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Introducing the Four-Day Work Week at Uplevel

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods spoke to Nicole Stanton of Uplevel about their experience introducing a four-day work week, and how it resulted in higher productivity and higher team engagement.  



Key Takeaways

  • Uplevel introduced a four-day work week
  • The change resulted in teams getting more work done and higher productivity
  • The biggest challenge was finding times in a shorter week for meetings, resulting in less meetings overall
  • People are more satisfied and engaged
  • With unlimited paid time off it is important to establish a culture where people do take time away from the office


Shane Hastie: Hey folks. Before starting today's podcast, I wanted to share that QCon Plus, our online software development conference, returns from November 30 to December 8. Learn from senior software leaders at early adopter companies as they share their real-world technical and leadership experiences to help you adopt the right patterns and practices. Learn more at We hope to see you there.

Good day folks. This is Shane Hastie for the Impact View Engineering Culture podcast. Today I'm sitting down across the miles with Nicole Stanton from Uplevel. Nicole, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Nicole Stanton: Yes, thanks so much for having me.

Shane Hastie: Probably a good starting point. Tell us a little bit about who's Nicole and who's Uplevel.

Introductions [00:49]

Nicole Stanton: Yes, absolutely. Uplevel is an engineering insights firm. We take insights from different data sources that engineers use every day, like Calendar, Git, Slack and Jira and we compile all of those into insights that hopefully help them with context switching. We have a lot of meeting insights on how long their meetings are and how that can be affecting their workday. We do always on metric, which is really interesting because that can help to lead to indicating burnout for different developers depending on how their days are going and if they're working out of hours are not. And we measure deep work as well. So do your engineers have time to work? And we compile all of those insights together with different operational metrics as well so you can see if the work is getting done well. Ultimately, it's a company that we believe if you put people first it will result in good work.

Shane Hastie: And yourself. How did you get to where you are there?

Nicole Stanton: I am a designer. I am a lead designer at the startup. I was employee number 9, three and a half years ago. We've recently gone through series A funding and we're quite a bit bigger now. I had never worked in a startup before. This is my first startup. It was definitely a bit of a jump as far as career shifts, but I've been really enjoying it and leading the design team and growing brand and marketing as well as product within the company.

Shane Hastie: That means you're working very closely with these engineers and working on the design for the product itself. What are some of your insights about working with engineers?

Insights on working with engineers [02:17]

Nicole Stanton: I have always throughout my career found a way to work with engineers because I love doing so. I think that they're just a very intelligent bunch. This project is really fun because our core user is engineers and so to be able to really look to them for insights and try out different designs and get their input on that, they're a very intelligent bunch and it's really great to work with them so closely.

Shane Hastie: One of the things that brought us together today is Uplevel is doing an experiment. Is it still an experiment, but it's shifted to a four-day work week?

Starting with a four-day work week experiment [02:53]

Nicole Stanton: Yes, we implemented that in January. End of last year, we started by bringing up the idea and doing our research. We did a lot of research into different articles that talked about it and just the science behind it and a couple of other things and decided, well, this is an experiment we would like to try, for many reasons. Each of the department leads kind of led some initiatives within the department to define what success would look there before implementing it. And then we started the experiment at the beginning of the new year. The experiment itself went for about three months where it was, let's see if this is working. And then after that we decided it was working so well, we just implemented it as how the company runs.

Shane Hastie: Now it's beyond the experiment, it is, this is how we do things here. I'd like to go right back to the experiment. What prompted that and what were some of the success measures that you were looking at?

Nicole Stanton: We were looking at wanting to make sure that work was still getting done. That was a big one. We wanted to make sure that people didn't feel burnt out. We're in the business of telling people if their workers are burnt out and so for ours to be burnt out would be definitely a big red flag for discontinuing the experiment. We were also looking at just general feelings of, do you feel you are getting your work done? Do you feel you were growing in your career? Things of that nature. So we did, not only looking at hard metrics but doing a lot of surveys to help get a pulse on what was happening.

Shane Hastie: And how was the experiment accepted? What were the different viewpoints towards it?

The result was higher productivity and more work getting done [04:26]

Nicole Stanton: It was a 100% buy-in by the company. I think the only person who was a little bit skeptical of it still at the end was our CEO and that's just because he felt the need to work a lot more than the rest of us. But overwhelmingly, I think that we felt that in fact we were getting more work done. The development team specifically and the product team, one of the things that we kept doing that I think a lot of teams run into is we would overanalyze our decisions and we would almost get into a decision paralysis where we would just cycle and cycle and cycle and then just build whatever it had when we really needed to build something and then we would cycle on that and it was just this process that we would really get stuck in. And, the four day work week forced us to make decisions faster and then once we kind of had that cadence going, it was like, oh, this is really working well for our team and we ended up improving our productivity with the four day work week, which feels very counterintuitive.

Shane Hastie: So obviously turning the experiment into the way of working, what have been the challenges there?

Meetings were the biggest challenge [05:29]

Nicole Stanton: I think that one of the big challenges was meetings. Seems like an obvious one, especially depending on your role in the company and what you're doing, just trying to find time to meet could be very difficult with limited hours in order to do that. The other thing again was I think just maintaining the appropriate amount of work for the sprint and we still kept the same amount as we did before we started the experiment but not over-indexing and making sure we do really good sprint planning so that we can be on top of making sure things get done.

Shane Hastie: What has the overall benefit been to the organization and to the teams and individuals?

