About the Episode
On this compelling episode of “Balance, Not Burnout”, join our host Mark Williams in a riveting conversation with Chris Leone, who is spearheading the concept of a four-day work week.
Dive deep into this transformative idea and understand how it can change the dynamics of traditional workplaces for the better. Experience first-hand accounts of Chris’s data and successful trial runs and learn how to consider the feasibility of a four-day work week in your workspace.
Don’t miss this episode that could potentially transform your perception of productivity and work-life balance.
As CEO, Chris is responsible for leading the vision of WebStrategies. He leads all day-to-day operations of the firm including digital marketing, inbound marketing, and web analytics.
Chris joined WebStrategies in 2008 as an entry-level marketer, working his way to CEO and partner by 2020. Under Chris’ leadership, Chris has doubled the size of the agency, made WebStrategies a “Best Place to Work in Virginia” five times, and landed WebStrategies on Richmond’s Fastest Growing Firms list.
Chris is a recognized influencer on LinkedIn where he writes about work culture, leadership, AI, and digital marketing. Chris is also a published author and speaks at industry events across the country.
You’re listening to Balance, Not Burnout, a podcast helping leaders rethink the speed of their business. And I’m your host Mark Williams. Join me as I explore the power of a more intentional, balanced approach to leadership. Thanks for listening.
Welcome to Balance, Not Burnout. This is Mark Williams, and I am super excited to have Chris Leone as a guest with us today. Chris is CEO of WebStrategies. And Chris joined WebStrategies in 2008 as an entry level marketer, and he worked his way up to CEO and partner by 2020. Under his leadership, Chris has doubled the size of the agency, which is incredibly impressive. Not only that he made WebStrategies, a best place to work in Virginia five times and landed Web Strategies on Richmond’s fastest growing firms list. So Chris, welcome. Thanks for having me, Mark.
Well, what even makes Chris even more amazing is Chris introduced the concept of a four day workweek. And so what we talk about here is balance, not burnout. And so I have all kinds of questions. So the first one we’ll start with, where did that idea come from? Chris? It didn’t come from me, I can’t take the credit for it, it’s probably not my DNA to suggest let’s work less.
The idea was originally surfaced by an employee who threw it into a survey, because we’re always serving our employees and figuring out how we can improve. And they suggested it maybe three years ago, and my original reaction was, what are you nuts,
but the seed got planted, and then you start to hear about it in other channels. And then it’s, it starts to show up in the news here or there. And, and then I started, we started to explore it a little bit more. And then ultimately, we adopted it. So describe for me your workforce. Let’s give everyone a little taste of how many employees you have who does what, and then maybe we’ll talk a little bit more about the four day workweek. Sure, so we’re a digital marketing agency, we have just over 40, folks.
And our employees are spread all throughout the US, we are a remote first company. And we have been since the beginning.
A lot of other companies have kind of picked up on that some have gone back, but it’s just who we are. And it’s how we and how we do things. The way we’re set up is you know, we have teams of people who are in there doing the digital marketing work, we have account managers, we have sales and marketing folks, leadership team, all that kind of stuff, you know, kind of normal digital agency setup. But we really do Lean into, you know, this kind of future of work and figuring out how we can use that to create a better, more unique workplace. So we can, you know, not only get some of the best talent possible, but also just, you know, try and
create great experiences for employees and great trajectories in their career. So let’s dive into some of the misconceptions. So Well, initially, when I read about it, I’m like, Wow, interesting concept. Wonder what happens on Friday, if Friday’s the day off? How do your customers view it? I mean, literally have questions. But what are the misconceptions about a four day workweek? Yeah, there are several. I think the first there are a couple one that the model is, it’s one of a couple things neither Correct. One is that you just cut out 80% of your productivity and say we’re just, you know, 20% less productive now. And we only do 80% of the work. That’s not it. Others think that you’re going to work for 10 hour days. That’s not it either. So the model that has really caught on, and if you see stories about this showing up in the news, and there have been several covered, like Wall Street Journal, CNBC, things like that, they all follow this model called 180 100. And that means 100% of the output, and 80% of the time for 100% of the pay. Okay, interesting. So that’s the first one that I think you really have to lock into. Because there’s a lot of, there’s kind of a waterfall effect from that model. And that and that setup that dictates the things that you really have to lean into and get better at and focus on and, you know, etc. So those are some of the misconceptions as well. And then also that you can’t be as productive in the 32 hours instead of 40, which is really the theory that we’re testing.
