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Teresa Exelby: A four-day working week can be done – here’s how

11 Oct 2021 Voices

Teresa Exelby from Community Integrated Care explains how the charity became one of the first social care providers in the UK to introduce the aspirational working practice

It all started with the pandemic.

Like most organisations around the world, we saw ourselves adapting and evolving in a way we’d never done before. Suddenly all the pieces of what was once a neat jigsaw were thrown up into the air. And when we went through the process of gathering them up and putting them back together again, we realised that the landscape had changed. The pieces didn’t fit exactly as they had before. 

Something had shifted during those long months of lockdown. Our ways of working had changed significantly - that’s when the idea for introducing the four-day week was sparked. 

We quickly realised that our teams were incredibly productive whilst working from home and the flexibility that we’d given to people around home-schooling their children hadn’t impacted our organisation’s output at all. 

In fact, employees were as committed and productive as ever, and while we felt a loss in terms of face-to-face relationship building, the effort that was put into making sure that teams could spend time together and have fun in a different way made us wonder what we could learn from the experience.

The result had to make us better 

Being a compelling place to work and being able to attract and recruit the best talent is something most charities strive towards, and we knew that having a much more flexible approach to how people work would give us a point of difference in our sector.

But we also knew that it wasn’t just about being an attractive employer. If we were to undergo this fundamental change, the result had to make us better than we were already; for our colleagues yes, but for our internal customers and for the people we support too.

If any of those three groups of stakeholders didn’t see an improvement, then it wasn’t going to work – so we set about testing it. 

We started by rolling out a series of pilots within key functions and teams; these would allow us to learn and adapt as we went. We also used a number of measurement tools to make sure that all of those groups felt that the change made things better than they were before.

Fundamental changes to established routines

People were hesitant at first, of course. The idea of moving to a four-day week and asking employees who were already working long hours to condense their time, while still producing at least the same output, left many people scratching their heads. 

Many people also wondered why we couldn’t just work 4.5 days and leave early on a Friday. But having implemented this way of working in another organisation previously, I knew that if you don’t make the step radical enough, you just don’t feel the real benefits. 

I also knew that we couldn’t put five days into four and produce quality work. If we didn’t fundamentally change some of our ways of working then the project would fail. So, we had to review and change those routines that we’d taken for granted for so many years.

Meetings were the first place we found we could save time. Whereas in the past, employees had always booked an hour for meetings, we started scheduling just 45 minutes. We asked for meetings to only take place between 9am and 4.45pm to allow our colleagues time at both ends of their day to do their work.

We also requested that people take either a Monday or a Friday off and condensed our meetings into the days in between. That meant there was a day when only half their department would be in, and no meetings would be scheduled, when they could sit down and work without any interruptions which, in itself has saved time.

Positive early results and next steps 

Through the early pilots, we were able to build a facilitation guide for all managers which included the introduction of a measurement of engagement followed by a number of collective team working sessions through the pilot, a mid-point check-in and an end-of-pilot check-in. That has given people the ability to raise their hand and flag up anything that isn’t working. We also offered an opt-out so that staff could continue to work five days if that better suited their needs.

What’s been surprising about all of this is how quickly everyone has said ‘this is brilliant!’. In fact, a series of surveys showed that 82% of our colleagues felt positive about the move. Even those who were initially very sceptical now can’t believe how much more productive they are. Of course, there are still things we need to learn and it’s not totally perfect yet, but we’re finding that this way of working is definitely more effective than the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday. 

Enabling people to reach their potential and giving them flexibility as to how they do it is a real driver for Community Integrated Care.

So, while the initial pilot encompassed 300 of our employees, we now need to take it to our service leaders and look at flexible working options for our frontline care and support workers, too.

We know that it’s a journey and that it’s going to take some time to get there but get there we will. As I always say to our teams, ‘if we want to do it, we can figure it out together’. Because if the past 18 months have taught us anything at all, it’s that working together is what it’s all about.

Teresa Exelby is chief people officer at from Community Integrated Care 

Civil Society Voices is the place for informed opinion, and debate about the big issues affecting charities today. We’re always keen to hear from anyone, working or volunteering at a charity, who has something to say. Find out more about contributing and how to get in touch.

 

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