What would a workplace look like if you didn’t need to be at your desk 40 hours a week?
Boise-based startup Metageek CEO Ryan Woodings wanted to find out. A few years ago, his wifi support company launched a pilot program where employees can choose to cut their work hours down to part-time if they are still meeting their obligations. This can be for a variety of reasons, like if an employee would like more flexibility to take care of their family or more leisure time.
Woodings, husband to City Council Member Holli Woodings and a Commissioner for Boise’s urban renewal agency, said the goal was to create meaningful jobs that don’t necessarily require full-time hours. He said it will likely be especially beneficial to women who often cannot find part-time work that utilizes their job skills.
“A lot of it was there’s a lot of untapped talent that I think is available if they didn’t need to work full time and then you get to the pandemic and realize the two parents working full time thing doesn’t work,” he said. “Somebody has to have some cycles to think about the family and all of these other things. If one parent only worked half time or two thirds time, it allows the family to work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and the massive shift to work-from-home for millions of Americans hastened a range of conversations about what modern work should look like. With parents struggling to guide their children through virtual schooling and keep up with work obligations at the same time, some companies like Metageek embraced more flexibility to allow workers to finish their obligations on their own timeline.
Who decided on 40 hours anyway?
The 40-hour workweek has its origins in the labor movement of the 1800s when activists sought a standard of eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure time and eight hours of rest for workers. This turned into the work schedule as we know it when automobile tycoon Henry Ford gave his employees two days off a week instead of one, dropping their hours to 40 hours per week.
Despite the 8 fewer hours of work, he found his employees were more productive with only 40 hours of time on the clock. Other companies adopted his model and by 1940 the 40 hour week was written into U.S. law with an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In recent years, there has been a push to shake up this time-honored tradition of how Americans work. Some pointed to the four-day workweek as a way to boost the economy by giving employees more free time, like New Zealand’s experiment to prop up its economy while its borders are closed due to COVID-19, or for cost savings during hard times.
Well-being = better work
At Metageek, employees have the ability to request their hours and benefits be prorated below 40 hours per week. There are currently two employees taking Woodings up on this offer at the 10-person company. One of them is an accountant who returned to working 30 hours a week after she became a parent. The other, a single man in his 50s without kids who works in IT development, hoped to cut down his hours so he had more time to enjoy golfing and other hobbies.
He said Metageek’s team works together well and reception to the optional program has been positive, but he’s still studying how it impacts productivity.
“There are so many studies that say if your employees well being is high they will be more creative and productive,” Woodings said. “Hopefully by doing these things that increase well-being you’re getting effective work. It’s not just about the hours, they’re getting more done because they can be creative.”