President’s Blog: 4-Day Week at ECOH

At ECOH: 32 is the New 40 | April 2023

In keeping with our vision of “Protecting People, Property and Planet”, ECOH is proud to be trialing a 4-Day Week. As an environmental consulting company, giving back to communities and supporting sustainable living at work, home and play are values we live each day.

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By implementing a 4-Day Week, we can reduce our carbon footprint and demonstrate our dedication to creating healthier societies as we contribute to something greater than ourselves.

Much has been written about the countless benefits of a 4-Day Week, and ECOH is not the first company to try it. We may, however, be the first company in our industry to do so anywhere in the world! Rather than reiterate what others have already said, this post will focus on the ECOH experience. Hopefully, our experience will help others within our industry to follow suit.

At ECOH, we specialise in Environmental Consulting and Occupational Health. We pride ourselves on being the best in the business when it comes to responding on short notice to our client’s urgent needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For example, when asbestos “rained” down on several city blocks following the Toronto propane explosion, the ECOH team responded immediately, working tirelessly for weeks to help protect the neighbourhood.

More recently, in the weeks leading up to this trial, ECOH responded to numerous urgent calls, working weekends and/or nights on short notice.

How then, can a company such as ECOH, adopt a 4-Day Week? Will ECOH be able to respond to future emergencies? Will our clients continue to get the level of service and attention they are accustomed to?

The short answer is yes! But, before I tell you how, allow me to digress a little and provide some background and context for how we got here.

Toronto Propane Explosion

Why Now?

When the pandemic hit in Spring of 2020, our work volume dropped by more than 50% overnight. We asked ECOHites to accept a temporary reduction in their salary in exchange for working 20% less time. I could not have been prouder of the ECOH team – every single ECOH employee embraced the concept of collectively sharing the pain, rather than the alternative, which was to lay some people off. Three months later, everyone was back to 100% of their salary, and ECOH was one of the few consultants to boast not a single lay-off during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Working from Home

The pandemic did, however, force us to change how we work. The hybrid model of video conferencing and remote work has blurred the lines between work and home. Team spirit and connectivity (especially strong at ECOH before the pandemic) were eroded in many workplaces.

People everywhere continue to report working longer hours and higher levels of stress. Yet, businesses in all sectors of society report a marked decrease in output. ECOH is no different.

Employee Burnout

By the summer of 2021, society experienced “the great resignation”. ECOH was not immune, losing employees at a rate never before seen in our 20+ year history. During a management meeting that summer, various retention strategies were discussed, including a 4-Day Week. One of the most vocal opponents to the 4-Day Week at that time was one of ECOH’s Vice Presidents, who dissuaded us from pursuing it. Ironically, that same VP resigned less than a year later, citing stress, burnout, and a desire to spend more time with family. Still, today I am grateful we waited. Doing so enabled ECOH to use a grassroots approach and foster employee engagement instead of implementing it as a “top-down” initiative.

So, why now? About 6 months ago, CBC’s The National ran a segment in which two Canadian companies were trialing the 4-Day Week. I thought, “Hey, ECOH was going to do that!” It was the first time we heard of Andrew Barnes and his book “The 4 Day Week” and the non-profit organization, 4-Day Week – Global. Within days, my two business partners and I agreed to revisit the idea of a 4-Day Week at ECOH, this time benefitting from the experience of others.

4 Day Week Global

What Not to Do:

If there have been any missteps leading up to ECOH trialing the 4-Day Week, they have all been mine, and they boil down to communication. The more I read about other companies’ success with the 4-Day Week, the more bullish I became, and I wrongly assumed everyone would embrace the idea.

Four Day Week

Dear reader, if you are considering a 4-Day Week in your company, it is essential to ensure everyone has the same information and allow them time to process and fully understand the potential benefits.

I should have understood that disruptive change would naturally cause some anxiety, and I should have given people more time to adjust to the idea. Regardless, after some debate ECOH’s Management Team unanimously agreed to trial a 4-Day Week and collectively, the ECOH Team has engaged in exploring better, more innovative ways to work. The excitement leading up to our trial was palpable.

Pre-Trial Preparation

Navigating a 4-Day Week without a clear plan is a little like trying to find your way through the wilderness with nothing but a compass.

Compass

The absence of a map makes it difficult to foresee the specific obstacles and challenges that lie ahead.

Books, like The 4 Day Week (Andrew Barnes) and Shorter (Alex Soojung-Kim Pang) provide an excellent compass. They can help point you in the right direction, but they are not a map.

To help draw our map, ECOH established a series of focus groups designed to brainstorm and address unanswered questions about metrics, efficiencies, schedules, technology, and other real-world logistics. All ECOHites were invited to engage with one or more of the focus groups and encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. From those focus groups emerged a rudimentary map, enabling ECOH to start the trial. The focus groups will continue throughout the six-month trial and the ECOH map will evolve, change, and become more detailed with every passing week.

Now What?

So, back to the burning questions posed at the start: Will ECOH be able to respond to future emergencies? Will our clients continue to get the level of service and attention they are accustomed to?

To kick off the focus groups, we defined the parameters of success:

  1. Maintain (or improve) employee happiness and job satisfaction.
  2. Maintain (or exceed) baseline productivity.
  3. Maintain (or improve) our ability and reputation for responding to emergencies and urgent client requests.
  4. Maintain (or improve) overall quality of the work we do.
  5. Maintain (or improve) client satisfaction.
Compass and Map

With the above in mind, the focus groups met to brainstorm and share ideas on how to succeed, and the beginnings of a map emerged. I have been thrilled by the level of engagement and innovative solutions emerging from these focus groups and have no doubt that response, quality, and client satisfaction remain top priorities. ECOHites will continue to prioritize client needs and be able to respond 24/7 through “made-in-ECOH” solutions involving asynchronous scheduling. The 4-Day Week at ECOH does not mean everyone gets Friday off. Each service group will start the trial defaulting to half-day Mondays and half-day Fridays, recognizing that some people will need to work outside of these hours to serve our clients.

As with any journey, the path ahead may be filled with unknowns. Navigating the 4-Day Week wilderness will require patience, resilience, transparent communication, and adaptability.

I know ECOHites are up to the task.

ECOH will enjoy a successful trial because of everyone’s level of engagement and because the grassroots of ECOH own this process.

If you are an ECOH client, rest assured that your needs remain our top priority. ECOH’s 4-Day Week plan (map) will enable us to operate as we always have, and we are committed to maintaining the highest level of quality and responsiveness.

The rewards for our people and clients, ECOH as a company, and society as a whole, make this an initiative worth trialing. If you would like to join us on this journey, follow ECOH on LinkedIn for updates over the next six months.

Mark Lai

April 2023

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