Company Article

How we implemented own version of a 9-day-fortnight

Written by Nikki Linsell20 May 2024

Public Practice is a small social enterprise (a team of eight people) based in London. In October 2022, we began a trial to see if a reduced working hours approach could work for our organisation. One and a half years on, we continue to adopt and benefit from the now formally adopted policy. This article pulls together our experiences of piloting and then implementing the policy, as well as some of our reflections and tips.

Our Approach

As a small business, we were acutely aware that we may not be able to be as adventurous as others in adapting our working hour schedule, but we ensured we approached any changes in both a pragmatic and open way with all our team and Directors.

What is a 9-Day fortnight?

While a conventional working week consists of 5 working days, a 9-day fortnight (9DF) consists of a 5-day working week followed by a 4-day working week.

Compared to compressed hours, the total number of contracted hours is reduced by an equivalent 10% without any salary reduction. This is similar to the 4-day working week, which is equivalent to a 20% reduction in working hours.

Why move to a 9-day fortnight?

We were keen to explore if a reduced working hour week could work for Public Practice for a number of reasons, including:

  • Progressive: We want to remain a progressive organisation. Trials in Iceland around the 4-day working week and proposed plans in Scotland demonstrate the forward-thinking approach we want to be part of.
  • Efficient: Reports from small businesses offering a reduced working week demonstrate no reduction in productivity, including Charlie HR, Big Lemon, and others in this BBC podcast and the 4DWW Campaign.
  • Balanced: We believe that valuing the wellbeing and balance of employees' work and personal life is how you get the best out of our team.
  • Inclusive: We want to continue to do what we can to support a diverse range of employees to flourish at Public Practice and beyond whilst also being equal in the benefit across the team, regardless of seniority.

We didn't want to reduce working hours on paper for it to just become overtime in practice, so we carefully reviewed the exact changes we wanted to make, informed by our team’s time-tracking data. We decided against a four-day working week and opted for a more feasible model of every other Friday off work - a 9-day Fortnight (9DF).

Our timeline

  • October 2022

    Began a 6 month pilot

  • March 2023

    Reviewed the results of our pilot

  • April 2023

    Formally adopted a 9-day fortnight policy

The six-month trial

As a micro business with less than 10 employees, any changes made to the way we work need to be realistic in terms of what is feasible for the business whilst also being a positive change for our employees. To support this, we first ran a six-month trial to test how a 9DF could work.

What we trailed

10% Reduction in working hours:

We reduced the workweek from 37.5 to 34 hours, with one week totalling approximately 38 hours and the following week about 30 hours. This allowed for a Friday off every other week, which we called a 'Non-Working Day' (NWD). However, due to business needs, we did not offer reduced hours every month.

Flexibility

We weren't strict with our ‘every other Friday off’ approach. As a team, we agreed that during some months (e.g. when we run our intensive Assessment Days), it would be a stretch to fit our workload into a 9DF.

Benefits Adjustments

Before the trial, we provided a generous 30 days of paid leave (excluding bank holidays) and 10 team away days annually. One of our agreed compromises is reducing our holiday entitlement by 10% and marginally reducing the time and format of some of our away days.

The changes that were proposed for our trial

Adapting our working week

Our flexible working principles remained the same, but with fewer working hours, we developed a general working pattern across the week to align staff time as effectively as possible:

  • No Meetings Tuesdays: We dedicate Tuesdays to more focused work on complex and strategic projects. To support this, we do not schedule any internal or external meetings on Tuesdays.
  • In-Office Wednesdays: We ask that all employees work on Wednesdays at our offices in London (except for remote working months). To make the most of this in-person opportunity, we schedule internal meetings and collaborative discussions on Wednesdays.
  • External Meetings Thursdays: Employees with more external customer-facing roles are encouraged to schedule client meetings and calls on Thursdays. Other team members use Thursdays as a second day of uninterrupted focus time.

Results of our trial

Our 9DF trial was not conducted in a vacuum and the results below reflect both the impacts of our working hour changes as well as other changes that occurred at the company during the same time.

Team Survey

We conducted a team survey before the start and as we neared the end of the pilot. Although it’s impossible to attribute these changes purely to the 9DF adjustments, the results were unanimously positive.