And that you just can’t be competitive, which I have a million reasons to believe that that’s not the case. So yeah, there are a lot out there. But what I find interesting mark is that when I kind of lay out my thesis for it, even the people who I think would just naturally be resistant to it and want to kind of pick a fight over it because it goes against, you know, maybe this old school
Will American work ethic really start to get it? I don’t know that they would ever do it themselves until they’d have to, but
they they don’t really have good counterpoints to some of the, you know, cases that I can make for it. Sure.
So for the employees outside, maybe an extra day that they get to work a little more loosely describe some of the benefits that you see, from an employee standpoint, from an employee standpoint, you know, there’s, you know, times the big one. And, you know, we have, we have a lot of working parents hear of young kids, and that time is really, really precious to them. So yeah, I know, besides that, there are several, but it’s one thing, we really can’t get back into our lives that easily, it’s a finite resources time. So that is a huge one. Honestly, what I think is so interesting about the four day workweek experiment, which and it is an experiment is that it breaks us from this,
you know, widely accepted cadence of work in life that we’ve had since the 40s, that things have to be done in five days, 40 hour weeks. And that’s the way life is, but there’s no law of physics that says it has to be that way. And so I love this idea of kind of getting back to the first principle of what work has to get done, how much time does it really take to do that? What’s the junk we can cut out, so that we’re not wasting our time with unproductive things. And then lo and behold, that can result in a shorter workweek for us while we’re just as productive and still accomplishing the things that we want to accomplish. So it’s, it’s the, it’s this paradigm shift, that things don’t have to take 40 hours to filter, right? And so everything that that opens up and all the agency, we start to give people to say, Hey, call this out. If you think this is a waste of time, speak up, what can we delete? What do we really not have to do any more? Or what can be reimagined if you think it’s, it’s unproductive, or inefficient? And I think people really enjoy that exercise in essentialism, because it can be very cleansing, to cut out the stuff that really is non essential. So we could focus on the things that matter most Sure. One of the challenges even in our brokers at our, at our five day workweek is the challenge of our customers have easy access to us due to digital means, right? So we’re answering texts, we’re answering emails, sometimes after work, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes on the weekends. Does that affect your four day work week at all? So I you know, I’m working a four day workweek. And yet I’m still answering emails in the evening, I’m answering texts from customers, I’m assuming that still lives in your world. Yeah, it does. And it does. So we first of all, we don’t treat Friday. First, we do a universal off day, which was one of the things we got to talk a lot about is do we want to do staggered, some like there’s a team a that’s Monday off, Team B is Friday off, or we came up with all these things. But ultimately, we decided for simplicity, we’re just going to make it a universal day, which is Friday, we decided that for a couple of reasons. One Friday is generally as a quieter day, for folks in general, fewer inbound messages coming in from clients, things like that. And,
again, we just wanted to keep it simple. So you didn’t have to look up well, who’s working today versus not today, all that kind of stuff.
But we made it very clear. Friday is not like a like the Sabbath. It’s not like Sunday was like Thou shall not work.
