Why startup InDebted has made a permanent shift to a four-day work week


The InDebted team. Source: supplied.

Aussie startup InDebted is officially moving its 160-strong global workforce to a four-day work week, reducing hours by 20% across the board without cutting pay for employees.

It’s a move intended to boost employee happiness and wellbeing, particularly as they grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And, perhaps counterintuitively, founder Josh Foreman and chief strategy officer Lachlan Heussler also expect productivity to increase.

InDebted is a technology platform designed to facilitate debt collection for businesses, while approaching the whole process in as friendly a manner as possible.

Like most other tech businesses, the startup shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic to become a fully distributed and remote-first workforce and so a four-day work week is arguably the next step in the evolution of the workplace.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Foreman says there were three key reasons behind the move.

First, it’s about supporting staff wellbeing, as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the move to working from home and constant video calls, has left workers in all kinds of sectors exhausted.

“How productive are your employees if they’re burnt out?,” Foreman asks.

“Are you getting the best from people?”

Second, there’s a “pretty consistent trend” in the business of employees working on side-projects, including small business side-hustles, charitable projects or learning new skills. Foreman wanted to give people the time and freedom to work on these projects, exploring their creativity outside of work without becoming exhausted.

And finally, it’s about “attracting and retaining the best talent we possibly can get”, he says.

The Australian tech industry is currency facing a talent drought, as international border closures prevent skilled workers from migrating Down Under.

“The number one risk for us as a business is to not deliver on what we want to deliver,” Foreman explains.

The Indebted team wanted to find a way to stand out to the prospective employees that would help them deliver, and when they thought about what people truly care about, they realised it came down to time.

“One thing you can’t scale is the amount of time you have,” Heussler says.

This is ultimately a way to show employees that you respect their time, he adds. If they’re able to give some back, “that creates a work incentive that people will value”.

“Gasoline on an already burning ember”

On all three of these points, Foreman is looking to move the needle, he says — but not by 5% or 10%. He’s striving for more like 200% or 300%.

There have been logistical issues to iron out, as InDebted has also announced it is making its customer support service available 24/7, which requires extra staffing.

The InDebted leadership team are also encouraging staff to question whether every Zoom meeting is strictly necessary, and to use their time as efficiently as possible.

Ultimately, however, both Foreman and Heussler expect the change to boost productivity.

It shifts the focus from long hours and hard graft to efficiency and self-care. And among employees already testing the theory, it seems to be working.

“It sounds counterintuitive, but we’re finding the staff and employees are working smarter,” Heussler explains.

Foreman believes this is a measure InDebted would have taken at some point, pandemic or no pandemic. But he does say the crisis probably accelerated the shift.

“It’s just poured gasoline on an already burning ember,” he says.

He also hopes InDebted will turn out to be an early adopter of a broader trend. Technology means more can be done with fewer people, he notes, so why do people work in the same way?

In an era where so much about the workplace is evolving, why would ‘nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday’ still be the standard?

Foreman, for one, believes asking for less in time commitments will lead to overall gains.

“This will hopefully be a catalyst,” he says.


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