Soft Fridays | Episode 21 | Recruitment and Beyond Podcast | Eden Scott

Listen To The Latest Episode of The Recruitment and Beyond Podcast

Soft Fridays

Soft Fridays
Join Ewan and Natalie as they discuss the four-day workweek with Wendy Isaacs from Outside In Garden Rooms. Learn the benefits, challenges, and how to implement a four-day workweek in your organisation. 

Is the four-day work week right for you?

  • Increased employee productivity and well-being
  • Reduced absenteeism and improved work-life balance
  • Potential challenges with trust and accountability

Listen to the podcast to hear:

  • Wendy's experience implementing a four-day workweek at Outside In Garden Rooms
  • The pros and cons of a soft Friday approach
  • How to create a culture of trust and flexibility in your workplace 

Podcast Transcript

Ewan (00:06):
Hi, and welcome back to the Recruitment and Beyond podcast. Natalie's back. Woohoo. Good to see you. Natalie. I'm alive.

Natalie (00:16):
Thank goodness

Ewan (00:18):
It wasn't quite the same with let me tell you. And today we're joined by Wendy Isaacs from Outside in Garden Rooms. Wendy, welcome along.

Wendy (00:28):
Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

Ewan (00:31):
It's great to see you. I think today's topic, we're going to chat about four day working weeks, which has been an interesting topic and something we've talked about in the past, but also it kind of came off the back of, we saw something in the daily meal about Soft Fridays where employees have the opportunity to perhaps wind down a wee bit easier and get into the weekend a wee bit slower. And it got us thinking about that four day working week and obviously Covid came along and it made people reassess just what they're doing with their working weeks. So do you want to tell us what you do, Wendy? How is the four day working week, do you employ that? Is that part of what you do outside in garden rooms?

Wendy (01:12):
Yeah, we're a four day week now. We didn't for many years. We've been running outside in for seven years, maybe eight, nearly actually. And very much traditional construction, joiners, electricians, painter decorators. So it's a construction industry. We make garden rooms all over the Central Belt Scotland. And about a year or so ago we started sort of thinking, oh, I wonder what would happen if, would that be possible? So we spoke to the team and the team all went, Ooh, that'd be lovely. And making sure that they realized actually what that meant, that it didn't mean four short days or four normal days as they would do. They needed to still continue with those same amount of error that they did in the five days, but within the four days. And that was the key. So yeah, so we've been running that for, we did a trial and we worked actually with Natalie and her team to come up with a proposal and we got 'em all to sign the proposal to say, this is what we're thinking.

(02:17):
And then we did a three month trial and actually we couldn't go back. That's just impossible to go back from that four day week. I have to say, myself and my sister who run the business don't do a four day week. That is just four day week. But what it does do is it does make the Friday that we don't do far less taxing almost from a phone calls point of view from the teams on the ground, we get more chance to just take stock. And I think just when you were talking about those soft Fridays, I think we do more of a soft Friday. So they do a four day week and we do the soft Friday. So it's a bit of a combination.

Ewan (02:58):
Is that what you do as a Friday as the business shuts down to a certain degree and it's yourself and your sister working? Is that right? So was there a concern for you that your competitors were not doing that and that might have an impact on the business?

Wendy (03:12):
It's interesting. We didn't even consider the competitors. I didn't even think about that. I thought more about the staff, to be honest. It's interesting what was best for staff. We love culture, Natalie, and I've always talked about this in the past. I love a good culture and a business and I think the four day week really gives you that ability to give back to the employees as well, because especially in Edinburgh, we have that problem of the Friday afternoons that the children don't go to school on a Friday afternoon in Edinburgh.

Ewan (03:42):
That's true. Yes.

Wendy (03:43):
In theory we've given

Natalie (03:45):
Where we, I know what time do schools finish

Wendy (03:50):
Or something? Lunch.

Ewan (03:51):
Yeah. Well my son we're in the border and he finishes at five to one.