The reality is people tend to still put in an hour to
it. But it’s it’s a different type of work. It’s kind of like, you know, sometimes you have to put a little time in on the weekend, just to kind of clear the deck and you’re doing it before the kids are up or things are quiet. It’s like it’s not a big deal. So that’s what we find people are doing not everybody does it. But sometimes there’s just a little bit of catch up close out the week work that gets done. But it’s that fact it’s the fact that they don’t feel like they’re doing something wrong by not being behind their computer doing something sure it kind of lifts,
you kind of lifts the mood a little bit that I can go out and do what I want as long as this stuff is done. We do require that people check
their email. If you’re an account manager, you’re checking your email few times a day. If you’re an internal person, you’re checking slack a few times a day, because that basically simulates your check in cadence if it was a normal workday. Sure. And then and then if something is actually urgent, then we have a kind of a response system to that. Some teams do like an on call person as well. It’s we do it a couple different ways. But point is that people generally cannot check out completely. It’s really just, hey, you have to be responsive to
If an emergency comes up, it’s fairly rare. But you know, occasionally ads go down, or there’s a big sudden change, and we got to change this on a website, you know, but those things get knocked out. And then you can go back to what you’re doing and not feel guilty about it, you know, as a new customer to Web Strategies, is this something that’s spoken to me the way I would engage with you? Like, is it explained to me as a new customer? Or is it really just a non event? Non event? As I see it? It sounds harsh. It’s none of their business. Yeah. Because if you think about it, I’m not selling them a five day schedule, I’m selling them output, here’s output and specific work that we’re going to do, right. So that’s one way to answer that. It’s like, it’s really doesn’t it? It’s not what we’re in the business of selling, right and in the business of doing for folks.
But also, we did not tell existing clients, because we don’t want to bias them. When we do our quarterly survey. Sure. Because I would suspect some people just for whatever reason, think, well, you guys are not going to work on Friday. I’m here on Friday. And you know, I want somebody works as hard as I do.
Which and that’s another point I want to come back to is just some of the misconceptions around that. But
yeah, I don’t want them to be biased and how they’re going to evaluate us. I want to, I want them to evaluate us on the work, right and on the relationship. And the time has nothing to do with that. How was the employee response? If I was a an employee that wasn’t working under this system? And then how was it received for new employees? So for, for employees that we already had?
I mean, they were really excited. They were a little nervous, though, I think because it goes from this pie in the sky idea, which was brought up a few years ago, and then it resurfaced last year, which kind of kick things into gear again for us. And we’re like, Okay, we’re gonna do it and help people like, oh, geez, I gotta get all my work done in four days. Okay. So now became real. But I think generally, it was like, there was a lot of excitement around it. For those who are, who were not in the organization. They’re very excited about it, too. You know, we’ve been we’re we’re staffing up right now, we’ve got a really strong pipeline, which I’m very grateful for, because it’s not what a lot of agencies are seeing right now. Sure. And it’s a big draw. It’s definitely a big draw. Yeah, I can imagine I know our own experience. We have a marketing department that’s about 10 or 12 employees. And over the last three or four years, we have had a very difficult time keeping employees quite frankly, we’re in Des Moines, pretty high market for marketing, folks. We’ve got Meredith there as a big company, and a lot lot of graphic design and writers and that kind of thing. So I’m curious, have you seen your has your turnover reduced? Because of it? Yeah. So
you compare anything to 2022? It’s probably going to be better, was brutal. Yes. Now, how much? You know, correlation causation, how much of it is four day workweek? How much of it is that the just the job market is so different in 23, than it wasn’t 22.
I think it’s absolutely had a positive impact. We have still had a couple people leave. But in talking to other people have done for day, what they experienced is that people who are already kind of on the fence out the door, they’re, they’re already going to go no matter what. Yep. And as you know, that’s the kind of the psychology behind, like that moment where they decide, I’m gone, they’re gone, they’re gone.
Even if it takes a year. So there was like, you know, one, one person like that, and another person that
who left for a really what sounded like a really good opportunity, which ended up not being and then three weeks later, they came back. So we got it, but those are always my favorite. Yeah. I’m just, frankly happy to have her back. Because she’s a she was a strong performer. But no, I you know, how much of it’s the job market? How much of it is this? I mean, I would have to think if you can figure it out, and it takes figuring out it’s not a given it takes work and effort to figure out how to do things in four days. It’s a real exercise and essentialism then, I mean, geez, what you what you would be giving up, and what it would take to go somewhere else, I would imagine is a lot. And when they’ve done surveys on this, they find that
you know what it would take in terms of pay additional pay to get somebody to move. I mean, it’s pretty substantial. So people really value the time if they can figure it out, and figuring it out as a process. Yeah. Lessons learned while implementing
Many, many. One is that I think you really do have to treat it as an experiment, and you have to be mindful of everything else you might be trying to do at the same time, we’re also going through a reorg. And
would have been better to keep those separate. Sure, because it’s really hard to measure,
you know, factors around burnout and stress when you’re doing these two things simultaneously. So not great experimental design on my part, but I was pretty eager to do both of them, so probably would have done it again.
