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Mark Erder, founder, Asia Pacific Vision, explains why they experimented with working four days a week, draws from two decades of experience on how to attract Millennials and successfully building a free-flowing work culture.
Q APV recently experimented with giving its staff a four-day week. How did the idea come about?
It was sort of a convergence of thoughts earlier in the year. Where I looked back on how tough a year last year was, how hard people worked, and how little reward there was for a lot of that hard work because it was quite tough for the industry. I felt like I wanted to give something back so I thought about a four-day week so I could give back time.
I wanted something where people would know they had a day out of the week where they could spend dedicated time with family, with friends, with a community activity or something else that was meaningful to them other than work.
So one of the rules I laid down is it had to be a full day. It wasn’t going to be a half day here and a half day there or two-thirds of a day. You just take the day off and you’re not working.
Some people because they’re so dedicated to their clients would from time to time respond to emails on their days off, but that wasn’t something that was encouraged and for the most part it worked out quite well.
Q How was the four-day week rolled out in the office?
When I was reflecting on 2017, I was thinking about changes coming into 2018. I was thinking about my personal schedule, things that I had managed to do, and how to be more creative in less time.
When I saw an article in a magazine about something that was happening in Europe and then there was something on the BBC and I thought that’s it, that’s the solution, let’s try a four-day week.
This was on a Thursday evening. I thought if I come in on Friday and talk about it with my management team, we’ll labour the point and talk around it, we won’t do anything so I thought I won’t mention anything, I will think about it over the weekend, I won’t brood on it.
And I didn’t. I came into our Monday morning meeting and to the surprise of everybody, including myself, I announced it.
And there was quite a shock in the room and even Angela, the managing director, knew nothing about it and she was quite surprised. It was just something I felt had to be done.
We then talked about the best way to do it and it was jointly decided it shouldn’t be one day that the office closes down because we felt that would really have an adverse effect on clients. So we decided that everybody would come in on a Monday because Monday is the day that we have our meetings and everyone is together, everyone is talking and relaying information about the previous week and the week coming up. So between Tuesday and Thursday, it was decided that people could take a day off, but they would consult with their work teams about who would take which days to make sure that not too many people from any one team were off on one day because that would be counterproductive.
I just let them work it out between themselves. And usually what would happen is on a Friday afternoon or on Monday people would send out emails saying which days they had selected to take off for the coming week.
Q What have some of the outcomes been of the four-day week – positive, negative or surprising?
The positive has been that on business development it’s been felt we have become much more efficient. The business development director knows he only has time with people four days a week so he really hones in on the ones that he has to hone in on, on any given day. To make sure he gets out of them what he needs. Or he has meetings with them, the pitch meetings that he has to have with them or the decks that he has to get, the creative ideas or leads or whatever else. And he feels that is really making it work. On the financial side, we’re happily in profit into the end of Q2 so it hasn’t hurt out us in that way. That’s been terrific.
On the downside, the one thing that we find is that if too many people are out on one day or they’re out sick or people are out shooting or people are on holiday, or whatever, the office is very quiet. So it lowers the energy level on that day. This has traditionally been a very open, noisy, friendly, rambunctious, crazy office where there is a lot of jabber, a lot of back and forth, a lot of joking. And that has been a function of the personalities in the company, but it has also been a function of the numbers of people working in a small space.
Q What effect has the four-day week had on your clients?
It hasn’t had any adverse effect that I can see. Some of our clients know that we’re doing it and they’re actually quite happy to know that we’re taking an approach like that.
But as far as delivering pitch decks, delivering quotes, delivering budgets and making meetings, it hasn’t had a bad effect at all. People will usually know in advance when something is due so they will organise their day off around that.
Q What do you think a future office or work environment will be like?
I think that in many ways other companies like ours in the service industry especially are experimenting with a four-day week, a five-hour day or working remotely. Everybody is experimenting with different options for how to best appeal to their staff; how to especially appeal to Millennial staff who seem to have a different approach to work than previous generations and a different sense of loyalties to companies than previous generations.
It’s like a whole mindset shift and that is a function of the convergence of the generation with the technology with changing work patterns and it’s all interfacing in a way that companies have to adapt to.
Q What advice do you have for managing Millennials?
I think the advice for managing Millennials is for Gen X and baby boomers and whoever else to adapt their thinking to the new ways of working. It’s not as much advising Millennials, it’s advising us. It’s us realising the workforce is changing. The work habits and patterns are changing and attitudes are changing and we have to adjust to that and accommodate it.
Q How would you describe APV’s work culture?
Fast and loose. The work culture is open, curious, friendly, humorous, loose, maybe sometimes too loose, but disciplined and professional and very demanding.
Q How did you cultivate that mix?
It happened over time because it wasn’t always necessarily like that. There was a time where I myself shot and edited and produced and did the accounts and managed production. And slowly over time I realised that what I had to do was back-off, hire people that were better shooters than I was, that were better producers than I was and better managers and allow them to take the reins to help develop the company. With me being able to step back it helped trigger the process of loosening up the rest of the company.