Work, Rest and Play - Why Curveball threw away the eight-hour day
“Why do we work an eight-hour day anyway?”
For Curveball Media, a film and animation production company, asking themselves that question is where it all started.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. As Daniel Spencer, Strategic Director and co-founder reveals, “It all started when Marina started looking into company values and culture. She wanted to find out how to make sure employees were happy and productive. And that was driven by her interest in psychology, but also because she didn’t like coming in early! So it wasn’t a complete surprise that one of her findings was that there shouldn’t be any official start time to the working day.”
Either way, it got them thinking
That’s what Oliver Lawer, Creative Director and co-founder, asked, because “Deep down, we knew that working eight hours a day didn’t correlate with us being more creative or being a healthier, more motivated team. We want to focus on output, not time spent.”
Pride in Nonsense
“Personally, I think there’s a stigma within the media industry that you almost wear as a badge of honour the amount of hours that you’ve worked. So, you go out on a shoot and work 21 hours straight, and you feel as though you should be telling everybody about that. Well, in fact, if you look at it from an outsider’s point of view, that’s nonsense. What do they care how long it took you to film an ad or create an animation? What difference did that make to what you produced?”
No sense in carrying on
As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
So they changed the way they worked
“Instead of insisting our team work eight hours a day regardless, we say that if we’ve done what needs to be done in six hours, we can go and do something else. Some people go home. Some people go to the gym. Some go to a cafe. But some stay on and develop their skills or experiment with animation and filming techniques. It’s up to each person what they want to do. As long as we’re communicating well with each other about what’s going on, it works,” explains Daniel.
Operational, not contractual
Interestingly, everyone still has a full-time contract of 37.5 hours a week. What they’ve done is implement an operational rule that says after six hours, if everything is done that needs to be done, people can decide for themselves what to do next. They can start as late as ten and go as early as four, but even then, there’s a lot of flexibility to accommodate personal needs. If someone needs to take a long lunch, and make up the time somewhere else, they can. But no one monitors this. There is no clocking in or out.
According to Oliver, “If you don’t trust people to do what needs to be done in eight hours, you’re not going to trust them to do it in six or twelve or twenty-four. In which case, you have a trust issue, not an hours issue. Or you’re not dedicating enough resource to the task, which is a planning issue. That’s our take on it.”
The benefits are clear
For Curveball it’s plain to see, giving employees more ownership and control over how and when they work has led to better wellbeing and better creative output for their clients. Not to mention a very high employee retention rate, which translates to very low recruitment costs.
Oliver Lawer also highlights the effect on their bottom line, “We’re six years old and have grown every year. Half that time has been with the six-hour rule in place. So when people ask us if it’s affected our profitability, we can say a categorical no. We’re healthier now than we’ve ever been. And other companies are beginning to follow suit.”
Six things to learn from Curveball about changing the working week:
- Talk it through at all levels of the business to find out how it could work for your team, your clients and your business model.
- Reducing daily hours is not the only option: a four-day week might work better.
- Consider if contracts (especially things like pay and holiday) and operational processes need to be updated or not.
- Decide if, how and when your customers need to be informed.
- Plan and communicate the implementation properly. The first step could be to run a pilot, to learn more about how it would work in practice, where the sticking points might be.
- Keep talking and adapt. Honest, clear and timely feedback is crucial to making it work for everyone.