When the pandemic arrived, Baltimore print management software company Tricerat didn’t miss a beat. The 23-year-old company has had a policy of “work from anywhere” for a decade, so all of the infrastructure was in place to go remote, and employees were used to flexibility. And along the way, CEO John Byrne said the company has built a strong culture.
A big shift, however, is coming this year. In the fourth quarter, the company will begin a four-day workweek. Byrne said it’s a “radical change,” but it’s one that’s designed to provide more work-life balance for the team of just under 50 people. It’s also one that is winning favor with employees. When the company’s leaders announced the move at an all-hands inside its recently opened headquarters at the Hangar Building near Union Collective, they got a standing ovation. Not the typical reaction at a team meeting.
“It was a good day,” Byrne said.
With a pandemic that put work-life balance in literally the same space and increased burnout, the conversation about a four-day workweek is getting louder. A four-year trial in Iceland that put workweeks at 32 hours showed that productivity remained the same or improved, and workers were in turn less stressed. In the U.S., there’s legislation in Congress seeking to make it a standard and moves from early adopters like Kickstarter.
Byrne thinks more companies will get there soon, and he wants to be on the forefront. To be sure, it’s a “radical shift,” as he put it. Yet how Tricerat got to this point is a result of approaches already taken by many modern companies, both in the push toward a people operations approach to running teams that values employee feedback, and the software that companies use to make operations more efficient and track activity.
Tricerat has tools for human resources, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning to keep itself running. It carefully tracks customer satisfaction as a measure of its success. That means the key metric is the net promoter score.
At the same time, the company surveys team members often, and seeks to make improvements. Flexibility has always been at the top of the list of these responses, and the work-from-anywhere allowed that to happen. But under this policy, the company found that, over time, employees got more productive. They had fewer distractions, and meetings were reduced to solely focus on collaboration. He’s not the first CEO to talk about how distributed work has help to get stuff done.
This year, they decided to explore areas for further productivity gains, and found that work-life balance could hold the key. It’s not just keeping the two areas separate, but provide more space for the errands, childcare and hobbies that tend to creep into a long week for anyone.
“This brought us to the idea that if employees had more time to complete personal tasks, they would be even more focused during work time,” Byrne said.
So, on Oct. 1, the switch is coming. Under Tricerat’s approach, employees will work with managers to set up their four-day schedule for a week. The company will still be open five days a week, but not everyone will be working each day. There will be learning as they go, but Byrne said the systems the company has in place across human resources and day-to-day management will enable it to keep measuring both customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction as they go. It was key to Byrne’s confidence that productivity will only grow, even as hours worked diminishes.
“You really have to look at how you’re managing yourselves, and what metrics you’re using to determine productivity,” he said. “If you don’t know what it is today, it’s pretty hard to be able to predict what it’s going to be after you make that change.”
Just as important is the culture. If the team isn’t already dedicated, bought in to the mission and even happy at their jobs, it’ll be tougher to trust that everything can get done. Tricerat’s foundation was laid over years. Others could build it in from the start. The point is that teams must be ready.
“There’s no skipping steps,” Byrne said.