Reimagining Real’s ways of working

Zeera
5 min readMar 31, 2022

Piloting a Four-Day Workweek

By Ariela Safira, Founder and CEO, Real

The five-day, forty-hour workweek was first instituted in the United States in 1908 by a New England cotton mill so that Jewish workers didn’t have to work on the Sabbath. In 1926, Henry Ford followed suit, shutting down his automobile factories on Saturdays and Sundays. Fourteen years later, Congress made it a national standard.

America’s workplaces in the early 1900’s operated by a very different business model than those in today’s tech industry: revenue was harder to generate, communication depended on telegrams and mailed letters, and cross-team collaboration relied on the (IRL) human assembly line.

The world has changed since 1940, but have our workplaces evolved alongside it?

From a financial perspective, today’s companies can generate revenue in a fraction of the time and effort required in the past. And the toll and benefits of a five-day, forty-hour workweek a century ago are radically different than today. If we’re measuring the workweek by revenue generated and the health of employees, isn’t it time to match the modern workplace to modern needs?

We believe it is.

That’s why we’re excited to announce we’re piloting a four-day workweek.

At Real, our mission is to make mental wellness an essential part of well-being, and we believe that is dependent on a mentally well workplace. We’ve instituted multiple policies to bring this to life over the past two years, and today, I am excited to announce a new four-day workweek pilot, running from April through the end of June.

My hope is that the shortened workweek will bring life to employees of Real — perspective away from work, the sensation of feeling unplugged, a reminder that they and we are full and whole humans outside of the workplace. I trust this will only make our product, our business, and most importantly, our people, better.

Why is it imperative we try this pilot now?

We’ve spoken a lot about our financial ability to work fewer days per week — this is why we can change workplace expectations. But it’s just as important to unpack how mentally unwell today’s workplace is for Americans — why we must change workplace expectations.

Today, Americans work an average of 44.1 hours per week — within startups, that can look like well over fifty-five hours per week (at least). The pandemic has only heightened this, extending the average American’s workweek by as much as ten percent. And it is taking a toll. According to the WHO, employee burnout is now considered a global health issue.

Workplaces are seeing an impact — a record number of Americans, roughly 47.4 million, quit their job last year. This sadly doesn’t come as a surprise. I see the burn out, the numbness, the anxiety spread amongst my peers in record time. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been powered by asynchronous communication — pings from Slack, email, text, LinkedIn and phone at all hours of the day. When I look around, I see fixation and obsession with work, I see addiction to laptops, I see paranoia over missing a Slack message. Is this healthy?

Building a mentally well workplace is core to Real’s values. We have a unique opportunity to rethink the very definition of work.

Building a mentally well workplace requires thoughtful and intentional decision making across company benefits and ways of working. This resulted in our decision to institute quarterly mental health breaks during which the entire company shuts down for one week every quarter. Doing this has benefited the team in many ways, including but not limited to employees feeling:

  • A healthier relationship with work
  • Less guilty about taking time away from work
  • More rested and replenished

Most importantly, building a mentally well workplace requires presence.

That means having the presence to feel within ourselves “how are things going?”, the presence to think “is this healthy?”, and the presence to empathize with those around us, understanding how this looks for them as well. As a Founder and CEO in our fast paced world, this isn’t always easy. My mental health goal is for this presence to remain consistent within myself and at Real. This will result in evolving our ways of working to keep up with our evolving ways of living.

How are we bringing this pilot to life?

As with all new products, we will launch this four-day workweek pilot and evaluate how it works by asking our audience — the team at Real — how this feels and impacts not only our work but our experience as humans. We’ll be surveying the team along the way to track how this impacts mental health, stress, trust in one another and work output. I’ll be joining by documenting my personal experience and gauging what works, what doesn’t work, how it feels, and how my overall mental health and well-being is impacted.

Example of questions from pre-survey all Real employees completed.

I’m excited for this pilot program. We’ve worked hard to build Real to where it is today, challenging assumptions and re-thinking the status quo throughout. As a Founder and CEO, I’m entering this pilot open-minded — I trust some things will be hard (like getting myself to turn work off every Friday) and I am open to surprises that come along the way.

My goal is to feel, listen, learn and iterate along the way, with our mission as my north star: to make mental wellness an essential part of wellbeing.

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