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MJFChat: How Microsoft Viva Helped Us Move to a 4-Day Work Week

Mary Jo Foley

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In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat is about moving to a four-day work week and how Microsoft’s Viva employee-experience platform can help. My special guest for this chat was Stale Hansen, Founder and Principal Cloud Architect at CloudWay, and a Microsoft Regional Director and Most Valuable Professional (MVP). Stale shared how and why CloudWay moved to “No Meetings Fridays” and has tracked the impact of the move on employees using Viva Insights. He also talked about techniques that helped make the transition work, and which could be used by other companies interested in this new way of work.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there…

Transcript:

Mary Jo Foley (00:00):
Hi, you’re listening to Petri.com’s MJF Chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you are readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s chat is about how Microsoft Viva helped CloudWay move to a 4-day work week. My special guest here to talk about this is Stale Hansen, Founder and Principal Cloud Architect at CloudWay. Hi Stale, thank you so much for coming back to MJF Chat and for doing this today.

Stale Hansen (00:38):
Thank you Mary and thanks for inviting me back, it’s a pleasure. And I also just want to mention that I’m also a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and a Microsoft Regional Director as well.

Mary Jo Foley (00:50):
Oh, good. Thanks for reminding me about that. Yeah, you have all the credentials. So you are the guy to talk about this, for sure.

Stale Hansen (00:58):
Yeah, the guy who is passionate about it at least, yes.

Mary Jo Foley (01:01):
Yes, yes, that’s awesome. Last year when we were talking back and forth on email, you mentioned to me that CloudWay was going to a 4-day work week and that you had a lot of takeaways from what you did, and how you did it, and why you did it. And I feel like a lot of other companies are evaluating this too. Like how and why around work during the pandemic. So I feel like this is a really timely topic and I’m ready to dive in, I have some questions.

Stale Hansen (01:30):
Perfect.

Mary Jo Foley (01:31):
Okay, so first I’d like to know what spurred you and CloudWay to even think about going to 4-day work weeks. And are you really even doing a 4-day work week schedule at the company right now? When did you start doing this and how?

Stale Hansen (01:46):
Yeah, so it’s always time for reflection over summer vacation. So I have a one month or one and a half month of summer vacation and that’s always, when I’m like off work, I’m starting to think like, okay, how can we make stuff better? And we are a consultancy company.

Mary Jo Foley (02:08):
Right.

Stale Hansen (02:08):
Of course, we are information workers. We consult with customers and there are very busy days. What we have been seeing, especially during the pandemic, when we have no natural time away from work, like traveling, or commuting, or that kind of activities we saw that people were working too much.

Mary Jo Foley (02:33):
Hmm, yep.

Stale Hansen (02:33):
Within those 5 days a week, people were actually working way, way too much. And, we saw it was a tempo that’s not sustainable. And the biggest challenge then if people are working too much, the looming issue then is when are you going to get burnouts?

Mary Jo Foley (02:55):
Right, right.

Stale Hansen (02:57):
So I started investigating, how can we work in a more modern way and make sure that people are not working too much, because yeah we want to find a tempo that’s, it’s not a sprint, right, it’s a marathon.

Mary Jo Foley (03:14):
Right.

Stale Hansen (03:14):
So we need to find a tempo that’s sustainable for people. So that’s the background of doing that 4-day work week.

Mary Jo Foley (03:23):
Okay. So where did you start finding information about how to do this and the way you describe it, I’ve seen in an article on your site is “No Meetings Friday”, right?

Stale Hansen (03:32):
Yes. So I started to read up on the 4-day work week and started up reading up on like how effective people work. And since we are a company in five countries, but we are only 10 people. And all of us are influencers, MVPs, very passionate about technology. So I guess we compare as a department in a larger corporation. But we had the power to do something about it. So I came across Andrew Barnes in his book on the 4-day work week. So I read that book and he did this years ago moving to the 4-day work week. And I was thinking if they can do it, then we should definitely try it and see what the effects are.

Stale Hansen (04:26):
So in August 2021, we started this and it now has been six months with the 4-day work week. And as you asked, are you having a day off or how are we doing this? So since we are in five different countries, it’s not that easy to just make it a day off from a practical point of view. And it’s a lot of legalities around this. So we made it a companywide “No Meetings Friday”, which is the next best thing. And during that “No Meetings Friday”, there is no expectation of you doing any work. That time is reserved for you being you. Declutter your mind, learn something, you dive into a problem, and so on, so forth. So listen to an audiobook while you do something else. Maybe you are even not at the office even and try to expand your mind. So it was more like, this is time for you to be you, but you’re still at work, but not doing any expected work. If you understand what I mean.

