How to Have a Four-Day Work Week in Small Business

Can a four-day work week accommodate small businesses, whose operations often involve just one person or a very small team who have a hefty load of work to accomplish each week? We tried it for six weeks at HBA.
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On the surface, four-day work weeks sound great. Working less, having three-day weekends every week, adding a significant amount of time off . . . what’s not to love? Plus, the four-day work week has been making headlines lately, with more and more companies embracing the schedule with glowing reports of success.

But we’re guessing you, the small business owner, have some serious questions about whether it can actually work for you:

  • Is it really possible to make enough money in a small business working just four days a week?
  • What about keeping up with your high-volume inbox and all your customer service needs?
  • What if you just have so much work to do that you’re not sure you can get everything done in time?

We had the same questions. We wanted to know if a four-day work week schedule could specifically accommodate small businesses, whose operations often involve just one person, or a very small team who have a hefty load of work to accomplish each week.

At the Holistic Business Academy, one of our goals is to use our business as a sandbox where we can play around with tools and strategies to test their usefulness before passing our experience and insights onto the entrepreneurs that we work with.

Because our core values include a firm belief that business owners can be successful without hustling, exhausting themselves, and burning out, trialing a four-day work week was a great way to concretely test the principle of working more and resting less while not compromising the value we provide to our customers.

Recently, the Holistic Business Academy team finished our six-week trial period of working only Mondays through Thursdays while still keeping the business at our usual capacity and paying our employees the same amount.

The result? A resounding success! Not only was the whole team feeling happier and healthier, the business stayed exactly the same without a single negative outcome. We decided to make the policy permanent, and the Holistic Business Academy is now an official four-day work week company.

During those six weeks, there were three guidelines we put into place in order to maximize our chances for success. These rules helped us clarify our goals, set boundaries, and manage customer expectations for the shift.

Weekends Are Sacred

Keep your weekends completely free of work, including email, DMs, and other communications. This rule is for yourself as well as your employees.

You and your team deserve time fully off from work. Time off is sacred. When it’s the weekend, it is the weekend. The office is closed, and it’s your time to do literally anything but work.

This rule helps maintain firm boundaries and ensure that you’re actually getting all the benefits of taking an extra day off.

Any Extra Working Days are Predetermined

At the Holistic Business Academy, we have affiliate campaigns and live launches that do require customer support on Fridays, and we’re guessing that the ebb and flow of your business involves some busier periods where you may need to work an extra day that week, too.

How we work with this necessity is by scheduling any working Fridays in advance, with the full approval of our whole team. We assume that Fridays are off by default, and have the team block off any Fridays throughout the year where they have prior plans or that they simply won’t be able to work. We work with our team’s needs, and schedule campaigns and launches around those times.

This rule is in place because if the baseline is not working on Fridays, the team needs to agree to work on those Fridays with full understanding of why they’re working. For example, in our case, we decided as a team to work on a few Fridays each year because we want to support our customers as much as possible when we’re asking them to buy an offer during our launches.

Set Expectations for Your Customers

Email autoresponders are gold. We have an automatic response that goes out to our customers from Fridays to Sundays, explaining our four-day work week policy and that we’ll get back to them as soon as possible on Monday.

Clearly communicating when customers should expect to hear back from you will set the expectations that your customers have for you. They’ll know that you received their email, and they’ll know exactly when they should hear back from you.

Though this was one of our bigger worries when we first started our trial, we haven’t had any issues with customer complaints, thanks to the autoresponders and our prompt, high-quality customer service when we do work from Mondays through Thursdays.

Getting Started

As a small business thinking about making a major shift in company structure, the best way to get started is to jump in with both feet and implement a trial period to test out the change, see what works, and troubleshoot any challenges before making the policy permanent (or deciding that it’s not for you).

To plan your trial period, consider these questions:

  • How long will your trial period be? You’ll want to choose a time period that will give you a comprehensive view of how a four-day work week impacts yourself, your employees, and your business. Your trial period should ideally encompass at least a few weeks of standard day-to-day operations, plus one or two higher-volume periods or campaigns that require a higher workload. We recommend somewhere between four to eight weeks, but the precise length will depend on the needs of your business.
  • What are you and your team’s goals for switching to a four-day work week? This can be as simple as “I don’t want to work on Fridays” or “I want to rest more.” No matter how straightforward your goals seem, it’s important to keep them in mind as you go through your trial period so that you and your team can uphold the firm boundaries you set around working and time off.
  • What are the biggest concerns you have about working only four days a week? Make note of them, and revisit them every two weeks during the trial period with your team. Which concerns hold true, and which ones end up not being an issue? For the concerns you still have, are there any supportive tools you can use to manage them? For example, if you’re worried about getting everything done in time, you might consider revising your project management system to make sure you’re using your time in the most efficient way possible.

What’s Next

For more insights and help on how to implement four-day work weeks in small business, tune in to the full Holistic Business Podcast episode.

Are you ready to take the next step in building your holistic business and get expert training, workshops, and community support with like-minded peers? Join the Holistic Business Academy Membership waitlist!