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Feilden Fowles on working a nine-day fortnight

Words:
Edmund Fowles

How did Feilden Fowles make a nine-day fortnight work? Why did the firm do it, and what do clients make of it? Director Edmund Fowles reveals a work/life success story

Feilden Fowles’ self-built studio in Waterloo, London.
Feilden Fowles’ self-built studio in Waterloo, London. Credit: David Grandorge

Since early last year our 22-strong practice has trialled a nine-day fortnight. On alternate Fridays we close the studio and staff have a day off. After the ad-hoc way of working required by the pandemic we wanted to bring everybody back to the office, but still offer flexibility and a better quality of life.

The day is a discretionary ‘gift’; staff contracts are unchanged. And it deals with people accruing time off in lieu for occasional late evenings, which was becoming hard to administer. Some have used it to take up new hobbies or classes, and others for life admin that’s difficult at the weekend.

As we need to cover the same ground in fewer hours, we set out guidance on improving efficiency. We’ve tried ‘focus mornings’, when people can work uninterrupted, and more obvious approaches: less non-essential chat on digital platforms; shorter, frequent breaks; better communication on deadlines and workloads. Productivity is hard to measure, but from a commercial point of view our turnover has increased during the period – and 40% of staff have reduced overtime.

From a commercial point of view our turnover has increased during the period – and 40% of staff have reduced overtime

Clients are supportive. Our email signatures link to a list of off-days on our website. Phones are answered by a messaging service. That said, some deadlines or meetings are unavoidable and around half the team has worked on at least one free day in the last quarter. We are looking at how to reduce this.

Our trial runs until Q2 this year, but in an interim staff survey 100% of staff said they had a better work-life balance and felt more energised; 84% said efficiency had improved, and 92% are satisfied with the policy. While some details still need refining, on the evidence so far the nine-day fortnight is set to stay.

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