achieving OKRs benchmarked at what we consider 100% contribution (in other words, we’re not taking our normal OKRs and adjusting them to be 20% less ambitious).

We will also be having in-depth conversations with our external partners and funders to evaluate the impact our 4-day workweek has had on them. This quantitative and qualitative data will also help us evaluate the external perception of Uncharted amongst our partners and funders.

In the spirit of transparency, we will make our summarized data public for anyone to review.

A Note about our Culture

We are a culture-driven company. From our ability to have hard conversations to our skills with intra-office pranks to our sense of togetherness, our culture defines us more than anything else, so our team has agreed that if our hours are cut, our culture cannot suffer. It is an essential service. The last 2.5 months have been a crash-course in how to deepen culture when we’re working remotely. We’ve had to plant our culture in small moments, nurture it remotely, and make a two-dimensional work experience three-dimensional again. We’ve had to celebrate differently, listen more intently, create watercooler moments with greater intentionality, and speak directly to each other with full truth and full love through a computer screen. I miss our team’s in-person togetherness, but our culture is as strong as ever after 2.5 months apart. If our culture can thrive during remote working, can it thrive during a 4-day workweek? We think so.

To our partners, funders, and friends (and anyone who depends on us)

We’ve reached out to many of you to communicate this shift, and we’re grateful for your questions, excitement, curiosity, and eagerness to learn with us.

Our commitment to you:

  • This experiment will not slow our pursuit of our organization’s mission and zeal for impact. COVID-19 has made our team more powerfully charged to create impact than ever, and we believe that Uncharted has a unique role to play in the rebuilding and reinventing to come. It is our commitment that a 4-day workweek will not be incompatible with our dedication to our work.
  • We will maintain (or exceed) the quantity and quality of work you expect from us.
  • If a meeting must take place on a Friday, we’ll be there.

Our ask of you:

  • Hold us accountable to delivering the quantity and quality of work you expect from us. You can reach out to me directly if you have concerns. I also invite you to communicate this standard of accountability directly to the people on our team you work most closely with.
  • Work with us so we can schedule our meetings with you Monday — Thursday.
  • Understand that we will not be answering emails on Fridays (unless truly urgent).
  • Understand that we can’t say yes to everything. If we have to decline an invitation or opportunity, we ask that you forgive us (this is true at 40 hours, 60 hours, 32 hours, etc.)

Follow Along

We invite you to follow along.

  • Regular Medium Post Updates: We’ll be posting our learnings, struggles, and insights from this 4-day workweek experiment regularly.
  • Uncharted Territory Podcast: We’ll be featuring members of our team on our podcast to share their experience during the 4-day workweek experiment.
  • Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn.
  • Read the research we reviewed in preparing for this experiment. It features articles, research studies, white papers, op-eds, and campaigns on the 4-day work week. We are not the first by any stretch. It’s been coincidental that in the last week with Jacinda Ardern’s suggestion about a country-wide 4-day workweek in New Zealand, the amount of writing and literature on the 4-day workweek has proliferated.

Final Note

In a moment where it seems like everyone is trying to predict an increasingly unpredictable future, I’m reminded of the power of the simple time-bound experiment. We’re making no proclamations that this should be the new normal, or that we’ve cracked the nut and figured it out, or that we have a rare vision into the future, or that we have it all together and now everyone should follow our path or that the future of work looks like 4-day workweeks. It is not our intention to suggest any of that. This is one experiment for one team. Nothing more.

We approach this experiment with a hypothesis, a willing team, a third-party evaluator, and, as Mary Oliver says, “our one wild and precious life” to live. What will we learn? How will it all unfold? We don’t know, but we hope you’ll join us on this adventure and follow along.

Banks Benitez and Team Uncharted
Co-Founder and CEO

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