Over the past 15 years, Silicon Valley has transformed the way we think about work. It did away with executive dining areas, assigned parking, and corner offices to create a corporate environment where good ideas took the place of seniority.
Jason Fried, co-founder of the Chicago-based 37signals, thinks it might be time to shake up the workplace again. He’s the co-author of “Rework,” a kind of minimalist manifesto for the workplace, which ended up on The New York Times bestseller list and has garnered praise from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
What Doesn’t Work in the Workplace
When Fried founded 37signals, he made a conscious decision not to replicate the office environments he had worked in previously. He didn’t want to create another company filled with managers, where employees were condescended to and pressured to work long hours. Fried knew from experience that those environments didn’t foster great ideas — and they didn’t encourage employee loyalty.
“There are tens and thousands of places you can go work and be miserable,” he says. “I didn’t want to create a place like that. I wanted to create a place where people could come do the best work of their lives and enjoy it and have a good time. Work hard, but not burn themselves out.”
Take the Day Off
Just how did Fried shake up the workplace? Well, during the summer, 37signals employees work a four-day workweek. You might think that decreasing the time that employees spend in the office would reduce productivity, but Fried says the shorter week has the opposite effect.
“We felt like there’s typically a lot of waste that happens in the workweek, in any business,” he explains. “And if you could throw away one day, it would force people to make sure that the four days they have left are spent well.”
Fried remembers looking forward to summer vacation as a kid — when you worked that hard during the year, it felt nice to have a reward. While he can’t give employees three months off, Fried hopes three day weekends make the season special again. In the past, he’s also given employees the month of June to work on projects they’re passionate about, from developing a product to learning new software.
“It seemed like, hey, if we can’t spare a month to give everyone a chance to work on something they’re interested in, that is outside of their standard type of work they are doing, then what kind of company are we? We’re a company that’s not encouraging people to do new things and learn new skills and explore new stuff,” he says.
Growth is Overrated
Fried also made the decision to keep 37signals small — the company has only 36 employees — despite having revenues that could support a much larger workforce. The decision was founded on the principal that you should never get stuck on a project with someone you don’t like.
“People think that growth is the natural progression, that you have to keep building and building and [get] bigger and bigger and bigger,” Fried says. “I’m not a fan of that. I think you should stay as small as you can for as long as you can, and it allows us to do some of these experiments.”
Freid thinks that the 37signals work model can work for almost any company — all it takes is a willingness to rethink your corporate schedule.
“I think people would be so surprised by how much comes out of simply a [week-long] experiment like this,” he says. “Sometimes people will hear me talk about this and they’re saying, ‘I can’t spare a month.’ Well, then maybe make it a week, or make it three days.”
Any amount of time could work, says Fried — as long as the company makes it special.