Wendy (03:56):
Yeah, yeah. So there you go. How

Natalie (03:57):
Did I not know this? No, we're on the Hard Friday school actually, if it was up to me, keep the minutes school till five, get the homework wrapped up then as well, and then just let them come home and not have to sit behind a desk again. I did not know that. No, we're just our normal finish. Right, okay. Oh my. We'll move

Wendy (04:15):
To Edinburgh and you then have to find childcare on a Friday afternoon. Yes. So in theory, what we ended up, one of the benefits to it was that, especially in Edinburgh, was that they could cut down on the childcare, which was a lesser cost. So in theory, that's a bit of an increase in their and uplift in their wages for the people certainly in Edinburgh. So that's a good culture thing. In theory you would think people would want to rest on a Friday, but joiners don't rest ever. They want to always earn more money. So what they've tended to do, and it's a bit tricky, is they tended to do freelance sort of stuff or whatever, and that's up to them. So that is a little bit tricky for us because I want 'em to rest. I want 'em to take stock, but I can't stop 'em doing it. Well

Ewan (05:02):
That's interesting because we worked with a company for a while and they said part of their amount or part of the deal was you do four days but you can't work on a Friday. You can't do like you say, homers or whatever it might be. You have to take the Friday off. I don't know how you enforce that. I don't know. Because obviously once somebody leaves and they're not at work, I don't know how much control you have over that. I dunno how you do that, but that was one of their conditions was Yeah, I don't know. And I guess that's the interesting question here is that day, that extra day is for you to relax and to feel refreshed and come back. And if you're working right through then does it lose its benefit, I guess. But I don't know how you can hold that, Natalie.

Natalie (05:40):
It could work the opposite way because if you're doing four longer days as well, then in effect they're actually working harder where you're trying to give them more of a personal life. I guess maybe all of this was decided prior to rising costs, going through the roof to mortgages, bills, everything going up. That's the nice time. But actually the landscape is very different now. So instead of people resting, they're burning their self out. So not only are they fitting more hours into four day week, they have to do longer days, but then they're also having to do what they need to do on that particular Friday as well. So it's quite difficult. But if we're looking at, that's a whole other topic. If we're looking at home workers, homers are moonlighting in the political nice, lovely term, moonlighting, then that would be during the course of employment. So that wouldn't matter really if it's on a day that you're working or on a day off, it's your line in terms of what is your stance on homers or moonlighting, do you allow not for gain, do you allow for family and friends, et cetera. But I guess that's a whole other topic that's quite an interesting, and I guess the soft Fridays is a lot of organizations have said, seen this everywhere. The media's putting huge pressure on us to do four day working weeks, but we can't

(06:59):
Actually, soft Friday might not be the be all and end all, but a soft Friday might actually, God, I feel as if I'm starting to talk in your red and my accent here instead of your soft Friday might be a nice kind of meet in the middle. We can't give you a day off, but you can be a bit more relaxed. We don't encourage client meetings on these particular days. You can take an extended lunch break, you can have a three o'clock finish. That might be quite a nice if we cannot do the four day, but this is what we can offer you instead.

Wendy (07:30):
I think certainly for some places that might work. I think certainly if you're not team driven, I dunno. I mean for me, I have three of a team without three of a team, and if they all did this off Friday, so for my business, I don't think that would work. It has to be a bit more structured in that. But for maybe the office staff, for myself and my sister, and I would say that's what we do. We tend to sort of work the morning and then by the afternoon it's like, oh, well nobody's phoning, nobody's needing us. Let's just, maybe we'll go and spend some time with the children. Maybe we'll pop to the shops. Maybe we'll do bit everything. That sort of allows us to just wind down a bit as opposed to just being that full on right to the end of the day of a Friday, try not make too many appointments on a Friday.

Ewan (08:12):
Yeah. Would that make it difficult? Natalie is the how do you structure us off Friday? How do you say, look, this is how do we mandate it? Or is it relaxed hard

Natalie (08:23):
Off Friday?

Ewan (08:25):
Remind that you cannot have a meeting

Natalie (08:26):
Soft. These are the rules

Wendy (08:28):
Slightly in the middle.

