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What happens if you shorten working hours as an agency

At digitalwerk, we have always viewed the topic of work somewhat differently than the industry average. All-in contracts, 24/7 availability and late hours have therefore never belonged to our everyday life. Last summer, we dared to take another step: reducing the working week from 40 to 36 hours. For everyone. After almost half a year, we would now like to share our first impressions.

What happens if you shorten working hours as an agency

About outdated industry standards, New Work and why a marble cake was crucial for our latest development.

About a year ago, digitalwerk held an internal storytelling competition on the topic of "marble cake". The task was deliberately banal: "Why should digitalwerk provide its employees with a marble cake every week? Pretty much anything was allowed - from the choice of medium to the argumentation, the teams were allowed to unfold completely freely. But what does this have to do with working hours, new work, and 36 hours?

One of the teams managed to cleverly spin the question about the marble cake into a fundamentally different message - the marble cake embodied the 4-day week - and thus use the slot with the management for a very special food for thought on the topic of working hours. The message was clear: less working time = better life-work balance = better output. The management didn't turn it into a working group; instead, it went straight into implementation. Our corporate culture was already strongly positioned towards no all-in, no compulsory attendance, but flexible working hours etc. as part of our New Work model - and taught us that new paths work and are worth pursuing. So we took this announcement from our employees seriously.

Industry background and legal considerations

digitalwerk is subject to the collective agreement "Advertising and Market Communication", the normal working hours in this industry are 40 hours per week. A hasty changeover to 32 hours per week could not be achieved so quickly from a work and financial perspective, but we lacked experience and data regarding changed processes, accessibility for customers and, of course, profitability and efficiency - after all, you lose hundreds of working hours with this size of company. Last but not least, we also had to deal with legal aspects of the employment contract. One of the things to consider when switching to 32 hours is that official part-time employment will have an impact on pension entitlements, etc. So it quickly became clear to us that a 4-day week can be our long-term goal, but it needs to be well thought out so that it leads to success for everyone.

Some companies from various industries proclaim the 32 h with voluntary salary waiver or press 40h in 4 days. This is good PR in the short term, but we do not want to go in this direction.

Our plan for a successful decrease in hours

For the time being, digitalwerk therefore decided on a 36-hour week with full pay - this process is documented, analyzed and also scrutinized in a constant loop by means of surveys. In practice, this means that we have shortened Fridays and introduced core working hours from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (office or home office). During this time, everyone should be reachable; beyond that, everyone is basically free to choose the start and end of their working hours within the flexitime framework, taking into account operational requirements.

Results of the first employee survey:

After almost 3 months, we started the first employee survey - here are the most important insights: 

76% are very satisfied or satisfied with the changeover and can fit the workload into 36 working hours.

If the workload cannot be fulfilled in the 36 h: what could be the reason? Here, the responses focus on vacation substitution and sick leave replacements – there would need to be better planning for vacations, such as no overlaps in teams.

On the question of general satisfaction, we achieve 82% agreement:

My overall satisfaction at digitalwerk has improved since the introduction of 36h.

Results of the survey following a shortening of working hours at digitalwerk on employee satisfaction.

What has improved for individual employees? Here, increasing the quality of life is in first place.

That has changed for the better for me.

Results of the survey following a shortening of working hours at digitalwerk on the perceived improvements.

The team is critical of "difficulties in contacting colleagues on Fridays" and perceives "fewer resources in the team" - however, we were also informed that it was not possible to select "nothing" at this point and that all employees were therefore forced to take a critical view. A faux pas on our part ;)

That's something I'm still critical of.

Results of the survey following a shortening of working hours at digitalwerk on general challenges

Quotes and key takeaways from employees


"Since then, Friday has become the day to work off "unfinished tasks" that had less priority during the week. Since then, this day is no longer booked with customer appointments and is much more relaxed and you have the feeling that you have really worked through everything for the week and can start the weekend much more relaxed."
"The time I have gained through this change is very valuable to me and I appreciate it incredibly. I feel much more refreshed on Monday and can therefore start the new week with much more energy. My work therefore benefits greatly from it. There's certainly room for improvement in terms of efficiency in general, but I'm a firm believer in this working model." 

Our conclusion

It is probably still too early to make a valid statement - however, after an increase in admin activities due to the changeover in the first month, we now see a constant decrease in admin activities and no less important: constant revenues or billable services. With regard to quality, we have not noticed any losses internally, on the contrary, we actually expect an increase in quality - so that we also include the external view in the evaluation here, we have started a customer survey in parallel.

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