Flexible work is the future of work

Mathilde Collin

Mathilde Collin,

Executive Chair & Co-founder at Front

26 October 20210 min read

I’m excited to share Focus Friday, our new model for work that gives Fronteers a dedicated day each week to be more focused—free from regular meetings

This post has been updated to change “Flexible Friday” to “Focus Friday,” which more accurately reflects the intention behind the program.

Focus Friday is now a permanent part of working at Front. Read our learnings and thoughts from the team after one year of launching the program: One year into Focus Fridays at Front — here’s what we learned and why we’re making it permanent.

There’s been a lot of talk about the future of work, remote work, the 4-day work week, and more. It’s because we’re at a tipping point—the schedule most of the world follows for work hasn’t changed, but so much else around us has. There’s evidence of the gravity of the problem all around us. Employee burnout is at an all-time high. The ’Great Resignation’ is sweeping the U.S. and beyond. It’s clear that the way we think about work needs to fundamentally change.

That’s why we launched Focus Friday. Focus Fridays are a dedicated day every week where Fronteers can be more focused on work and less distracted by meetings and pings. No regular meetings means much more time to focus on heads-down work.

Why did we do this?

The way work is organized has been wrong for a while now. It was already obvious in the accelerating burnout rate of employees and the disengagement people are feeling in their work. But with no solution in sight, this negative energy has been accumulating for a while, like a barrel of gunpowder, packed tight, looking for a spark to ignite it. The pandemic is the spark that finally gave us the opportunity to challenge the status quo, and provided the perfect blank slate for us to try something new.

We think more flexibility is one of the answers to this crisis. The typical model of a 9-to-5, 5 day-workweek is inherited from a time and a type of work where a worker’s output was closely linked to the number of hours they put in. For many jobs of the knowledge economy, this is no longer the case: not all hours are equal. People can sense it, and are clearly craving flexibility. In a Gartner survey, 43% of respondents said that flexible working hours helped them be more productive. And over half of employees surveyed from around the world would consider leaving their job after the pandemic if they are not given some form of flexibility in where and when they work.

We evaluated a 4-day work week but ultimately realized that it would recreate the same issues as 5 days. Moving to 4 days would be changing the quantity of work when we need to increase its quality. If anything, I worry that a 4-day work week will result in less flexibility for employees to organize their work, with less deep, focused, creative time: in 4 days, they’ll have to squeeze a certain amount of inflexible meeting time with coworkers, with less time remaining for undistracted activities. If the country as a whole opts to move to a 4-day work week, we’ll happily participate, but I’d rather we made Friday a national “no meeting” day!

The benefits of Focus Friday so far

We started this initiative as an experiment: if it wasn’t working, we would end it or change it. We made sure to track employee sentiment and productivity during the (still running) experiment. For the sake of transparency, as we do with pitch decks and other collateral, we decided to share the results.

Forced efficiency

With one less day for recurring meetings and synchronous messaging, we have no choice but to be more intentional in the 4 days we can communicate with one another normally. You have to get more out of your meeting time and make the most of every conversation. You’re forced to plan ahead earlier in the week. Plus, having large blocks of uninterrupted time makes a big difference when you need deep focus but can’t find time during a week full of meetings.

Less stressful days

In our survey, 89% of employees say they work happier because of Focus Friday. I’m very proud given the mission of our company. By having designated time to focus on work you haven’t been able to complete, you head into the weekend feeling accomplished.

Higher retention

This is probably the benefit I am most proud of: 87% of employees say Focus Fridays have positively impacted their desire to work at Front for the next two years. Here is some of the feedback we got:

“Focus Fridays have changed my life for the better. I really can’t get over the impact this has had on my overall well-being. Don’t get me wrong—I work 80% of my Fridays like I would a normal workday, but when Thursday night comes around, I feel (mentally) free.” “I have raved about it before and will continue to rave: Focus Fridays have significantly improved my mental and physical health, and I am so grateful for this time!”

How we made it work

It wasn’t perfect at first—it took a few months to iron out the kinks. But once we did, I was very happy with the results. Here’s what it took for us:

  • Be patient: At first, collaboration suffered, especially for teams that rely heavily on other teams to get to their goals. But now, in our surveys, 95% of employees have seen no impact to collaboration with colleagues from their Focus Friday.

  • Introduce on-call schedule and coverage: We introduced an on-call schedule on teams where it’s needed, so customers don’t feel the impact of this initiative. This is not just engineering, but for many teams. For example, the finance team needs to have eyes on new billing requests. Support needs to make sure customers get the replies they need.

  • Have a list of exceptions: Not everything can wait, and we can’t predict everything. If you have a list of exceptions, then everyone is on the same page. For us, external meetings such as customer calls or interviews with high-priority candidates will always have coverage on Fridays, for example.

Front works happier with Focus Friday

I believe that Focus Friday is a powerful new work model. It gives employees what they love about remote work—flexibility—while also building an organizational structure to uphold work life balance. I think this is only the beginning of the kinds of flexibility the workplace can have in the future, and I’m excited to continue to experiment so we can pave the way for what a happier work schedule truly looks like.

Read more on the future of work at Front from our VP of People Ash Alexander

Written by Mathilde Collin

Originally Published: 26 October 2021

Stories that focus on building stronger customer relationships