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Community-Minded Enterprises pioneering local shift to a condensed workweek

As companies are contemplating new workplace practices brought forth by COVID to allow employees flexible schedules, CEO Lee Williams, of Community-Minded Enterprises, a Spokane-based nonprofit is bucking the trend by implementing a 32-hour workweek.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
As companies are contemplating new workplace practices brought forth by COVID to allow employees flexible schedules, CEO Lee Williams, of Community-Minded Enterprises, a Spokane-based nonprofit is bucking the trend by implementing a 32-hour workweek. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As companies nationwide are adapting to remote work and flexible schedules as a result of the pandemic, one Spokane nonprofit is pioneering a shift to a condensed workweek.

Community-Minded Enterprises recently adopted a four-day workweek, a decision CEO Lee Williams said was prompted by the pandemic to boost employees’ work-life balance.

When Spokane Public Schools announced in August that it would begin the school year with remote learning, it sparked the conversation of a flexible workweek to give employees time to balance work and child care, among other things, Williams added.

“I started reading things about a four-day workweek and got intrigued to really committing to it,” Williams said. “I brought it to our board of directors. They were in favor of it and wanted us to go through a careful process to make it work.”

Community-Minded Enterprises spent hours discussing how it would implement a condensed workweek. The organization consulted with experts and its employees prior to refining the concept to an option of a compressed workweek or flexing 32 hours across five days. Employees are paid the same amount as if they were working five, 8-hour days a week.

Community-Minded Enterprises then underwent a six-month trial process that involved employee and supervisor surveys to obtain feedback and gauge sentiment on the condensed workweek. The nonprofit asked staff to rate their workplace stress, which has declined since January, Williams said.

The nonprofit matches programs to needs of Spokane residents. It helps people in recovery from addiction gain access to the job market, connect parents with child care providers and assist people with disabilities and physical limitations get practical and emotional support.

“We really wanted wellness to be incorporated into the organization. This was a call to action for us to live up to that value and standard,” Williams said. “Employees worked really hard to make changes and were supportive of idea to work 32 hours and continue to make it work with the demands their job entailed.

“At the end of the (trial period), everyone agreed they felt they were productive or even more productive than they were before.”

Wendy Nelson-Lloyd, a child care aware of Eastern Washington administrative associate at Community-Minded Enterprises, said she’s benefitted from the shorter workweek.

“We as a family have been through some pretty substantial challenges this year – ranging from my son-in-law being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I have a child with multiple disabilities,” Nelson-Lloyd said. “I was homeschooling because schools were closed. My father-in-law had a massive heart attack.

Nelson-Lloyd added she feels more productive at work because she’s able to take care of her family.

“Our family had a lot of trauma this year and if it hadn’t been for Community-Minded and the support they have provided me, I wouldn’t have been able to continue working and have any sanity,” she said.

Although most employees embraced the idea of a condensed workweek, it was difficult for others, Williams said.

“Some people resisted, highly, because they felt like they would be short changing (their clients),” Williams said.

While she was surprised at how hard it was to make the change to a condensed workweek, she said it was worth it.

“There was not a road or path to follow similar to ours,” she said.

Community-Minded Enterprises is among several companies and organizations nationwide considering a condensed workweek.

Microsoft Japan experimented with a 4-day workweek in 2019 and found the new schedule resulted in a 40% increase in productivity.

In June, crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced it will be piloting a four-day workweek without cutting employees’ pay in 2022.

Seattle-based startup Volt shifted to a compressed 4-day workweek last year, following a six-week experiment. The startup declared Friday a “flex day,” meaning employees could use that day however they wished.

Volt’s employees indicated higher job satisfaction and felt the company’s overall productivity was roughly the same or higher with a shorter workweek, according to the company’s website.

State Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, introduced a bill last year that proposed a 32-hour workweek, but it failed to gain traction.

Iceland conducted trials of a four-day workweek and found it was an “overwhelming success” as productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces, according to researchers from United Kingdom-based think tank Autonomy and the Association for Sustainable Democracy in Iceland.

A condensed workweek could be a recruitment tool or added benefit for employees, but it’s unlikely to work in all sectors, such as hospitality or logistics, said Arran Stewart, co-founder and CVO of blockchain-powered recruitment platform Job.com.

“There are certain sectors that it doesn’t matter how productive you are in the four days,” Stewart said.

“For example, if you are working in a hotel responsible for cleaning rooms, the beds have to be made every day,” he continued. “But if you work in finance, you can condense a project into four days to complete the task.”

Some industries with hourly workers might not be able to absorb a loss of paying employees the same amount for less time, he added.

“If you were to pay them 40 hours work for working 32 and then have to pay someone else for eight hours work, that may economically unfeasible for companies in some respects,” Stewart said.

However, the pandemic has raised awareness that people can work flexible schedules or remotely and be just as productive.

“I think there’s an attitude now where people are waking up to we should work to live rather than live to work,” he said.

As employees demonstrate productivity, more businesses could consider the four day workweek as an incentive, Stewart said.

“As time goes on and companies become more creative in how they attract and retain,” he said, “it makes perfect commercial sense for companies to implement something like that.”

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