In April, Brazilians had two weeks of four working days: two holidays gave all workers a taste of what some professionals already have as a routine and which may become a trend in the corporate world.
The idea is not new, but it has been getting traction recently. News of companies and even countries, such as the UK, Spain, Iceland, and New Zealand, adopting or starting studies on reduced working hours (without reducing wages) have been popping up more frequently, driven by the dramatic routine changes required to contain the advance of the covid-19 pandemic.
In Brazil, discussions on the matter are still at the beginning, but there are already companies that have adopted the model, such as NovaHaus, Templo.cc, and Winnin. Zee.Dog, acquired by Petz for BRL 715 million in August 2021, is the largest of the four-day-a-week companies – the company has about 200 employees, according to its LinkedIn page.
Reading about experiments in other countries, Luciano Braga, co-founder and leader of activism and social projects at Shoot, an advertising agency in Porto Alegre city, decided to bring the novelty to his company. “When we found out that this was happening in Europe, we didn’t even blink. I said ‘let’s do it’ and everybody kind of agreed”, he said in an interview with LABS.
Shoot was founded 12 years ago by advertising people unhappy with their own market. “It may sound paradoxical, but [traditional] creativity and advertising companies don’t have as much space for you to be creative,” Luciano explained. Besides, they wanted to work more in line with their convictions. “We were always encouraging consumerism. We wanted to generate a positive impact on society with our creativity.”
The story behind Shoot helps understand the company’s pioneering embrace of the shorter workweek. So does Shoot’s size: today, there are 12 employees, including the owners, which makes it easier to implement what Luciano calls an experiment. “We call it experimenting because we’re going to make adjustments along the way. Understanding this as a process is important.”
Crawly, a data-focused startup from Minas Gerais founded by João Drummond (currently CEO) and Pedro Naroga in 2017, is another small company (19 people, with 5 open positions) that has joined the reduced workweek, but for another reason – at least at first.
Engineering positions have enjoyed a weekly day off since 2018 when the founders saw the benefit as a differential to recruiting developers and engineers. “We saw that the productivity [of the engineering team] didn’t have a negative impact, so we implemented it for everyone,” João told LABS. This happened in early 2021. After a year of working only four days a week, the results have been satisfactory for now.
How to do it
Reducing the working time by 20% requires adjustments in processes and expectations, both internal and external.
One of the problems mentioned by Luciano was that some employees became anxious about not knowing what to do with their day off, or felt guilty about being “left idle” while “everyone else” was working.
At Shoot, the employees were organized into two teams: the customer service team, which works from Monday to Thursday, and the creative team, which comes in on Tuesday and ends the week on Friday.
According to Luciano, this helps the workflow. The customer service team comes in first, holds meetings with clients, and defines the week’s demands, and then the creative team gets down to work to make the deliveries happen. On Tuesday, the first day of the week when everybody is at the company, there is a general meeting.
At Crawly, everyone has Friday off. Or almost everyone. The partners still work five days a week.
Crawly relies on on-call workers to assist customers in case of emergencies, in a model similar to what technology companies usually adopt for weekends and holidays.
Apart from these occasional adjustments, the customers have not complained, according to the two executives. “Our deliveries have gone on very well,” summarized João, from Crawly.
Can it be done?
The growing number of companies embracing the four-day work week can give the impression that such an advance is available to everyone. Thatiana Cappellano, founding partner at 4CO, a consulting firm focused on organizational culture, views the trend with caution.
(Here, an observation: Shoot and Crawly have adopted the work-from-home model since before the pandemic, even though they have a central office.)
For Thatiana, the big problem is not about productivity. Experiences even in large corporations, such as Panasonic or Microsoft in Japan, have shown that it is possible to combine shorter working weeks with a significant increase in productivity.
However, productivity is not a unique formula. “If we can import this ‘modus operandi’ [of successful companies in a four-day week]? I think we need to think about it,” says Thatiana. “The corporate culture changes a lot from country to country and from industry to industry.”
Another risk pointed out by the specialist, this one for the employee, is having to work as much as before in less time, which can become a source of stress. There is no point in reducing the work week if the employee is overloaded with fewer hours of work. “It could turn into chaos if we don’t understand work in qualitative terms instead of quantitative terms.”
Therefore, according to Thatiana, it is important that companies that decide to adopt the four-day week have clear policies related to the subject. “The policy doesn’t guarantee [its compliance], but if there is one, the employee has something to argue about,” she says, referring to scenarios in which the company starts demanding more than agreed.
Fad or future?
Those who adopted the shorter work week have no regrets and show enthusiasm for the new work paradigm.
“I am very critical of the capitalist system and the way we allocate ourselves to work,” says Luciano, from Shoot. For him, the four-day week is not a system break, it is simply a way, legal and feasible, to give people more time. “That’s what everybody wants today, rest and time. Obviously money too, but rest and time. In Brazil, this is still very incipient, it will take a long time, but we don’t see it as a fad, no. I see it as a natural path.”
João, from Crawly, thinks that the four-day week model should get more popular than the work-from-home model. “It depends a lot on the company business, where the company operates, and if it needs more interaction with the client, but I believe it is a model that will grow, especially in technology companies,” he predicts.
In both companies, good results are already measurable. “Everyone arrives more rested, happier, and energized for the week,” boasts Luciano. “We are much more organized today than we were five months ago when we didn’t have the four-day week. I think the company has become more mature, better, in this process.”
Perhaps, judging by the available experiences and the corporate culture in Brazil, the labor market will end up being divided between small companies that adopt the four-day week and large companies with the traditional five-day routine.
“The examples seem fragile to me – here in Brazil, at least – to take this as a trend,” says Thatiana. “We see in the media two or three companies with very specific models, ‘a consultancy of 12 people’, ‘a small service company of 10 people’. Not that it doesn’t have its difficulties or merits, but it’s much easier to do it with 10 than with 5,000 employees.”