Adopting the four-day work week
Four studios that made the switch report back on how its worked and the unanticipated benefits and challenges
The games industry has seen a number of changes over the last few years as competition for talent has grown and developers have pushed for better working conditions.
These adaptations include remote work, hybrid office work, and the implementation of a four day work week.
That last change has recently been taken by a handful of developers and publishers for the good of their staff, and they're starting to share results. A panel of studio heads who've experimented with it spoke about their findings during GDC 2022.
With more companies embracing the new work environment, GamesIndustry.biz reached out to various studios to ask them about their progress with a four-day work week and the lessons they've learned.
"...The teams did a good job on creating team level policies to make shorter work time work"Jaakko Kylmäoja, Fingersoft
Fingersoft CEO Jaakko Kylmäoja says that the most pressing business reason for the change was to improve staff wellbeing.
"Working in the games industry one can easily find himself working too much and not paying enough attention to one's well being," he says. "Also many of our employees are in life situations where finding time to recover might be challenging."
The Fingersoft CEO says optimization was the big concern, particularly "how well the teams would be able to plan their tasks to catch the fixed deadlines [like] Halloween, Black Friday and Christmas, especially in the beginning when we had little experience on shorter working time."
Kylmäoja admits that during the period of change he expected more problems among the studio.
"The participants and the teams did a good job on creating team level policies to make shorter work time work," he explains. There was even an unforeseen benefit that Fingersoft witnessed from the transition, as employees made healthier eating choices.
Kylmäoja also says that he believes that the industry at large can adopt a four day work week.
When asked what advice he could offer other studios considering the change, he explains, "Focus on creating processes on how employees communicate when they are available."
"We wanted to leave room to adjust course, try new things, and have open communication of what was working/not working"John Cooney, Armor Games
Armor Games CEO John Cooney explained that when the company first switched to four-day weeks, there was obviously some concern that having one less work day would mean less work would get done.
However, that worry faded when the company saw active results in real time.
"We entered the four-day work week under the assumption that our well-rested team would be equally productive in a 32-hour week as the 40-hour week," Cooney explains.
"We also knew other development studios (KO_OP, Young Horses) were reporting success in their shorter work weeks as well."
He continues, "But even then, it was not clear [whether] it would work, it was a pretty big leap for us. Luckily the productivity benefits were felt."
Regardless of other studios' successes in making the shift, Cooney had contingency plans in case it didn't work.
"We wanted to leave room to adjust course, try new things, and have open communication of what was working/not working."
"We found that over the first month that concerns over productivity subsided dramatically as the positive benefits of the workweek kicked in."
He adds given Armor's role as a publisher, staff had concerns about receiving support from the developers it's partnered with.
"The staff was also concerned that we have developers counting on us, so it was also important for our developers to be the first to know of our trial, be able to ask questions, and know that at any point we were ready to rollback if it wasn't," Cooney explains, adding that the company's development partners were supportive of the publisher's plans and eager to help make it work.
Cooney says that Armor Games didn't realize at first how much changing to the four-day work week would impact the company's benefits package.
"As we put together the draft of the four-day work week it pushed us to reconsider just about every policy and benefit and at our company," he says. "Working four days a week changes everything, so we need to revisit many of our policies and benefits."
He notes that adjustments were made to policies such as work/life balance, menstrual leave, and paid family leave.
Now when it comes to the biggest hurdle to change, Cooney summarizes it bluntly: the five-day work week is very much ingrained into people's ideas of work culture. Changing that thinking took time.
"In the first month many employees felt stressed by the shorter, faster week. It took some time for the positive effects of the longer, restful weekends to kick in," he said.
"It wasn't until the end of month one that the benefits of the four-day work week were becoming really evident."
"We have to accept that risks are naturally going to be a part of the experience..."Shaun Rutland, Hutch
Hutch Games is currently trying out four-day work weeks on a trial basis with a six-month trial beginning this June.
Hutch CEO Shaun Rutland puts it bluntly when addressing the business concerns that the mobile publisher had as it started its four-day work week trial.
"We have to accept that risks are naturally going to be a part of the experience, but the most common question was how a shorter week would impact our ability to service our games, as well as looking after our playerbase," Rutland explains.
Rutland explains that for the company, the biggest concern was if all employee roles could transition to a shorter work week.
Even with that concern, most studio leaders expressed that they saw positive changes in productivity and boosts to staff morale.
"We'd encourage other studios to take similar steps! A lot can be gained at each point in the process..."Katie Findlay, Blackbird Interactive
Katie Findlay, operations director of Blackbird Interactive, ruminates on whether the industry at large can adopt a four-day work week.
"We think many companies in this industry could absolutely adopt this model if studio leadership is aligned on making it work. And we believe that our industry would be a lot healthier for it," Findlay explains.
She provides what serves as a summarization of advice to studios considering the change.
"There are benefits to prepping for this kind of change that go beyond the change itself," Findlay explains.
"We were forced to take a good, hard look at our production practices to ensure we were tracking the same information in a five-day work week that we want to track in a four-day model."
Preparing for the new work model caused the studio to reassess some of business operations for the better.
Findlay explains that Blackbird did a four week trial run and tracked data, and now some of its teams are implementing no-meeting Fridays as an in-between step to get to four-day work weeks.
"We'd encourage other studios to take similar steps! A lot can be gained at each point in the process, and confidence will grow because of it," she says.
Simply put, Findlay says studios would be well-served to give it a try.