Also, I’ve made this I didn’t, I didn’t really piece this together until recently, in terms of how I how I articulated, but I did, like a couple of weeks ago at our retreat, that this, it shouldn’t be thought of as a benefit.
Meaning it’s not a gift that people were getting. It’s, it’s the output, it’s the outcome that you get when we figure out how to be more essential and more productive and more efficient. Right? So what we’re really challenging people to do is to
think about, what are the essential activities to get this done? How much time does it really take to do this? Instead of what I’m used to it taking? Yep. And just challenging the status quo over and over again, asking why do we do it like this? Do we really have to do it like this? Is there a better way, and if we get in, if we create a culture of, of asking those questions, challenging status quo, and and just being diligent about efficiency, then the outcome is that we can work in four days.
So positioning it like that, and that everybody has to do their part, in order for this to work. Instead of, hey, this is just a benefit that we now have at the company, you know, and figuring out how to work within it is a pretty important distinction. We didn’t position it like it was just a reward, but I are like as a benefit. But I probably would have emphasized the point a little bit more that this is an experiment. And we all have to figure out how to do this in this amount of time in order for us to, you know, get the reward. Yeah, I love that. And I think it answers one of the questions I was going to ask, it does force your company to think differently, right. So it’s all about efficiency and doing things differently? And I’m curious have does this cut down on
I hate to call it needless meetings. But I come from a corporate background where we had a meeting before a meeting before a meeting. And I’m curious, if you’re always thinking about working efficiently, and effectively, it seems logical that it would reduce a lot of those extra, the extra fluff or the extra meetings is that do you see that’s true? Absolutely. Meetings is a big is a big one that can be cut out or shortened? You know, can this take 30 minutes? Can a third kind of 60 minute take 30 minutes? Can a 30 minute take 10 minutes? Can we get better at asynchronous communication?
Yeah, that’s a big area. And then I’ve also found when I’ve gone through the data, and our project management tools, what I found is that we’ve gone while doing the same amount of work. We’ve gone from going being about 12. What was the number here? 12% over budget on our budgeted hours to do work? Yep, the being 9% under budget. So we’re doing the same amount of tasks. But we used to take longer than we were planning to do that work. And now we’re taking a little bit less time to do it. Sure. So tasks that might have taken an hour, hour and a half, maybe only need to take 30 minutes. There’s a there’s a phenomenon called I think it’s Parkinson’s Law, which says that the amount of time that you need to do something,
or what is it time will expand, to do something to the time that you have to do it. So if you’re like I have an hour to put this deck to go together, it will take you an hour, you have 30 minutes, it will take you 30 minutes to put the same exact deck together. Right. So I’m fascinated by that psychology and putting it to the test and considering how much work we do for how many clients a great, you know, experimental ground for it. Sure. So I’m accompany that’s a five day work week. It took us literally months to go from to introduce remote work. We’re three days out two days in. I’m curious advice for a company that says Hmm, interesting. Let’s explore what would be the first steps that we should be taking a look at if we’re interested in implementing a four day workweek. I think the most important thing is to understand
the metrics that will define success. You have to treat this like a scientific experiment.
So if you theorize retention will be better. People will be happier, there will be less burnout. Great. Let’s quantify
I that let’s get baseline metrics, maybe you already have them.
productivity metrics, was the biggest hang up for me.
How do we really measure productivity? Yeah, and I’m curious at your KPIs. So, right. So what are what are some of the metrics that you would pay attention to? So we’ve got, so we created a baseline survey, that’s a four day workweek survey asks a lot about employee wellness, burnout, satisfaction, fulfillment, all these kinds of things, right?
We have our business metrics, these are very important. I said, if we’re going to do a trial like this,
we have our sacred metrics that cannot be affected. And those are our new logo acquisition, account growth, and client retention, and then our NPS scores like, we cannot sacrifice those. Yep. Okay. So hard business, financial metrics. Sure. And then there were the employee metrics as well. And so, you know, again, we have a lengthy survey that asks a lot of questions around,
you know, job fulfillment, burnout, you know, their perception of work life balance, which is a very, very subjective thing, obviously, but, you know, our survey, benchmarks that for every individual, so whatever it means to you were able to measure against, and then our retention metrics as well. And then the other big one was the operational metrics, like productivity, because this whole thing is around product, if the whole theory is you can be just as productive in four days as five. That’s the theory. Right?
