We have a six-hour day, or more accurately, a six-hour rule. But when I say “rule”, few people understand what that really means in practice, or think I’m talking about some obscure nuance of the offside rule. Plus, the word “rule” can sometimes be interpreted as a pejorative. So, here goes… my attempt to explain Curveball’s six-hour day / rule.

The rule says, if you get done what you need to get done in six hours, then what you choose to do with your time after that is up to you. You can stay and do something like develop your skills, or you can go swimming, walk your dog, go to a cafe, go home. Whatever. And we still pay everyone a full time salary. No one loses a penny.

But that doesn’t mean anyone is chained to a desk, or forced to work from the office all the time. Flexibility is built in. If someone suddenly needs to attend to a personal matter, no problem. They let us know, we consider if any changes need to be made to the schedule and go from there. We all rally round to make sure everyone is supported and the work still gets done.

Or if it’s a planned event, the same principle applies: we consider what might need to change to make sure we still produce what needs to be done and go from there. No cracking of whips. No demanding people be at their desk 9-5. No demanding people make up the time in their own time.

We are output focussed. Meaning, it’s far more important to get the right thing done by the deadline, than rack up a specific number of hours for the sake of it. And sometimes that means a new deadline is agreed. Sometimes not. Sometimes we add more resource. Sometimes not. We take each situation as it comes and adapt accordingly.

Our goal is empowerment, not efficiency.

We don’t want to cram more work, or the same amount of work, into fewer hours because that can be more stressful for some people and that would be a worse outcome for their wellbeing.

One criticism we often hear, is that we somehow just say that this rule exists, but that it doesn’t really happen i.e. that we give our team more than six hours of work a day to do, so they never really get to see the benefit. This isn’t true.

We’re not actually into forcing our team to work, or work any number of hours. Because that sounds a bit authoritarian and treating adults like they can’t make mature, adult decisions. Yes, we’re aware of certain cognitive biases that may prevent us human beings from always making the best decision for ourselves in an objective sense, but on the whole, we trust our team to make the decision that is best for them.

We focus on empowering and supporting our team to get done what they need to get done in the time available. This means we plan everything carefully and make sure each team member only has the right amount of work for their skill level, the time available, and according to their personal situation.

We know what they’re capable of in the time they have.

And our team communicate what they need to get done in their private lives too and we do our best to accommodate that. I know how that might sound to some people. It sounds like a get-out clause. It’s not. But you probably won’t believe that if you’re a cynic or used to working in a culture of mistrust, pedantry, rigid hierarchy or authoritarianism.

The work we give them can be done in six hours, but there is of course some variance from time to time – because the creative process is not an exact science. Sometimes creating explainer videos take a little longer, sometimes a bit shorter than we anticipate, and our process allows for that. Some of our team deliberately choose to take a little longer or shorter to do a task as well: as long as it meets the brief, we’re all happy. And being happy at work is a good thing, right?

And we certainly don’t let people work themselves into the ground, or work 10 hours a day, or anything like that. That would be irresponsible and immoral, not to mention counter-productive from a business perspective. You can’t be happy or write a script or illustrate or animate if you’re habitually exhausted and stressed from work.

Occasionally, some of our team choose to invest more time in something than was strictly necessary, because they want to see what they’re capable of. They want to push their limits. Develop their skills. See just what’s possible. Not because we put pressure on them, or expect that – we don’t – but because that’s the sort of people we employ. We like people who want to learn and develop and improve over time.

No one is left to fail. Ever.

Even if someone’s output doesn’t meet the brief in the time they’ve been given, we all work together to figure out what needs to happen next. No one is left to fail. Ever. We all come together. We all support each other like a good family should.

Ultimately, we trust our team to make decisions for themselves about how they use their time with respect to what needs to be done, the wider team and what they need or want to do with their personal lives.

We like our six-hour day / rule: it’s empowering.

We’re not saying it’s a panacea. We’re not saying this way would work for everyone else, or any other company or culture. We don’t pretend we have all the answers. We know other models exist. But the way we operate our six-hour day works well, right now, for us.

It works better than insisting our team work 8 hours a day come what may. We’re also not saying that we won’t change our six-hour day. We will, because we always listen to our team and consider any feedback they give us. We try new things.

The “flow zones” are a new aspect that we’ve been trialling for a couple of months now and it seems to be helping i.e. reducing distractions and improving everyone’s ability to concentrate better. These zones are two time periods during the day when everyone knows that everyone else may want to be quiet, left alone and concentrating. They are “in the zone”.

This doesn’t mean we can’t talk to each other. We can and do if we need to, but we’re much more mindful of not interrupting someone simply to chat GoT or about the latest cat GIF on Twitter.

In other words…

We empower our team to work together and as individuals, and in the manner that they think is most effective for them with respect to balancing their work and personal life.

So if I, for example, need to leave the office to pick my kids up at 2.30, I can. And then I can carry on working at home if I need to, or go back to the office, or stop working for the day and spend time with my kids. If I need to start later, so I can drop my kids off, I can.

If I don’t have that flexibility, things would be a lot more stressful for me to manage my work and life. If I were forced to work a set number of hours always at my desk, and have to ask for permission to vary that, it would negatively impact on my ability to carry out my parental duties and therefore my overall wellbeing.

As the saying goes, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Not that we recommend that by the way. We love cats. Don’t skin them. Love them instead.

So, if you’re curious about how other companies do less than an eight-hour day, have a look at the way MADE do it and Farnell Clarke. Or how about Radioactive PR – they have a 4-day week! Or if you want to look at some of the other models, have a read of Lizzie Benton’s article on the types of flexible working. I also wrote a piece about what I learned working a six-hour day when I started at Curveball a year ago: it wasn’t what I expected.

P.S.

No, we haven’t lost any clients or profit because we implemented our six-hour day / rule. We’ve experienced year-on-year growth since we’ve been in business. And our employee retention rate is ridiculously low to boot.

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