How to Make a Four-Day Workweek Productive with OKRs

What would a four-day workweek look like for organizations? Turns out, it might just boost productivity. Read on to find out more.

Goals make work smarter, not longer

The concept of a four-day workweek is nothing new. But as companies contemplate the future of work, the idea has resurfaced in 2022. People are starting to challenge the traditional 40-hour week, claiming that organizational productivity doesn’t always come from hours worked - working smarter is sometimes more valuable than working longer.

Find out why the four-day workweek is gaining popularity, and how an OKR framework can help organizations align individuals, managers, and executives so teams can be their most productive.

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How much do we actually work?

The traditional 9 to 5, Monday through Friday work schedule is learned business that originated from Henry Ford in the 1920s. Before Ford, people were whirring from dawn to dusk to keep up with a new era of productivity, sometimes 70+ hours per week. Pressured by labor unions, lobbyists, and protests, most companies eventually adopted the 40-hour week too.

Interestingly enough, the 40-hour week isn’t the natural law of productivity. It’s just the magic number inherited from Ford nearly 100 years ago. But so much has changed since then, especially in how we approach work. Think about how many more jobs are knowledge-based; the software developers, architects, and engineers rely on deep thinking to carry out their responsibilities. The truth is, it’s challenging to maintain such high concentration and productivity for 40 hours a week.

How much should we be working?

Research shows that tacking on more hours each week doesn’t equate to higher productivity. Of course, humans have unique qualities like circadian rhythms and attentional networks, but on average, focus is limited to a four to five-hour sweet spot. It’s possible to complete work after that point, but your brain functions at a lower level, leaving more space for demotivation, mistakes, and distractions.

So rather than working long hours, maximizing the depth of focus time per day is essential. This structure's freedom encourages employees to use the extra free time to better manage their fatigue, maintain a work-life balance, and reset their minds for a healthier physical and mental state. One way to practice this within an organization is through a four-day workweek.

How would a four-day week work?

A four-day workweek is a flexible working method that supports fewer working days in exchange for higher productivity. Organizations have some discretion in how the workweek would be structured, typically in terms of required work hours. These are the three most popular models:

Model 1: 4 x 10-hour days (40 hours)

Model 2: 4 x 8-hour days (32 hours)

Model 3: 5 x 6-hour days (30 hours)

You might wonder if the last two models would hinder your organization's productivity because they have significantly fewer hours worked. While a four-four day workweek may seem like you’re losing precious time to hit goals and aspirations, implementing a company-wide strategy will make your team more productive than before (even with the few extra hours shaved off the week).

OKRs for a productive four-day week

Less working days doesn’t mean your organization will miss out on productive quarters. A four-day workweek can acquire the same output when there’s a framework to work within. That’s where OKRs come into play: they’ll guide your company in one direction, so everyone stays productive throughout the shortened workweek.

Here’s why an OKR approach leads to a more productive organization:

OKRs prioritize company goals.

Goal setting provides a clear understanding of what needs to be prioritized to achieve organizational objectives. It gives your employees permission to say no to everything else without fear of repercussion, so they can focus on what matters most in a shortened workweek.

OKRs provide accountability.

Clear deadlines, objective measurements, check-ins, and individual ownership guarantee immediate action if a key result or initiative gets off track or needs reevaluation. OKRs act as a reference point to visualize what’s working, what roadblocks are approaching, and what needs to be adjusted.

OKRs make asynchronous collaboration possible.

Most work is dependent on multiple departments and individuals. OKRs help teams plan what needs to be done to pass the process along. They limit bottlenecks that would otherwise hinder productivity, which means less time wasted chasing after stakeholders or working around dependencies.

OKRs keep employees engaged.

When goals are set with a bottom-up approach, they empower contributors by giving them more autonomy. Having ownership over initiatives and key results showcases how individuals can make an impact, meaning they’re likely motivated to achieve more. The more engaged your employees are, the more productive the team will be.

OKRs end micromanagement.

Goal management is the secret to productive teams because it removes micromanaging tendencies. OKRs ensure that individuals can be trusted to complete the incentives that make up the common goal. The way the work is done is left to the individual, encouraging innovation and fostering a productive team.

Goals make work smarter, not longer

Align your organization with OKRs to increase productivity.

