Housed in a warehouse in Liverpool, a marketing agency called Agent has all the trappings of an enlightened workplace, from yoga classes and daily meditation sessions to monthly massages. Now they're taking the next step: for two months, the company is experimenting with a six-hour workday.
The experiment was suggested by BBC's The One Show, which wanted to see how an idea that's starting to become popular at tech and creative firms in Sweden might fare in another work culture. In December, the show filmed Agent employees at work. In January, the experiment continues.
In the past, employees came in around 8:30 and left at 6. Now, they work in shorter shifts staggered throughout the day—you might start at 8:30 and leave at 3:30, or come in at 10:30 and leave at 5:30.
"We're making sure that the office is manned—there's always somebody there to make sure that when the phone rings or a client needs anything there's coverage during the whole time," says Paul Corcoran, managing director at Agent. "But it's flexible. And it dramatically transforms the day for you."
Corcoran is convinced that having a little extra personal time improves work, because people are happier. "I can take the dog out in the morning, or I can go to the gym," he says. "If I finish a bit earlier, I've got loads of time to do life admin things like going to the bank that I don't normally have time to do. Or just being at home, I have time to pick up a book. What that does is it allows you to go in the next day so much more refreshed."
The company also now enforces a mandatory one-hour lunch break; while people used to stay at their desks and check Facebook or watch videos, now they're expected to go somewhere else.
"If you're in the same position looking at the same screen day in, day out, you're not being invigorated, you're not giving your brain what it needs to come up with great ideas," he says. "Giving yourself time away from your desk to think about things and do things properly really, really helps."
To fit work in a shorter day, everyone's become more productive. The company's standard one-hour weekly meeting is now eight minutes. Rather than wasting time online, people have to be a little more focused.
"If you think about the entire working day, and how we spend time, especially now, people are on social media and all the rest of it—that whole idea of presentism, that people are present but they're not actually being dynamic," Corcoran says.
Still, the experiment hasn't worked all of the time—when a client needs someone for more than six hours to meet a deadline, they work more than six hours. At the end of the month, Agent plans to quantify what happened, measuring productivity and surveying clients about whether they noticed improvements in the work. They probably won't move to a strict six-hour day, but they will incorporate some of the changes they've made.
"The thing is that we'd be silly not to take learnings from some of the most innovative companies around the world," says Corcoran. "You want to get better, always make sure that you're constantly moving forward...Happy and healthy people create better work. And I think create better work in the same amount of time."
There's no reason the Swedish trend can't work in other parts of the world, he says. "In the U.K., some of the reactions have been 'Oh my god, are people getting paid the same wage? Are clients getting the same quality of work, or the same amount of work?' And the answer is yes, yes, yes," he says.