Natalie (08:30):
You could still have a soft Friday, but you still might have certain, there might be still some meetings that have to take place, particularly say it's a soft Friday, but then someone might be off on a Monday. It might not be as soft for them as the others because they're trying to plow through work or they might be in a certain role or a certain industry with a soft Friday. Actually a Friday's just a normal working deal, although the business wants you to be a bee bit more relaxed. So that might mean you can work from home. That might mean that you can dress a bit more casually. That can be that you might have a three o'clock finishing a Saturday after Saturday on a Friday. That might be a variety of things, but which would be good. I guess each business will have what a soft Friday looks like in their organization, won't it?

Wendy (09:13):
I also, I struggle with us going to the four day week or with us doing this soft Friday, is actually trying to understand what the people are doing on these other days. I think as a business, the word trust is a massive thing in a four day week or a soft Friday and trust comes into an awful lot and it's very easy for your brain to take you in another direction if you let it. So you have to keep dragging it back and going, no, no, no, no. This is the purpose of this is to allow people that little bit more flexibility to allow the culture to be better, to allow happiness in the workplace, keep your staff, all this sort of stuff is all so important. But I find hanging onto that trust is really hard. As a boss. That's the biggest issue for me. Absolutely.

Natalie (10:02):
Particularly where you're maybe squeezing the working weekend to the four days. There are a lot of organizations that have maybe moved to the four days but with no reduction pay, no reduction In theory, you should be just pay, you should be taking holidays off people. But if you're thinking, no, that's not the purpose of it, we just expect maybe a wee bit more Monday to Thursday so that we can have a Friday off. But if you were to close look at that as everyone doing that, we might in order to justify that Friday. So it's quite, you're right, it's difficult. How do you keep tabs instead of them working nine till five, they need to work eight to six, and who's monitoring and how are you doing that? Or is it just a consideration for the listeners? Is it a consideration when actually know we're going to move for four days, but actually we don't want any of the additional hours because we've heard some reports and the burnout on the Friday or the logging on anyway. So what's the point?

Wendy (10:55):
I was asked or before, I did a bit of research into going into the four day week, and it was interesting that the one thing that I was told by one company that does it is do not count the error. Do not count the minutes, just trust it because otherwise you will tie yourself up in notes. And I do find myself sliding into that and then going, I'm pulling myself back up out of it. Yeah, it really is. It's a whole different way of thinking. It really is. It's really hard for a business. Well,

Ewan (11:27):
It's really interesting. So I think a number of UK companies trialed it and obviously you trialed it as well. And I think the stats suggests that 92% of companies, once the trial ended, they went for it and they saw real value in it. And I guess that's the thing, the trust side of this is that we can, you still meet the same levels of demand, but for some companies, I think the suggestion was that productivity actually went up. So is that what you found as part of your trial that things were actually just as good or if not maybe slightly better in those four

Wendy (11:59):
Days? Yeah, I think we've had to do a bit of checking, and I know that comes back to that trust thing, but we certainly looked at the output, was it the same as the year before? The issue is that we've had a cost of living crisis and the people that had the money to buy garden rooms are holding onto that money. So the four day week came at the same time as that cost of living crisis. So I think this year I'll be able to do a much better analysis because we feel that this year has picked up. And I think also we may just, even in a trial basis, you are all just musing trying to get used to it. So really it's a moly get used to it. Is it okay, is it not okay type of a year. So I think now that we're more running with it and a more consistent basis, I think that will come back to me at the end of this year. And I'll tell you whether it's definitely working or not or whether I'm going, no, we're going back to five days.

Ewan (13:01):
As part of that wellbeing, do you find that, I mean, again, some of the suggestions from the trials where that there was a reduction in sick leave for instance, and actually people felt come back and they felt much more enthused about their work. Did you find that as part of this

Wendy (13:16):
Process? We definitely don't have a lot of sick leave. I mean, this year unfortunately somebody got covid, so there's nothing you can do at that point really. It was really poorly. But I mean we looked back sick day I think, which is really weird, just one. And people going to the, we very much see the dentist, the doctors, all these sorts of appointments, banks, mortgages, wedding outfits, whatever it is, all have to be done on a Friday. You can't leave work early during the week. So we've instilled that in everybody. So that gives them that opportunity to do that on a Friday. So that doesn't stop anything happening during the week. So that's worked. That's interesting.

