A 4-day work week for our engineering team: How we made it work
We have been working 4 days a week at Welcome to the Jungle since 2019, an impactful decision taken by the company after a 5-month trial period to test the concept. And while this reduced-hour working model has had, overall, a positive effect on employees’ wellbeing, giving them better control over their work, it goes without saying that some adjustments had to be made to ensure its success.
Indeed, with people being able to choose between Wednesdays and Fridays for their day off, employees can run into each other less than usual, spending only 3 to 4 days together each week, which can lead to some coordination and communication issues. This could have been particularly frustrating for the engineering team, where rituals have such a significant place, especially in the context of full remote, a working situation chosen by 56% of the team, and given the fact that any non full-remote employee can also work 75% of their time remotely.
Yet, after several years of working in this way, we can safely say that the 4-day week hasn’t slowed down delivery from the engineering team as might have been expected. It was definitely not an easy task to reach this point, though: We had to question the organization and processes of the team and make some adjustments, which we will outline in this article.
The 4-day week at Welcome to the Jungle
At Welcome to the Jungle, the 4-day week was implemented under certain conditions:
- The day off can be either on Wednesdays or Fridays, with the possibility to change the day every quarter.
- It is only applicable to employees who have a full-time position (including internships) and only once a one-month trial period has been completed.
- Each individual is free to do whatever they want during their day off: They don’t have to do any work at all or they can work part of the day/all day if they want to. However, we have noticed that many employees do tend to take time to at least answer urgent Slack messages.
Making the necessary adjustments in the engineering team
Daily priorities are now shared with all team members
To reduce coordination issues between the members of the engineering team, we had to make sure that everybody was focused on the same tasks at the same time.
Therefore, we decided on the following priorities for each day of the week:
- One-to-one meetings with engineering managers are planned for Mondays or Tuesdays.
- Knowledge-sharing sessions, like workshops and practice chapters, are ideally also planned for Tuesdays.
- Wednesdays and Fridays are dedicated to focus work thanks to a no-meeting rule.
- Squad meetings, refinement meetings as well as Jungle Labs days to explore new technologies, libraries, tools, or ideas are planned for Thursdays
- Gathering events and drinks are also usually organized for Thursdays.
Focus time periods enhance the opportunities for pair programming, pair reviewing, shadowing, and training. Additionally, it gives newcomers a chance to get to know their mentor and get their bearings.
A stricter set of rules is implemented for meetings
Having only 3 potential days during which to organize meetings has meant we have had to reduce the number we hold by 40%. To prompt a natural decrease in the volume of physical meetings and conference calls, we defined a certain number of rules that need to be followed:
- Each organizer is responsible for ensuring that the meeting is necessary and only the relevant people are invited.
- Each meeting must have an agenda detailed in the invitation.
- The default duration of each meeting is set to 30 minutes on Google Calendar.
- No late arrivals are allowed.
- Meetings are closed as soon as the relevant points have been discussed (rather than allowing them to run to the default time, with talk spilling over into details of our next holiday).
- The frequency of rituals has been reduced: for example, retrospective meetings now happen once every 2 months instead of every 2 weeks.
Every discussion is made accessible to everyone
Private Slack channels are now forbidden for work-related discussions. Only public channels are to be used and every meeting should be video-recorded or have minutes taken.
Anyone in the engineering team should be able to have access to all discussions, no matter what their day off is. This is key if asynchronous work is to be successful, and is particularly necessary once a 4-day-week context is introduced.
Code reviews are assigned to groups rather than individuals
This adjustment was crucial if delivery was not to be affected. Because what is worse and more frustrating than having to wait for a pull request to be reviewed?
By assigning code reviews to a collective rather than an individual, we avoid bottlenecks. It certainly increases the chance of having somebody available at any time to review a pull request.
In addition, the workload can be better distributed and junior profiles can gain experience on more complex problems if they wish.
Things are more anticipated than before
More generally, working 4 days a week means the engineering team needs to anticipate everything to avoid blocking points and frustration. Specifically, team managers have to spend more time on planning than they did before.
It also involves rigorous on-call organization, taking into account each person’s day off in addition to their holiday plans.
So, how did it turn out?
Overall, the adjustments had a pretty positive impact on the engineering team. Of course, a period of adapting was necessary and we had to modify and try new things along the way. But we can safely say that the new 4-day-week format has been a success for the engineering team.
In an internal survey carried out in 2022, 95% of the tech team gave a positive answer to the question “the 4-day week model in place at Welcome to the Jungle is beneficial to me and I can enjoy my day off”, demonstrating that employees are happier with the new way of working and the way it has been managed. In particular, they enjoyed having fewer meetings on a daily basis and being able to concentrate.
And just as importantly, the team’s productivity has remained unchanged!
Elements that have helped to keep its members’ productivity stable during a 4-day week include:
- Less fatigue: An additional day off allows people to rest so that they can be more productive when they are at work.
- Less procrastination: Team members manage to handle their usual workload in 4 days instead of 5 by keeping the same pace each day instead of having productivity decrease as the week progresses.
- Greater anticipation about the tasks to come: As soon as a task is finished, people tend to ask for the next one in order to make sure they are properly organized.
- Less time spent on personal matters during workdays: Employees are able to take care of most of these during their day off.
- Thinking outside the box: By giving the brain time to rest one more day during the week, creativity can flourish.
That’s all folks! Well, of course we are still improving our 4-day-week model — it is a continuous process. But we are convinced that some of the adjustments we have made could be beneficial for engineering teams everywhere, whether they are thinking about adopting a 4-day week or not.
Written by Anne-Laure Civeyrac, tech editor, based on interviews with Virgile Gouala, Florian Demaria, Clément Folliet and Charles Petit
Illustration by Irina Selaru