So how do you actually measure productivity? And what I found when I was researching this, before we started doing it is that a lot of companies have a hard time defining productivity in real terms. Sure. Okay. And I was a little disturbed by that. But nevertheless, they said, alright, well, let’s go in and figure out what how we’re going to measure productivity. And so because we have, we’re very operations focused company.
And we can pull a lot of data out of our systems to say this is the amount of work that was done not measured in billable time, because we’re trying to reduce the time it takes to do things. But are we actually getting the work done for clients that we promised them that we would do? Okay, and then what’s the quality of that work? And that’s, that’s really the last one that I we don’t quite have a conclusive metric on yet. What we found in our analysis is that people were able to do just as many tasks that were assigned into our, our specialist teams,
after the experiment started as they were before, so in that sense, we’re just as productive. But how do we measure quality? Because if it’s great if it took you 30 minutes to do something that used to take 90 minutes, but if the work is crap, no, and it was good before, right? So I don’t want to wait on like client retention metrics, and NPS scores because those are very much lagging metrics. Yep. So I’m trying to find something that’s a bit more real time. And really, the best we’re doing right now is that were kind of going in and looking the work and looking at the work and kind of spot checking some things to say this this match or, you know, our expected level of quality, just because like, I can’t pull up every client’s Google analytics into one and say, what’s our average growth rate for their websites? Because there’s just too many other factors, that back to four day work week. So
yeah, those are the ones that we’re looking at. But I would really, really, really strongly encourage anybody who wants to try something like this, to know what your sacred metrics are, and then what your productivity metrics are, because those are the things that you need to protect, if this is actually going to work based on the, you know, the original theory of 40 washer, as you were talking, I was thinking if I’m a customer that’s been with you for five or six years, am I now getting the same? And my quality stayed the same? Have my billable hours been reduced now because you’re being more efficient. So if normally 5000 or 8000 or $10,000 a month customer? And in theory, if you become more efficient, shouldn’t my cost go down?
That’s our benefit.
And maybe I’m putting you on the spot but you understand what I’m saying right? Yeah, no, I that’s our benefit, I think is going to manifest for the customer in other ways not reduced investment to us, right? Like if I can, if we can save time and money on the things that we’re doing get you results that are just as good I can reinvest that into my team that’s gonna get you better work down the road. Maybe more maybe more output for the same money. Yeah, and we’re not you know, we don’t sell like I, I take our the retainers that people are paying us and I turned that into, you know, a budget of hours every month. So I can manage the operations, but I’m not selling them 3040 50 hours a month. We’re saying, This is what we think you need. This is how much it’s going to cost for my team of experts to do it for you.
But the billable numbers we you know, we don’t we don’t share because it’s just it’s not it
is not irrelevant. Yeah.
Super, super interesting. It really does amaze me. Could you see? Do you see this as a trend that will take off? Or is this? Hey, this was an experiment? We tried it for a number of years. And you think it’d be more it’ll be more heavily adopted? Or is this one of those things? It’s a fad.
You know, I thought were remote work was, you know, going to stay where we’re moved after COVID. And I’m pretty shocked at the boomerang effect that we’re seeing, although I some of it, I think might be companies, having people self select out. But even that aside, I do think that things are going to shift in this direction. If I had to put my money down, I’d say yes, and I’d say it for a couple of reasons. One,
want to be careful how I don’t want it to sound.
I don’t want to be misinterpreted, but technology is improving so incredibly much. And and I think, you know, people should be the beneficiaries of this amazing technology that is being invented and created that saves us time. If I’m, I’m so amazed by what open AI is doing with chat, GBT and I have, I have this kind of vision of where this can go. And it’s going to really revolutionize and change the world, I think in really, really important, important ways. could be dangerous ways. But I think net, it could be very positive. If if it’s managed responsibly, I think we should get to benefit from that, like, what, what the hell is the point if we’re going to create this amazing technology that can save us all this time and do all this computing, and we still have to work just as much? Like what the hell’s the point, right? Who’s benefiting from like, if only a select few at the top, and these big companies are benefiting from it? Well, screw that, right, like a manatee should benefit from this technology. All right. And also, again, you know, the Earth was not formed
with the five day workweek, you know, that’s not how the Stardust came together. And, you know, Third Rock from the Sun, and there’s a little scroll that says five days is what it takes, folks.
