In Summer 2022, August embarked on its first experiment with a shortened work week. We closed the office on Summer Fridays, starting with half days and graduating to full days after 6 weeks. We set the expectation that we would all work less, rather than trying to stuff five days’ work into four days’ time. At the end of September we held a retrospective to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what we learned. This blog is the first of a 4-part series reflecting on our discoveries.
Boundaries empower collaboration.
We often think of boundaries as a wall we put up in order to protect ourselves or block others.
But I prefer to think of a boundary not as a barrier, but as a point of convergence. An agreement. A mutually-defined zone in which our collaboration unfolds.
Personally, I think boundaries are the foundation of any trusting relationship. It might feel like you’re being more “flexible” by avoiding them at first – but good boundaries actually create greater flexibility and freedom in the long run!
For example, my husband and I set boundaries for who is responsible for dinner on certain nights of the week. We don’t dictate the how (cooking vs. restaurant vs. takeout), we just specify who’s responsible for making and executing the plan.
Clarifying this boundary frees us from nightly negotiation and planning, allowing us greater flexibility and support within our mutual expectations of each other. It might seem like a small thing, but our proactive prevention of dinnertime disagreements, however mild, actually does our relationship a lot of good!
It’s the same in our relationships with clients and colleagues. Setting boundaries up front can save a world of pain – particularly when it comes to a shorter work week.
Here are 4 boundary categories I found especially helpful during our Summer Fridays experiment.
1. Boundaries around time
My August pals and I work with clients all over the world. Time zones are a constant logistical puzzle, which was exacerbated during Summer Fridays.
We worked hard to be clear with clients about availability, meeting cadence, and live versus asynchronous formats. We wanted to make sure no one at their company or ours would have to make extreme concessions to accommodate someone else’s schedule.
Setting clear and agreed-upon expectations for the timing and format of our interactions went over well. Clients liked knowing what to expect from us and it helped to affirm they weren’t losing any support, even as our work week hours shifted.
2. Boundaries around priorities
My August pals and I typically spend ¾ of our time on client work, and ¼ of our time on internal development – learning, growing the business, contributing thought leadership, etc.
During Summer Fridays, we agreed that we wanted to deliver the same experience and value to our clients during Summer Fridays – and therefore, to make it work, we would reduce that ¼ segment of internal work time.
For 3 months, we intentionally deprioritized team meetings, governance, and company culture-building. Some of these functions went from synchronous to asynchronous; others were simply put on the back burner.
Such a solution might not work in the long term, but it was a good solution for our short-term experiment. Working less requires prioritization, and it’s better to make those choices intentionally from the start.
3. Boundaries around tools
If covid hasn’t taught you this already, a shortened work week will absolutely bring it home: It’s time to embrace asynchronicity in the workplace.
Asynchronous tools like GlassFrog and Murmur helped us move our governance work forward without live meetings. On the client side, our creative use of asynchronous collaboration tools like Loom, Trello, Slack, Teams and Google Docs empowered us to tee things up for others to run with during our off days.
Work came to feel a bit like a relay race, with lots of handoffs of work in progress. This way we could always keep the ball rolling, even when our office (or a client’s) was closed.
4. Boundaries around roles
When collaborating under time constraints, I can’t overemphasize the benefits of discussing and agreeing on who’s responsible for what.
At August, we create team agreements before any new project kicks off. (If you’re looking for guidance on how to create one, check out this video, adapted from our course in Leading Hybrid Teams!)
In fact, I just started a new project working with August pals in California and New York. (I’m in Denver.) We’ve already had detailed conversations already about time zones, availability, and our roles and responsibilities. Being explicit in your up-front agreements will help optimize your collaboration, and your partnership.
When setting boundaries, be proactive, not reactive.
For a successful shorter work week, boundaries are crucial.
But the key is to be proactive in agreeing to boundaries up-front, rather than using them reactively after problems arise.
Of course, when you’re trying something new, you can’t anticipate and draw a boundary for every problem in advance. Which is a big reason why we drew boundaries around the experiment as a whole!
We set a boundary of 3 months, with a gradual introduction of Fridays off. This way, even in areas where our experiment fell short, we had space to learn from it, with minimal fallout.
Our boundaries this time have given us the knowledge to draw even more effective boundaries next time. I’m sure we’ll enjoy even greater freedom, flexibility and growth as a result.