Ewan (13:54):
I'd love to know the impact of the, oh, sorry. We've all got so many. The thing carry on. Sorry. Not at all. I think it was just that we have quite a flexible culture here and people can basically work from wherever they want as long as their outputs as you suggested. But that then means that people will say, well look, I'll go to the dentist at lunchtime on a Tuesday, whatever, or maybe I'll go alone, but I'll do an extra couple of hours at the end of the day. But that's interesting. I totally buy your take on your point there. Well, we're working four days now, so you do have Friday to go and do that. So we would expect you to do that. And it's a flexible working culture. It's just a slightly different approach to it, isn't it?

Wendy (14:35):
Yeah, yeah. No, and I think the guys enjoy it. We've got a few testimonials. I think a couple of months ago we asked because I think we did a bit of an Instagram question and answer thing with the team. So I've got a couple of comments that, I mean, it's really, really positive. I think a lot of people find it is children based and life based. Some people have four kids at least they get time to spend with them and have tea with them and not fall asleep on the sofa, whatever. So it does work really well for them. And as I say, for the bosses like me and my sister, it gives us the time to just take stock on a Friday and not get these phone calls constantly and constantly running around trying to troubleshoot stuff. So yeah, I think on balance, I would say a four day week for us has worked really, really well. Just need to keep my paranoia in check,

Natalie (15:29):
See the soft Fridays for me, I think see for those creative businesses, or let's be honest, I'd love to know the stats here. When do you nine ideas come to you? For me, definitely not when you're sitting in a meeting, is it? It's when you're drying your hair, it's when you're out a walk, it's when you're outside, isn't it? So I'd love to know the stats later on the soft Fridays where whoever's had a couple of hours to go, a nice walk and they actually have all their ideas. And so there must be some kinds of positive connection between that creativeness and that soft Friday as well. Surely you would think.

Wendy (16:01):
You would hope so, wouldn't you? Yeah,

Natalie (16:03):
Because your ideas aren't when you're in the grind and you're in the moment and you're just Monday to Thursday, whatever. But those ideas and that creativeness might actually come on that Friday

Wendy (16:13):
Over that glass of wine at the end of the day, Natalie? Yes.

Natalie (16:16):
Or that matter of chocolate or that walk in nature. And then also, quite interestingly, lots of organizations more think about their corporate social responsibility as well. What I have seen is a soft Friday morning and an optional giving back in the afternoon. So work till lunchtime and then a couple of hours doing something that means something to someone or that can give back in terms of the corporate social responsibility. So some volunteering, some whatever. That might not be every soft Friday. But that could also form part of that so many hard rules on a soft Friday.

Wendy (16:54):
How do you find hard rules? Hard rules?

Natalie (16:57):
Soft

Wendy (16:58):
Friday, the word soft Friday really does, I'm struggling with it. I am struggling with this whole sort of fluff sort of thing. I think there's something in me that wants it to just be nine till 12 or something. I want

Natalie (17:10):
More rules. You could have a hard, soft one if you want. You could definitely, isn't it?

Wendy (17:15):
You could say that. And do you find that, I dunno whether there's an age thing as well. I mean I'm 50, whatever, blah, blah, but are older sorts of companies, do they struggle more the younger sort of agencies and workplaces and whatever? Is it a much

Natalie (17:35):
Bigger It's total me? Yeah, you would think so, but some of these are help as understand we see all of this, we hear all of this in the media and going to bring us forward. Absolutely. They're wanting it theirselves as well. They're burnt out, they've been working hard, they've been grafting and they're like, help us. What does work look like now? So we're doing quite a lot of educating as well in terms of even the Gen Zs, the new, we've talked about this till death, me and you in here, but the Gen Zs. The Gen Zs will be coming to an interview saying, right, what does soft rider look like? They won't be asking you, do you have a soft Friday? They'll be wanting to know what the rules are on their soft Friday, et cetera. So I guess yeah, or some people are still very much, no, I'm not seeing you. So you're not present. So on a Friday you still need to come into the office, you still need to be working nine till five. Every organization will do its own thing. But you'll find that attracting is very, very difficult. So how do you attract the best talent if you have so hard rules and no flexibility?