So it’s all made up, right? And, and if you look at history, and you study history,
we landed, we, the number of hours worked per week, at least in the manufacturing space was, you know, seven days in six days, and it was going down and down from the from the 1800s, into the early 20th century. And then around the 30s, or 40s, it hit five days on average, and then it stuck. And it’s been flat ever since. And so we’ve used societies used to benefiting from improvements in technology. But then something happened. And and I don’t know what the explanation is for this. But what it’s basically telling me is that before, the amount of hours worked was a function of of technology. And then at some point, that changed. And then it seems like there’s a forced constraint that says, No, now it’s five days, and we’re gonna stick with the five day we’re just regardless of how technology and it’s a very, if you look at the chart, it’s very fascinating. It’s a very clear downward trend, then it hits the 30s 40s, it gets a little murky over, you know, World War Two, but then it just flat and it just rides out flat. So it’s like, what’s really dictating this, and, and so you go back, and now you can get to the deep conversations that like this is this, just this cultural thing and how we reward and how we find self value, consumerism. And there’s arguments to be made that like with the rise of Madison Avenue and consumerism in the in the 50s and 60s, that people had wanted to work more to chase materialism? Sure. And so that kind of got stuck in a place and, and it’s just one of the other things I love about four days is that it’s forcing us to think about what do we really value what’s really important, we hear enough, you know, deathbed confessionals about I wish I had worked, you know, less than spent more time here. And I think people are awakening to that in a time when the technology is and is improving a lot. And so there’s no better opportunity than now to take advantage of it. And I say that from a place of of tremendous privilege, for a couple reasons. One, in the kind of work that we do, we can do this, I understand that it’s more complicated than in other spaces, and I’m very sympathetic to that. But also, I mean, 2023 as much crap as we have going on the world. Really not. There was not a better time to be alive in humanity, right? I mean, we were burning witches two 300 years ago, right? Like that’s, that was reality. And now it’s like, we’ve got all this amazing comfort and technology. And we’re very lucky to have the science and the technology that we have today. And I think it’s great
To let society continue to benefit from all that, but we’ve been stalled out for the last 80 years. And the question is why? And how can we? How can we test that? So there’s more studies coming out about this more organizations that are trying this. And it’s popping up in very interesting places. And I think if it hits a tipping point, it’s going to be very interesting. Because if you have half the companies out there on for day and half on five day, how the hell are five day companies going to recruit people? And yes, just, it’s going to be a
pretty clear cut. So I’m, I’m interested to see where it goes. But frankly, all I care about his can Web Strategies make it work. Because I tend to just focus on what we can control and do it as best as we possibly can. And that’s what we’re focused on. And obviously, with the growth that you had, it’s you’re doing something right, so congratulations to that. Yeah, thanks. Every guest I asked the same question. So this is balanced, not burnout. It’s Saturday morning. Chris Leone can do whatever he wants with whomever he wants. Describe for me your perfect Saturday morning.
My perfect Saturday morning is getting up before the family, going on a bike ride, coming back,
and then doing something with my kids and then at night going on a date with my wife. Beautiful, nicely done. Well, Chris Leone, thank you so much, Chris, the only CEO of WebStrategies a four day workweek, I can’t thank you enough for the time super guest, and we wish you the best of luck. Thanks for having me, Mark.
Thanks for listening. If you think balance is as important as I do, at work and all throughout your life. Help the show out by leaving me a five star review following me on social media, or sharing the podcast with someone you think would appreciate it. If you have comments or questions. I’d love for you to join the conversation with me on LinkedIn. I want to thank OPI creative for producing the podcast and swells beats for getting the music for me. Thanks for sharing your time with me today. And until next time, this is Mark signing off.