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Cover image for What a 4 day week would mean to a remote software developer.

What a 4 day week would mean to a remote software developer.

mattsmithies profile image Matt Smithies ・6 min read

Cover photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Working for a fast moving startup, with paying clients can increase the pressure of delivery unless the team is extremely supportive the strain can be intense.

Preface

In mid-2019 I wrote this initial article and posted it on LinkedIn.

It went down reasonably well between my friends and colleagues if fact a couple of months later my friends were offered 4 day work weeks.

I believe this is a coincidence that the events are connected but who knows it may have helped. 😀

After having worked a 4 day work week (for my main role) I have an update.

My experience with working a 4 day work week.

Last year I was made redundant twice, and don't worry this isn't as dramatic as it sounds as I was fortunate enough to find work fairly quickly through my network.

Startups fail all of the time. 🔥

That is the nature of the game.

And frankly, I wear my redundancies like a badge of honour as I know that I stick with a company until the absolute end, I am loyal.

Pequeños Momentos

Photo by Niver Vega / Unsplash

In August of 2020 I joined Coursematch as their lead developer, due to a couple of constraints I negotiated a 4 day work week.

Since then we've done some amazing work at Coursematch, there has been times have been very intense but satisfying.

I'd also add that I started to work with DOVU as a technical consultant on my 5th day a week.

So all in all my week was full.

Also it was easy to do a little bit of extra work on the weekend or early morning, which isn't great.

To balance all the workload had been difficult and stressful at times, and in 2019 due to the different employments I didn't allow myself to have the opportunity to actually have a break.

On the flip side I've managed to save up some extra funds for a special personal events (wedding & honeymoon) so that is a huge pressure off my shoulders.

Back to the matter at hand.

If you are the primary developer for a fast moving company, and there are paying clients which add to the pressure of delivery unless the team is extremely supportive the strain can be too intense, 4 days isn't enough.

For a 4 day work week to work this is what is needed:

  • Additional members of the development team, one which is a mid-senior who can problem solve most problems that arise.
  • Processes in place where an individual on their downtime is not queried with non-essential questions, this takes discipline from both parties.
  • Understanding that sometimes work will inevitably but rarely leak into downtime, make a record of it.
  • Communicate with your manager and be open to the current state of the business, be kind and transparent to each other.
  • Remember that nothing is binary, deals can be made circumstances can change, having a perk like a 4 day work week should be a balanced target.

You need a team in place, additional development support, or a process that allows for this time.

So below is the full article, enjoy, it can work at the right time and there are balanced advantages for both parties and if there is enough support from the team.

Working 4 days a week, in the right cases.

As Parkingson's law describes:

"work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion"

Macro of various tape measures and rulers, created for a weekly challenge on the Flickr Macro Mondays group

Photo by William Warby / Unsplash

In my opinion, applies directly to software development. Due to the reduced time, there would be an increased requirement to focus on high-quality development practices which aid in retaining a consistent speed in the output of features and releases.

Furthermore, by breaking into the habit of encapsulating such practices into a repeatable process, there would be secondary benefits such as decreased tiredness, increased focus and a higher rate of internal feedback.

I'm a strong believer in converting tasks into repeatable driven bite-size elements.

A couple of questions for business:

  • As a company, do we want to invest in our staff to enable them to be at least 20% more effective?
  • Will we attract higher quality talent if we publicly introduce a four-day work week, what if remote working was an option for those who wanted it?

This issue is reminiscent of internal train schemes summarised by this famous quote.

“What if we train them and they leave? What if we don’t and they stay?”

Let's talk numbers; as a Software Developer in London, there is a large range of jobs starting from £60k. Lets put to one side that we can incorrectly imagine that such developers are the best in the country, there is a need to recruit highly effective world-class talent.

If a company outside of London can’t compete on the salary, they could compete in time and hours.

The sell:

What if we offer 80% plus all FTE benefits, after all, they would only work 4 days a week.

That 60k would become 48k or a post-tax monthly income of 3,600 or 3,000 respectively. This is a definite attainable goal for many companies outside of London. Especially when in revenue start-up land there is no

That extra £600 a month can be easily gobbled up in the additional rent requirements when compared to other beautiful areas all over the country.

Morning jog in the countryside

Photo by Emma Simpson / Unsplash

Bear in mind the value that such a company could offer would be:

  • Reduced or non-existent commute.
  • Higher individual wealth due to reduced cost.
  • Reduced mental strain.
  • Spend more time with your family.

Although this is completely unproven, the individual could be more effective due to these “soft” benefits. A company could receive value beyond what a contributor working 5 days a week delivered. If this is proven, this kind of salary package would change the dynamic from time to cost savings value-driven.

There is a famous Wall Street Journal article from 2010 which claims that any income over $75k doesn’t have a substantial effect on a person's quality of life.

Although I am positive that this figure has changed over the last 9 years it proves a point and moves the question to the individual. Is it worth the rat race of London life to make potentially 10k - 20k extra a year, if I can reach a base elite salary of £80-100k?

This is the disconnect, this is the choice. There will be an inevitable question; what will the personal sacrifices be, if I choose this path?

Welcome to the world of diminishing returns.

Some of the best developers I have ever known optimize for life, for family.

This fundamentally requires a mindset switch that focuses on the value the individual contributor has proved to deliver vs the amount of time they are sitting at the desk.

I believe that this would provide a more balanced relationship for Businesses and Employers and they will have to think in terms of value. By extension, this skillset would help in the freelance world where a contractor would be paid on the value that is delivered rather than the time spent in creation, which is has been known to be abused.

It all comes down to trust.

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček / Unsplash

From my perspective, when I start to have a family of my own I will be negotiating for this kind of deals again. After all, I'm just a guy that has worked all of his career remotely delivering value who just wants a quiet life, and it gives me comfort to I know I will always be there if I am needed.

Follow along with my posts and my project world class remote.

Matt.

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