Cosmic: Our 4 day work week
In 2016 Californian design agency Cosmic reduced their employees' hours by 20%, whilst keeping their salaries at 100% in an attempt to improve work-life balance. We caught up with them to see how it's going.
5 min read
22 Aug, 2022
Cosmic is a Social Impact Creative Agency headquartered in Santa Cruz, California. In 2016 they decided to make the switch to a 4 day work week in order to improve their staff's work-life balance on their staff.
Given that Cosmic have been working a four day work week for over 6 years now, they truly are one of the pioneers of the movement.
We caught up with them to see how it's going, what works and what doesn't.
1. How have you implemented your 4 day work week?
When Cosmic first moved to the four day work week, we split the team into a Monday - Thursday team and a Tuesday to Friday team all working forty hours. We thought we needed to be available for clients all week. We soon discovered that our team didn’t have enough time together to effectively collaborate. So we started setting expectations with clients that we work a four day week and implemented a sprint cycle with them to have a standing meeting to show progress on Thursdays. Once we learned how to communicate with clients around our work schedule our clients no longer expected our team to respond on Fridays.
We also started off working 4 ten-hour days for the first two years. We soon discovered this was not sustainable for the team, especially during the shorter days in winter. So in 2016, we shifted to a 32-34 hour work week, which has been much more sustainable.
2. How have things changed since you switched to a 4 day work week?
We have settled into a standing weekly cadence for work across the team. The overall structure is predicated on a weekly sprint cycle with our clients. Every Thursday we have a standing meeting with each client to deliver and collaborate on that week’s project deliverables. We have short syncs each morning with the team to remove blockers and ask questions. And then we have standing blocks of time for creative direction, finalizing deliverables for client presentations, work on our own marketing, etc.
The real art to making this schedule work is to balance enough time for deep creative work and collaborative sessions and meetings.
3. There aren’t many agencies with a 4 day work week, why do you think this is?
For a lot of agencies there are legacy business structures and culture in place that are leftovers from old agency models. There is an expectation that there will be long hours and hard work to be creative for clients. We have chosen to increase our creativity and productivity by having a true work/life balance. Three day weekends allow space for our team’s minds to percolate on ideas and come in fresh each week to create.
4. Is implementing a 4 day work week in an agency more difficult? What were the challenges?
Implementing a four day work week is probably challenging for any type of business. We have discovered that you need to develop a culture where you have to plan out both client work and the work of running the studio ahead of time. This allows the team to develop a rhythm each week and each quarter of the year.
We have also spent a lot of time working collectively to find ways of communicating and using tools in a way that is not as disruptive or filled with notifications throughout the day. We are very aware, especially as we work remotely, that messaging each other requires context switching for the team member receiving the message. They are probably immersed in coding, writing, or designing and to stop that flow for a notification is counter productive. So we have an ongoing dialogue so that we can iterate and fine tune how we communicate and use our collaboration and project management tools.
5. What made you switch to a 4 day work week?
Back in 2014, the impetus for switching to a four day work week was the desire to have a business model that allowed our team to be more creative and prevent burn out. We had read about people experimenting with different work days and work weeks in other countries and decided to jump in and try it.
Creativity comes from experiencing the world and having the time for your subconscious to percolate. Working in the social impact space means that our team has to process emotionally heavy issues. We spend our four day weeks developing strategies, messaging, designs, and digital experiences to inspire people to get involved and help make change in the world. Working a shorter week allows the team to process these larger societal issues and collaborate with our clients to help create a better world for all.
6. What are the top 5 tools your company couldn't live without?
Discord - We switched from Slack to Discord to take advantage of their Voice Channel feature. It removes all friction for our team to collaborate and have conversations. The team just renamed the channels after WWF wrestling moves; Orange Crush, Diamond Head, and Blue Thunder Bomb, which adds a bit of humor to asking someone to meet you in a voice channel.
Asana - We use this as the source of truth for all of our projects client and business focused. The evolution of Asana in the past couple of years has provided us with timelines, team capacity insights, and tagging/reporting features that allow everyone to see into a project in a way that makes sense for them.
Fathom - Not sure how we lived without recording Zoom meetings with searchable transcripts? This allows us to have team members not be in every meeting and still access the information they need.
Calendar - We live and die by our calendar. It allows everyone to have a meta view of what is going on and establish their own workflows.
- Calendly - For meetings with one of our team members this has eliminated all of those back and forth emails to schedule client and new business meetings that are outside of our sprint schedule.
7. What has the feedback been from employees since switching to a 4 day week?
Our team really enjoys the four day work week. It takes some getting used to for our new hires.
Learning how to function in a team that is as intentional with our time is a new experience for people. We have all had to build up the muscles needed to keep a consistent pace throughout the four days. We really earn the three days off every week. There is really no going back to a five day week after you experience having three days off every week. That third day makes all the difference, you can go to the dentist, pick up dry cleaning, pick up groceries, and still have two whole days off!
Making the switch to a four day week can be daunting for any business - never mind a digital agency in 2016. It's fantastic to see that Cosmic have stuck with it and experienced the many benefits. So if you're a digital agency considering the switch, follow Cosmic's example! You won't regret it.
If you are interested in learning more about Cosmic's 4 day week and to get alerted to when they are hiring - check out their company profile.