In the words of Simon Sinek, let’s start with WHY we’re introducing a 9-day fortnight.
People are our Number 1 asset. We can’t (and don’t want to) do the work we do without them – we just wouldn’t deliver the strategic insight we’re known for. But market research can be a challenging job.
Qual is a stage performance – you need to be alert, listen, question, collaborate and orchestrate, and then the brain doesn’t switch off afterwards as the insight comes together in the back of your mind. In addition, we can also be working on some tough, sensitive subjects such as mental health struggles or people who can’t make ends meet. That all weighs heavily on the mind of a researcher.
On the Quant side, it requires a razor-sharp forensic focus: detailed questionnaire design and routing, focused analysis, buried deep in a data set, and then charting and checking that every number is correct in a debrief deck. That’s tiring and requires super concentration.
We often work late into the evening when doing focus groups or in-depth interviews given this is when participants are usually available. We’re supposed to take the time back the next day but if we’re all honest, it doesn’t really happen.
I’m from the era where for many years the norm was 9-5, Monday – Friday, in an office. The rat race, the commute, the Groundhog Day drudgery of it all. I don’t want that for Spark or the team here (and neither do they!).
We’re creating flexible working practices:
1. Hybrid working – a balance of office time where you get to chat with fellow Sparkies over a cuppa, and home time where you can put the washing machine or collect the kids from school.
2. Flexible working – choosing hours that work best depending on your family / work week / other commitments. Ultimately, we’re trying to recognise and reflect that people work better at different times of the day, different days of the week and that no week is the same in the research world.
But even with all the flexible working in the world, it’s hard to break habits and work pattern ‘programming’. People report feeling guilty when they aren’t logged on by 9am, or if they take an extra half hour after their lunch break. And I know that some of us check our Slack messages and emails first thing when they wake up (even if we don’t admit it). That takes its toll and needs to change. We need get to a place where it’s a positive pull, and where work fits nicely alongside real life. And to get there we need to deliver real cultural change.
Introducing the 9-day fortnight
This will sit alongside our existing flexible and hybrid working practices. It comes with full salary, full holiday entitlements, and for now, a compressed working week. All we will do is work an extra half hour per day to cover the missing Friday. We plan to keep a close eye on this and review it over time. Eventually, we may even look at a 4-day week, but we can’t get there without overhauling a few things first.
Most businesses can’t close a day a week / fortnight without massive planning, which could take months (years even!). We’re lucky in that we’re a relatively small team, in an industry that can lend itself to this way of working, and agency life vs corporate life means we can probably implement this in a more agile way. So, we’re biting the bullet and doing this hand in hand with a sharp eye on driving efficiency.
We’re going to look at things like meetings – are they needed? Outputs – what can we automate? Overflow – finding capacity solutions and outsourcing. Project management and planning technology will be a key enabler behind the scenes, making sure we can track the effectiveness of this and the positive impact it will have for everyone.
We’ll also need to up our game with our internal and client communications – making sure our Fridays off don’t come as a surprise to anyone, nor will our standard of work be comprised. We’ve chosen to take a communications route which brings clients and Sparkies along with us – sharing, explaining, and planning around it through open and honest conversations.
One of the things we pride ourselves on in Spark is our ability to uncover and communicate Human Truths through our research. The move to the 9-day fortnight is a demonstration of us understanding and acting upon our people’s Human Truths, and fully following through on our company values of bold, commercial, creative, engaging, curious and collaborative. The ask is that from top down, and bottom up, we get on board with this and make it work.
We’re confident that some of this will all go swimmingly (fingers crossed!) but we’re also aware that we’ll experience some hiccups and road bumps too. We’re hoping that we’ll be given the space to work this out and work through it, knowing that the very best of intentions are at the heart of moving to this new model.
The reaction so far? From clients; they have been positive and supportive (and possibly slightly jealous) and from the Sparkies; they are excited and hopeful. Possibly a little bit apprehensive as to how it will all work, but we’ll figure that out as we go along. We’ll never know until we try.
Keep an eye out for more updates over the following weeks.