Mary Jo Foley (05:40):
Right. So no things like recurring meetings or client meetings, if you can avoid that, right?

Stale Hansen (05:45):
Absolutely. But we do have the policy, that if you have to have a meeting do it, but then it has to be like a crisis, not a crisis though, but think about it, like, okay, I don’t have time to have this meeting this week because we only have a 4-day work week. But okay, the next alternative is two weeks away or one month away, but we could do it this Friday, then under doubt we allow it for that. But by default, we are not allowing any meetings that day.

Mary Jo Foley (06:18):
Who benefits from this kind of thing? Like, is it just for executives, information workers, or do you think this kind of a setup could actually work for people like frontline workers or shift workers?

Stale Hansen (06:31):
I’d say, of course, that depends. Because I’m thinking it works for people that works with productivity. So typically creative work, I think benefits a lot with this. And creative work happens in all types of work situations. So I workers that need to think out of the box, need to produce material, design stuff, write documents, be an approachable, available person. And that’s how you measure activity. I think that it works for those kind of people. But absolutely information workers, I think are one of the groups that can benefit a lot from this.

Mary Jo Foley (07:22):
Okay. So I’m sure everyone asked you this, but did anybody have to take a pay cut or renegotiate bonuses because of this. And you are the CEO, so did you have any concerns, like, would we actually be able to survive if everybody’s only working 4 days instead of 5?

Stale Hansen (07:41):
Yeah, absolutely. We talked about that and that’s also why it’s not legally bound in the contract, at least in a trial period. So that we can always reverse the decision, always have a fallback strategy. If we see that we are not getting the results that we want and we are seeing that it’s not sustainable, so that’s absolutely something we thought about. But what’s important for us is that and that reflects the way we hire people in CloudWay as well is that we hire people for their competency and their skills and what they can deliver. So first off we hire people for where they live, which means that if you live in the country in Ireland, we can hire you. If you live outside Helsinki, we can hire you.

Stale Hansen (08:30):
If you live in the Northern of Norway, we can hire you. So we are not dependent on you being in a specific location and we will pay you a competitive salary. So reducing the salary was not an option, I’m thinking especially for us. Because then we wouldn’t have been competitive on salary. So, and I don’t think that’s something that would have gone down in a good way for our employees either. So yes, we are like reducing the amount of days you have to work, but what’s most important for us is that you being you and also have time for developing yourself. So that’s why no bonus cuts, no pay cuts.

Mary Jo Foley (09:17):
Okay.

Stale Hansen (09:17):
But what we have seen and what was our goal, we wanted to reduce, actually, we were prepared for people to do less work, but in a good way. We wanted them to be closer to the level we have budgeted for them to be at. So that’s something we have seen. We’ve seen a normalization of activity in the company in a good way.

Mary Jo Foley (09:45):
So are people cramming in more hours on the four days they’re working, like, do you see people working 10, 12 hours on those days when you are working?

Stale Hansen (09:54):
That’s also something we are monitoring. And our intention was that should not happen. Because then there is no point, right?

Mary Jo Foley (10:04):
Right, right.

Stale Hansen (10:04):
Then it’s better to have a 5-day work week to spread that out over days. And the thing is though, and there are a couple of effects that Andrew Barnes points to in his book. And those effects we have seen ourselves is that since you have a “No Meeting Friday”, then you get more time to rest during the weekends, which means that you are more rested and more available for work on a Monday. Also what we see is that people are more productive during the time they’re actually working which means that there is less clutter in the calendar. And also if you have any errands to do, try to do them on a Friday instead of breaking up your other work days.

Stale Hansen (10:56):
And so what we experienced is that people have actually more focused work days, and there is other research showing that you get 80% done in 20% of your time. So the more focused you are, the more you actually get done. So we haven’t seen or experienced, any decline in the progress of our projects. Which means that we still, the customers haven’t commented on it, and we don’t see it either. The deliveries for projects have not suffered.

Mary Jo Foley (11:36):
Okay. So we haven’t even talked about Viva yet, which is Microsoft’s employee experience platform. And you mentioned that Viva actually has played a key role in helping you move to “No Meetings Friday”. So could you recap a bit what Viva is for your company and how it’s helped you in implementing “No Meetings Friday”?

Stale Hansen (11:58):
Yes, so Microsoft Viva is a new suite from Microsoft built on Microsoft. The elevator pitch for Viva is that it helps people understand how to use the technology and we can measure how they’re using it and not that they are using it. That’s a big difference, right? So adoption is not about that you have access to the technology. Adoption is about you using the technology in a smart way, right? And Viva, we can measure that with Viva through signals in Microsoft 365, and Viva is, the suite is built up by five products, Viva Connections, which is an internet site in Teams, Viva Learning is a digital learning platform where you can both schedule required training and have access to e-learning, Viva Topics, which is great for highlighting acronyms and content within your organization.