Wendy (18:38):
I totally agree. I think one of the things that we pride ourself on is the fact that we do have that four day week. And that is what is attractive to our joiners. And joiners are actually, it's a very hard business. We have freelancers. The freelancers do tend to work whatever hours they work, so that's the electricians or whatever. But the joiners are our staff, yet the joiners are our staff. So they work the four day week and I think we get better quality of people coming through and we retain them because of that four day weekly,

Natalie (19:10):
Even prior to Covid. I'm just thinking about my experience in the motor trade where everybody works nonstop. Sales guys work hard, they work nonstop. And we were one of the first organizations to say, we're going to close on a Sunday. And everyone was like, why are you just mad? But it was about, let's do something different. Let's measure the impact. Let's see. And sales guys and the rest can all be off that work every weekend that can be off with their family and let's make a stand. And everyone thought we were absolutely off our head. And then people start doing it because actually we attracted so many individuals to, I want to come and work. I work hard, but I know I've got my Sunday off. And then everyone started following at times we,

Wendy (19:57):
Funnily enough, we found our customers, we are very proud of it. So we see it in all our introductory, this is what we're going to do this week, blah, blah, blah. And we are a four day week, so don't panic if nobody turns up on a Friday, we're giving you your garden back. You won't get that awful music playing or whatever. So we always say to the clients up front, but it's funny, we get the clients that are so dy and the will five day weekers that they're like, what do you mean? What do

Natalie (20:25):
You need? You're not coming on a Friday night.

Wendy (20:27):
And they do question it a lot. And they very much say, and what time do they start and what time do they finish? It's almost like my clients want to manage the staff. It's funny. I'm like, okay, it's fine. We work on a basis of trust and teamwork and culture and it all works really well. And you will get a beautiful product from it. Please trust us, trust the staff. Don't worry. Okay. So yeah, we've had a few customers who've been time watching, making sure that it all works. And what do you mean they're not there? So yeah, our customers have been funny about that, which is a bit sort of like your car trade. That's interesting.

Ewan (21:07):
I think the word trust is so important here, isn't it? Because you're right. I think if you put too many rules around this and we are the same, we trust our team to go and do and deliver what they need to do and do it from wherever they need to be. And actually if you don't, then sitting next to someone isn't going to make any difference whether they're working hard or not, they're still going to do the same level of work. They're just sitting next to you. It doesn't really make any difference. And I think trust is such a really, it came to the, for through covid, I felt that people then thought, well actually, look, people are doing their job, they're getting their job done, and actually we don't need to see them every day. And it freed up a workforce to say, let's go and do and let's excel and deliver how well we can in the right situation in life. And work can coexist in the same way that it just never did pre covid, I think it made a massive difference. Massive doing

Natalie (22:00):
Some, oh no, carry on. When I was doing some research, I seen as well, it was dead funny. It sounds very glaswegian, but on a Friday as well. So Fridays, but also there was no agenda, no attendee. So if on a Friday if you were invited into a meeting and you were not on the agenda, some organizations have said, do you have the free will to exclude yourself from that meeting? It's this off Friday. What is the reason? No agenda, no attendee. So if you're not on that agenda on a Friday, then you just remove yourself.

Wendy (22:33):
Wow,

Ewan (22:33):
I like that. To be honest. I remember,

Wendy (22:39):
Hold on, what am I missing?

Ewan (22:43):
I remember hearing that. I think it was the guys at British Cycling did that. Exactly, that no meeting should last more than half an hour. And if there's not an agenda before the start of the meeting, then I don't turn up, I dunno what I'm coming to discuss. I don't have time for this. I'll turn up for half an hour because that's as long as this means should take. And if there's no agenda, no, and I think I definitely think there's something in that.