In all, organizational productivity doesn’t always come from hours worked. Working smarter is sometimes more beneficial than working longer. What’s important is that there’s alignment between employees and executives so that teams can set incremental goals and understand how they progress to larger business goals.

Pros and cons of a four-day workweek

With an OKR framework in place, it’s time to consider whether a four-day week would benefit your organization. These are the advantages and disadvantages of the working model:

Benefits of a four-day workweek

Employees will be more productive.
Workers with high levels of job satisfaction are typically more motivated and focused on organizational priorities. They’re also more likely to achieve key targets because less time is wasted waiting for the clock to run out.

It supports a work-life balance.
More leisure time allows employees to defog their minds and return to work motivated and ready to take on new challenges. Shortened workweeks improve mental and physical health, as well as reduce levels of burnout, stress, and sick leave.

Your company will have a competitive edge.
Millennials are looking for work environments that sustain a work-life balance. Regarding recruitment, a four-day workweek gives your organization an advantage over competitors and increases your pool of potential candidates. It will also help retain your best employees and limit attrition.

Drawbacks of a four-day work week

It’s not a one-size fits all structure.
A four-day week may not work for every industry, especially those who need a consistent stream of daily work. One way to compensate for this is to shorten total working hours annually through leave or more vacation days.

It could lead to more stress.
Many of the consequences of this working model originate from the 40-hours in 4 days method (model 1). All the previously mentioned advantages - a better work-life balance, less stress, and increased productivity - are undone by more prolonged and intense days. Employees will overall lose focus and produce lower-quality work.

Companies who’ve adopted a four-day workweek

Buffer -  At the height of the pandemic, Buffer implemented a four-day workweek to support well-being, mental health, and to prioritize employees and their families first. They utilized the 32-hour model for one month and saw immediate results, leading to the permanent adoption of the four-day week.

Elephant Ventures - In 2020, the data engineering company Elephant Ventures rolled out a four-day week. The plan was to try 10-hour days Monday-Thursday, with some flexibility for those with familial obligations. After the initial adjustment, employees felt well rested during the three-day weekend, and the company stated that shorter working weeks significantly helped win recruiting battles with top talent.

Bolt - After a three-month trial in 2022, Bolt saw an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the four-day workweek. 94% of employees stated they wanted the new model to continue, and 86% claimed they were even more efficient with their work time. Bolt has now permanently switched to the shorter workweek.

Is a four-day workweek for you?

The growing support for four-day workweeks, backed by research and company case studies, is pushing organizations to consider more flexible working schedules. But if a shortened week is, in fact, the future of work, you won’t have to worry about productivity.

When you're equipped with an OKR framework to keep your team aligned, accountable, and engaged, you can feel confident that a four-day workweek means 312 more productive days for your organization.

Still thinking about a four-day workweek?


Why is overworking bad?
Overworking has detrimental effects on physical health. A study from the World Health Organization concluded that working an average of 55 hours or more each week increases the risk of stroke by 35% and the risk of dying from heart disease by 17%, compared to averaging 35-40 hour workweek.
Why do we have a 40-hour week?
40-hour weeks are a product of history. It is a learned way of work where hours fluctuated over time, from working 12+ hours a day during the Industrial Revolution to adopting the 8-hour day after Henry Ford in the 1920s.
Is a four-day workweek for everyone?
Not necessarily. It depends on the industry. It’s easier for knowledge-based jobs to adopt a four-day workweek. Service jobs like hospitals, fire departments, and support positions would need extra coverage. But allowing individuals to have a four-day week may be possible.
How much time do we spend actually working?
Research has shown that people are the most productive between 4-6 hours per day.
What are the pros and cons of a four-day week?
The advantages of a four-day workweek are increased productivity and better work-life balance. Together, this results in better physical and mental health. However, this model of work is not one-size-fits-all. One method might work for one company but not another.
Which countries are testing four-day workweeks?
Companies in Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.K. are individually tying out the four-day work week. Other wealthy countries like Germany and the Netherlands have shorted their total work hours per year through government-mandated leave or more vacation days.
How would salaries change with shorter workweeks?
Ideally, pay and benefits would remain the same. But in the end, that should be an organizational decision.