Stale Hansen (13:10):
And then you have the new product, which is Ally.io, which is helping you to measure OKRs, objective key results, and have your teamwork towards a common goal. And the fifth part of Viva, which is very interesting in this discussion is Viva Insights, which gives you insights in how people are working. And Viva Insights actually measures if you are about to burn out based on the way you work. If you work a lot of off hours, if you have a lot of meetings where you’re multitasking, and maybe you have back to back, to back, to back, to back, to back meetings, and don’t reserve time for focusing and so on. So it analyzes how the platform is used, so that we can get data-driven insights, so that we can take action on that.

Stale Hansen (14:07):
So Viva gave us a language when we are looking at this, to measure both talk about it, and measure the effects of it based on your actual work. So we used Viva then to measure the effects of “No Meeting Friday”, also to measure that people weren’t working more off hours. But what we actually have seen as an effect, and we can go through some of the effects later as well. But what we saw is that people were working less off hours, even though they have fewer days in the week to get stuff done.

Mary Jo Foley (14:47):
Huh, that’s interesting. So you feel like there was a measurable benefit in terms of making people more focused and more productive, and you could prove that through Viva Insights.

Stale Hansen (15:00):
Yes. So you use Viva Insights then to prove it and not to guess, or assume it does, because then an activity like this can just die out, right?

Mary Jo Foley (15:13):
Right.

Stale Hansen (15:13):
Like, oh, I don’t think it had the effect it should have, and let’s just go back, and go back to the old days, because that was so much easier. But now we actually can measure the effect and then improve on that effect as well, and then inform back to employees, how they are doing. And this has the effect that people are more focused, more aware, and it changes the culture within the organization. And the moment actually, we said that we are going to do a “No Meeting Friday”, 2e actually had individual calls with everyone. How do you feel about us introducing this? And everyone was like super positive, no one saw any negative effects of this. No one was worried about this. As long as we explained, we expect you not to work more, we expect you to stay within that parameter, but it instantly changed the culture within the group, like overnight.

Mary Jo Foley (16:10):
Wow.

Stale Hansen (16:10):
I’ve never seen such a quick culture change. People were actually more happy. People were looking forward to a Friday. People were actually collaborating better and it was like everyone was in such a good mood instantly, just because of the “No Meeting Fridays”.

Mary Jo Foley (16:33):
So what kinds of things have you and your employees been doing on these”No Meeting Fridays”? So you mentioned, you know, you could have an audible book or you could do some learning outside your main role, but like what kinds of tangible things are people doing with these days?

Stale Hansen (16:48):
Yeah, so we supplemented in the Viva Insights we get with a survey because you should definitely combine this with a survey. So we do a monthly survey where we ask some questions. And some of the questions we then ask are what have you been doing? But we also ask how many meetings did you actually have on that Friday? Even within like the old work hours. And what we saw is that in the beginning, there were some meetings on the Fridays, but that declined. So when people reported back to us that it was declining, how many meetings there were, it means that they are adjusting to the thoughts. But we, in CloudWay, we are very community focused. So we do a lot of blogging.

Stale Hansen (17:39):
We do a lot of knowledge transfers. We do a lot of speaking engagements, we develop community tools, and so on. And so what we try to measure is how did that engagement increase? Or did it stay the same and so on. And so we saw that people were using those days to do a brain dump, to learn something new, to dive into a topic, not for billables sake, but for interests. And they were able to do blogging, and book writing, and so on during that time. And some of the comments we then got in the survey was that, I have a quote here, which is like a very good essence of what we’re trying to to do. “So I get to do stuff I did in the evenings now on Fridays, so my weekends are kept free for my family.”. Invaluable, right?

Mary Jo Foley (18:50):
Yeah.

Stale Hansen (18:50):
And that’s so important, that learning and expanding your mind and thinking outside the box now is not done primarily on your free time or extra time. It’s now done within the time you usually used for work time.

Mary Jo Foley (19:12):
That’s cool. Is there anything besides Viva that you would point to in terms of products or services that have also played a role in moving to shorter work weeks?

Stale Hansen (19:24):
No, I would say Viva Insights focuses on just this.

Mary Jo Foley (19:29):
Okay.

Stale Hansen (19:30):
Measuring how people are working. So you have two flavors of Viva. You have the one which is included in Microsoft 365, which is for individuals, and then you have the premium version, which is for organizations and for management, which means that you can then measure it on a department level. You can measure it on an organization-wide level. And that’s the platform you need, but you should combine it then with Viva Learning, because one thing is that we cannot just say that you should work less off hours. We need to teach you how to get more stuff done during the day by having a good meeting culture, so we need to teach you that. Making sure that a meeting has an agenda, making sure they’re not too long, making sure there’s not too many people in the meeting, and so on and so forth. But you also need to teach digital wellbeing.