Wendy (23:05):
Yeah, definitely think there's something in that for sure.

Ewan (23:08):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And in terms of as a benefit, do people, you mentioned this before, but people do see this as a benefit now, I think there was a bit of discussion in some of the press coverage there that so many people expect something like this, whether it's a four day week or flexible work, and that actually it's no longer seen as a benefit, but that certainly helps attract some of your, perhaps your joiners a four week there.

Wendy (23:31):
Yeah, yeah. No, no, definitely. I think so I do wonder over time it will become the norm, so therefore will it be as attractive? So eventually we will never, ever, ever work a five day week ever again. And weekends will all be three day long, which is not bad thing part of Thursday night. But yeah, I do wonder that it will become the norm and we will not be as unique as we are, I think because in the construction industry we are unique, we're very unique and I like to think we we're sort of ahead of the pack in that respect. But yeah, I dunno how long that uniqueness will last. I think slowly other people will come on board and realize that it's actually a good thing.

Ewan (24:13):
Someone made that point to me actually the other day is to say, well, actually, if you work a four day week, and if, like you say it's quite unique for your organization right now, so that's great, and other companies will start to follow that trend. But then there's new people coming into the industry who, as Natalie as you pointed out, millennials or Gen Zs who just expect there to be a four day week. And then at that point, where do we go? Do we have to go to a three day week? Where does it stop? And I think, yeah, I mean there will be a generation where it's the norm, the norm is, and then you then still get 38 hours worth of work and the 32 hours do you still get the level of productivity. And that's, I suppose, and again, just playing devil's advocate, I see the value of this, but it's just interesting the mindset of some companies to say, well, wait a minute, are we getting 38 or 40 hours worth of work in those 32 hours? Are we still producing what we need to produce? Yes. And I guess it goes back to your point about the outputs, doesn't it?

Wendy (25:14):
Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. And we will need to just keep reviewing it and keep reviewing it. I don't think we can just let it sort of sit. I think we'll keep reviewing it. One of the issues, actually, just thinking there when you were speaking was that we work outside in the winter, it's dark and we do have a problem with our four day week in the darkness, and this was our first winter and we tried to, I've got photographs of the guys literally on site with sight lights because that's the only way that we can actually get enough hours in the day to work. So the dark evenings are a problem for us, and it was great to get through the other side, but we try and schedule it so that the work is outdoors in the daylight. And then when they have to go inside to do all the interior work, it's when it's darker and we get the sight lights on. So actually the winter was a really hard scheduling head mess, trying to make sure that worked for us

Natalie (26:09):
Specific. Yeah, that's such a good, and did you ever feel at that point, oh no, four days is not working here. Not in the winter, maybe in the summer. And you'll see different countries have different seasonal operating hours, don't they? I mean, the guys

Wendy (26:20):
Work through the wind, rain, snow, everything. I mean, they're so hardy and they're so fantastic in that respect. I mean, the words I'm wet through to my pants keeps coming through the texts regularly. I feel dreadful. But yeah, they do work really, really hard. And in the winter they did. They just worked through it and we got through it and we did the days and we just did it. So we did really well.

Ewan (26:51):
That's brilliant. Yeah, it sounds like certainly this is the direction things are going in and the more trials that go past and there's a bunch of companies that are trialing this right now. I think the more companies that go through it will experience that and just notice how productive their team can be and actually how refreshed their team are when they come back in on a Monday or whatever day, whatever configuration they have. So no, that sounds good. Well, listen, thank you very much for your time today, Wendy. It's been a good discussion and actually really good to speak to someone that's implementing it and putting it to practice and to hear from someone who's really seen the results of this, it's really fascinating. So yeah, really good. And thank you for your time today, Andy.

Wendy (27:28):
Thank you very much.

Natalie (27:33):
Thanks everyone for listening today. Please get in touch if you want to find out more on today's subject.

Ewan (27:39):
Anything. If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and leave us a five star review.

 

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