Shortening the Work Week Amidst a Pandemic

Because Osio Labs is a distributed company, we have a lot of experience working remotely. We’re efficient at it. But like so many people around the world, our lives have dramatically changed. Working from home in the pandemic is entirely different. Tutorial bugs still have to be fixed, but infants also need childcare. Teenagers need encouragement to come out of their rooms once in a while, and partners need help with their new work environment. Not to mention the fact that we simply need to process what in the bleep is going on in the world.

A three-legged race

During a recent sprint meeting, one of my teammates described his efforts to fix a stubborn bug. It was a journey fraught with distractions that only this pandemic could have conjured up, including his new additional job as a second-grade teacher. He described working on this bug as running a three-legged race. What better description could there be of what working during a pandemic has become? Tasks no longer get accomplished in a straight and easy line. Work routines have been replaced with nervous dashes to the grocery store, tug-of-war kid duty with spouses, and making space for partners newly working from home. And all this while trying to keep general anxiety under control.

Distracted, anxious, more distracted

Personally, my ramped-up anxiety means I can’t focus the way I usually do. I am completely and utterly distracted by the world around me and worrying about my (high-risk) family. Insomnia is draining me mentally and physically. It’s all taking its toll, snowballing into feeling guilty about my work output, or lack thereof. For example, it has taken me almost a month to write this one blog post. I’m stuck in a vicious cycle where it’s hard to feel productive and energized, which makes me anxious, which in turn exhausts me, etc.

As a CEO, while I’m worried about managing the economic impact of these unprecedented times, my biggest concern and stressor has been properly addressing the mental health needs of my team. What can I do to help? The work—the daily business of Osio Labs—is what we get paid for. Still, business is all about people, and people need to be happy, healthy, and functional. As a company, this is how we’ve built a robust and successful team. As a leader, this is always my top responsibility.

80% is okay

By March, the reality of the situation was becoming apparent. I shared with the team that we should recognize this for the bizarre experience it was and reinforced that they should make free use of their personal days. By the end of March, I came to the conclusion that we needed to more directly address the fundamental reality we are in. The line between our work and personal lives is now totally blurred. We were on a course towards frustration and burnout. My teammates and I have had to acknowledge that the distraction this pandemic has imposed on our lives is making us less productive.

Because we need to give that distraction room to breathe, we agreed to adjust our work-week to four days, while still keeping salaries at 100%. We changed our team goals to focus only on the top priorities, giving ourselves permission to say no to some projects and tasks. We gave ourselves an extra day (or two half-days) in the week to address the challenges of this extraordinary time.

Leaning into our values

We’ve never done anything like this before. As I’ve reflected on our decision, I’ve realized that it was in fundamental keeping with our core, open-source-based values, especially building trust. Businesses are built on relationships. Trust is fundamental to healthy relationships. In this case, we can be vulnerable and acknowledge how the state of the world is affecting us at work. We can communicate our needs openly, and we can all treat each other like responsible adults.

We are navigating rough seas together. Over the coming months, we’ll need to react and adjust to the effects of the pandemic on our lives. Good communication, building trust, and keeping a critical eye on our work-life balance will be more important than ever. While this year has been thrown into uncertainty in awful new ways, one thing I am sure of is that we will survive this as a team and help each and every person through it as best we can.