Why year-round summer Fridays are a good thing

And why more time isn’t always better

As an independent creative studio competing for talent with the VC-backed giants of San Francisco and New York, we scrap for every inch of ground when it comes to employee benefits and staff experience.

There will never be cucumber spa water in our cooler. An in-house sushi bar would put us out of business, and we’re fresh out of nap pods. But it turns out time is free.

In October 2014, we instituted year-round 3pm Fridays. The idea was to give employees more freedom through ownership of their work week. While we don't turn off the lights and lock the doors at 3:00 PM sharp, our producers and staff are encouraged to conduct their week's work with an eye on delivering the same quality our partners expect by the end of each Friday — just by 3pm instead.

More time isn't always an asset. It’s rare that a 3am solution is better than a 3pm one. David Bowie wrote “Life on Mars” in an afternoon. We have some immensely talented human beings tackling some of our clients’ thorniest problems. One benefit of their experience is that we can work smarter instead of longer.

We’re all familiar with the concept of switching costs and their adverse effect on productivity. Switching costs are typically considered through the lens of how many work-related tasks you can assign to a given employee in a given day. What we don’t often think about are the switching costs between your project task, your email, your Slack channel, text messages, mobile notifications, the Game of Thrones recap in the kitchen and all the other distractions that you might entertain throughout your work week. By removing a few hours from each week’s schedule, we force our teams to become a touch more focused and efficient. Sure, there’s a little less joking around at lunch hour, and maybe we fall a touch behind on our Instagram feeds. But it also means that while we’re here at work, we’re spending most of our time actually working.

We’re certainly not the first company to experiment with non-traditional hours. Summer Fridays have been a standard part of the Madison Avenue experience for decades, and those agencies have somehow managed to stay in business from Memorial Day through Labor Day. We look up to and admire companies leading the charge in this space. The educational software firm Treehouse actually employs a Monday–Thursday work week and still strives for an 8 hour work day! Maybe one day we’ll get there.

New York has a bit of a reputation for celebrating the grind, which almost certainly contributes to the herds of top creative talent leaving higher paid Manhattan jobs and flocking to outposts like Portland and Austin. There’s no reason we couldn’t add Brooklyn to that shortlist. You easily can substitute Amsterdam or Barcelona for our London team, the same big city trends apply.

By decreasing expected working hours without reducing our high standards for the output, we’ve lowered stress, bumped up the quality of our work, increased personal satisfaction and even strengthened our relationships outside of the office. On a given Friday, you might see small groups heading out to the climbing gym, an art opening or just down the street to our favorite dive bar to kick off the weekend.

We still have our busy seasons, and of course we still find ourselves here late from time to time. That’s okay. We’re trying. But we’re also trying to challenge the idea that battle scars go hand in hand with a strong work ethic. Scars are lame and working hard and smart doesn’t always have to mean working long. Use your brain and go.

— Chris Mele