Stale Hansen (20:29):
And with digital wellbeing, what I mean about that is how you handle notifications. How you handle notifications off hours, how you make sure that you are not being dragged into work mode when you’re not working.

Mary Jo Foley (20:48):
Right.

Stale Hansen (20:49):
So that’s something we definitely needed to teach everyone, even though we are Microsoft MVPs at CloudWay. That’s not something everyone has reflected over. So I think that this is the biggest challenge that we have for the next 10 years is to learn digital wellbeing. And one example there is for instance what we also saw from a culture perspective, because I told you that we are actually working less off hours now than before. Even though we have fewer days, and that’s also culture change, because we taught everyone that after work, you can mute your notifications in Teams, which means that you’re not getting involuntarily dragged into work mode, because it turns out that our heads are wired that way, that when you see a message, regardless of how urgent it is, there’s a clock going off in your head, like set on 30 minutes.

Stale Hansen (21:43):
And you think you need to answer that within 30 minutes. And even if you hadn’t answered it in a week, it will be okay. But since you saw it, you will be dragged into that thought and thinking, and you will be dragged out of the home mode. So just by reducing those messages and that no one expects to get an answer off hours, you can still have a discussion, but that’s voluntary, right?

Mary Jo Foley (22:11):
Right.

Stale Hansen (22:11):
You do you. And making sure that yeah, you’re not getting dragged in and I’m thinking that’s something you’re seen during the pandemic as well, that work now is not a place, but a mindset. And we need to avoid getting dragged into that work mindset when we are not working.

Mary Jo Foley (22:34):
Hmm. I am very guilty of the things you’re describing. So I would benefit from this a lot personally.Okay, last question, any other resources you would suggest to individuals or companies who are interested in trying this themselves, some kind of a 4-day work week or a “No Meetings Friday”?

Stale Hansen (22:55):
Yeah, so I’m thinking what’s important to succeed here. And I’m giving out the lesson learned here now.

Mary Jo Foley (23:02):
Right.

Stale Hansen (23:02):
That day, that no meeting day is not optional. It’s not like, oh, I’m having my no meeting day on Monday, and the other person on your team is having it on Tuesday, and so on so forth. It has to be the same day. And it has to be group-wide, either company-wide or department-wide, and so on. And the reason for that is, again, the culture thinking, because we tried to have no meeting days earlier as well, like one day a month. But that didn’t work at all because even though you didn’t have any meeting day, I had lots of meetings and I would tend to maybe ask you in the meeting, “Hey, what’s the status of that we’re just discussing that”, and then I’m dragging you back into work. And so that didn’t work at all.

Stale Hansen (23:53):
So the same day is important. And then actually Viva Insights now will come with an update, the premium version, where a manager now can book “No Meeting Fridays” directly from Viva Insights. Which means that Viva Insights is geared towards this mindset, this thinking. Reserving time for focusing, reserving time for learning reserving “No Meeting Fridays” on a department-wide level. So I think that is very important to succeed with this, but also be clear on what the effects will be on introducing this. That we are not expecting you to deliver as many hours as you have with a five-day work week, but it should still stay within like bonus parameters and the amount expected parameters.

Stale Hansen (24:53):
So it turns out that the way we had budgeted in CloudWay, we had budgeted for the amount of work of a four day. So we didn’t have to do any changes to that in terms of how much people were working or invoicing which means that we are just helping them prioritize their time, really so that you can prioritize to actually do learning activities, and clean out your mailbox, and get your tasks in order, and do whatever lifts the most weight off your shoulders on that day. So that’s what we did.

Mary Jo Foley (25:34):
No, that’s great. Well, this is awesome. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights about Insights. I think a lot of other companies will benefit from this.

Stale Hansen (25:45):
Absolutely. And if you are a Microsoft 365 company, you should definitely look into Viva Insights. And if you want to learn more about how we have done it in CloudWay, what you can do in Viva Insights, we do have 1-day workshops that we can run within your company, and we can share our lessons learned and also how to get started with this.

Mary Jo Foley (26:08):
Oh, nice. That’s awesome. All right, for everyone else, who’s listening to this right now, or reading a transcript of this chat, I’ll be posting soon who my next guest is going to be. And once you see that, if you want, you can submit questions directly on Twitter using the #MJFChat. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else who might make a good guest for one of these chats, or even yourself, drop me a note, thank you very much.

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