Team Survey results, before and after our 6-month pilot

Time Tracking

Data collected during the trial was compared with the previous six months, focusing on overtime and time spent attending all-team meetings (stand-ups and weekly pulse meetings). In summary, the average overtime decreased, indicating that reduced working hours did not mean that employees worked more overtime to compensate.

The data also shows that each team member saved, on average, 2 hours per month due to reduced team meetings and improved meeting efficiency.

This amounts to just under two days saved in people resources, across the company per month.

Individual OKRs and Company KPIs

By comparing the team's individual objective key results (OKRs) from Q2 (before the trial) to Q3 (during the trial), notwithstanding factors external to the trial, the data shows that there was no effect on the team's ability to meet their objectives when working a 9DF schedule.

No negative trends could be seen comparing our company metrics for performance and customer satisfaction before and during the trial.

Our Pulse Survey

Each quarter, we conduct a pulse survey across the team. This includes a series of questions on engagement, culture, and wellbeing. Over the last 18 months, we have seen a consistent improvement in the responses from our team.

Reflections on the trial

Admittedly, due to other changes occurring in the company at the same time, the data being analysed cannot be considered conclusive; however, we found that the main benefits of a 9DF for a small social enterprise like ours appear to be:

  • Valued, Affordable Benefit: A regular non-work Friday, without any change in pay, is one of the most valued and inclusive policies (according to our staff survey), and unlike other benefits, it has not required any company financial investment.
  • Employee Wellbeing: here is clear evidence that by providing the 9DF, our staff's work-life balance has improved.
  • Productivity & Efficiency: There has been no drop in productivity. More so, the change has motivated employees to seek their own improvements and efficiencies individually and collectively (rather than from the top down).
  • Prioritisation & Ownership: Although harder to track quantitatively, there has been a subtle cultural shift across the team, with greater ownership, accountability and improved work planning at an individual level.
  • Agility & Resilience: As a small team, last-minute unplanned leave by employees, or urgent unplanned work, can result in a negative impact on employees having to work unhealthy over time. Having a ‘buffer’ within the company resourcing schedule has given us greater flexibility to respond to urgent and unplanned events without asking employees to work unreasonable hours or weekends.
  • Development & Inclusion: Colleagues have used their NWD for personal and professional development (voluntary positions, signing up for courses and taking on personal projects). We've all used our days in different ways, whatever our interests and commitments.

Formal adoption

After approval from our Board of Directors and with further consultation with our employees, we formally adopted our own version of a 9DF into our contracts in April 2023 – with some benefit adjustments:

Our new contracts

  • Employee contract working hours have been reduced by 10% across 10 months (protecting January and July, which have no reduction).
  • Holiday entitlement reduced from 30 to 27 days (10% reduction), excluding bank holidays (35 including bank holidays, still well above UK statutory minimum).
  • Reduce team away days to just over 50% of the current schedule.

Logistics of adoption

From an operational perspective, adopting a reduced working hours policy has required us to update and develop:

  • Company Calendar: We decided that our NWDs would be agreed upon at the beginning of each financial year. We used Asana to create a company calendar to cross-check key events and milestones to confirm the rhythm and dates of our NWDs.
  • Part-time Colleagues: We have worked on the basis of the same 10% reduction equivalent, where part-time employees take their additional days off at the end of their working week. For example, we have an employee who works Monday–Wednesday, so their NWD falls on a Wednesday and is at reduced frequency compared to full-time staff (3 out of every 5 NWDs are taken).
  • Switching Days: A few events in our company diary fall on a Friday that is down as a NWD. We agreed in advance that colleagues would need to switch their days around to attend these events and update their calendars to reflect a NWD the following week instead.
  • Updating Handbook: We have updated our handbook to try and address some of the common FAQs, including working hours reduction and the approach for NWDs.

Tips & Takeaways

The importance of having an existing solid operating system quickly became apparent as we began to change our working hours. The benefits we gained from a reduced-hour set-up would likely not have been possible without some fundamentals already in place.

Operating Fundamentals

  • Open task management software

  • Efficient internal communication

  • Coordinated weekly working patterns

  • Clear individual and team objectives

  • Mindful meeting culture

  • Team trust and ongoing support

Get in touch with our COO if you want to find out more about how we implemented and are now working to monitor and regularly review our working policy and practices.

Written by

Nikki Linsell

COO

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