Measurable benefits [06:07]

Nicole Stanton: I think general employee contentment has gone up quite a bit. Having that extra day. I also feel like focus has been something that has really been a part of things moving forward. For me personally, having that extra day, I stay way more focused because I know that I have just four days to make sure that I'm getting everything finished and wrapped up. And then I have two kids and they're in school usually on Fridays. And to have that time for just me to making sure that I can do other things and I can book my appointments, I can exercise, I can get outside, I can do all these other things and have a little bit more me time made me much more present for my family for the weekend because I wasn't trying to do all of those things at once.

I think we had some other employees that also really loved having that time. One of our developer managers, he has a side business of brewing Makgeolli, which is a traditional Korean rice alcohol and so he would use his Fridays to continue his side business there. Our customer service manager, her name is Lauren, she loved having a true day off. She has a small baby right now and she said with that time off... she described the weekend as being she would be really anxious on Sunday about making sure she was prepared for Monday and then she would start fretting being anxious on Sunday, on Saturday and having a Friday actually made it so she could enjoy some time off with her family.

Shane Hastie: Does everyone have the same day? So the work week is Monday to Thursday?

Nicole Stanton: Yes. We have a lot of US holidays that fall on Mondays and on those particular weeks where we have a Monday holiday, we're starting to implement trainings on Friday. So, that's kind of how we're handling that. But no more than a four day work week each week.

Shane Hastie: How do you handle things like customer support on a Friday?

Nicole Stanton: We always have a customer support person on call so they'll be hooked up and be available and that rotates on who that is. But unfortunately, being in tech, there's no way to get around that even on the weekends.

Shane Hastie: What are your peers in the industry looking at you and saying, what are your customers looking at you and saying?

Customer feedback [08:16]

Nicole Stanton: Our customer engagement has been pretty good. Most of them definitely respect it. There is that side on customer service where occasionally customer service will have to take a call on a Friday. For the most point, those customers really do respect the four-day work week and they also asked a lot of questions I think we even have one customer who started to look at their individual teams doing something similar, especially in development. Most of our clients are very large and so for it to be a company-wide thing might be more difficult, but within their own teams.

Shane Hastie: Did you explore or let some teams do it and others not, as part of the experiment or was it a whole, a total switch?

Nicole Stanton: We talked about it. We are so small as a startup, there are so many people that are working almost like Swiss army knives to some extent. And so it would be really difficult for some teams to do it and some teams not to, which is why we implemented it totally throughout the company. That's to be said, sales in general I believe will sometimes work on Fridays because they just have a different cadence and it's a different type of role.

Shane Hastie: How do we keep that fair?

Nicole Stanton: If a salesperson chooses to work on a Friday, which most of the time they're on commission, that is their choice and they know that the team is not available. So that's one of the ways we've implemented that.

Shane Hastie: They don't get to take a Monday or a Wednesday?

Nicole Stanton: The company has a policy also that there is unlimited PTO and I know a lot of companies have done that anyway and so if you want to work a Friday and take a Monday off, that is totally your prerogative.

Shane Hastie: Unlimited PTO, sounds like a wonderful thing. My experience has been that people take less time off.

Unlimited paid time off [09:56]

Nicole Stanton: That was our founder's huge worry with having unlimited PTO. They actually wrote it into our benefits handbook that in order to get some of the benefits... like, we have a couple of different benefits that are getting a personal stipend for a hobby as well as money to increase your training and you don't have access to those unless you take at least two weeks off every year. So, that's how they handled not falling into a culture that was about not taking time off with that role.

Shane Hastie: It sounds so wonderful to be just able to take that time and yet we need to do things to encourage people to do so. This is the engineering culture podcast. What are some of the other interesting elements of the Uplevel culture?

Exploring the Uplevel culture [10:40]

Nicole Stanton: I can say that it's a really fun place to work because ultimately what we're trying to build is something that helps to encourage companies to take care of their workforce and to protect that culture and to increase employee satisfaction at work. And part of that is doing lots of experiments in the company itself. So not only have the four-day work week and the unlimited PTO, the company itself, it really does tend to walk the talk. Every Wednesday at lunch, we have a... over Zoom now because about 50% of our company is in Seattle and the rest of it is kind of distributed among the states and we will have Wednesday games and that will include the CEO, as well as the VP of Marketing and all of the leaders and everyone, shows up and we will play code names most of the time, which is pretty fun.

And we'll divide into teams and there's a lot of trash talking and there are always prizes for winning teams, which is really fun. One of the popular ones that our CEO likes to do is the winning team will get dinner for their families and things like that, which is just, it's awesome. It's great to be a part of that. And, really just promoting good culture, good discussion, good relationships among all of us. And I think in general because of that, it's fostered a group of people that just authentically care about our mission and want to push the startup across the line of being successful.

Shane Hastie: How is that culture going to be maintained as the company grows?

Maintaining culture as the organization grows [12:14]

Nicole Stanton: We have had a lot of discussions about that. We just recently hired our first HR people and culture person as part of our team and that is her sole job. And so, one of the things we're constantly doing is, we are taking temperature checks, we're constantly trying to get employee feedback. I think that as the designer, I'm going to say that I feel like having a strong brand also helps with that, especially with what we're trying to do. So definitely putting words to that brand mission and making sure that people are aware and on board and are still working towards a goal, I think really helps to maintain the culture as well.

Shane Hastie: I'm not sure whether you have access to this. What are you seeing from the data that your customers are getting that this very detailed information about how their teams are working? Do you get any insights from that?

Insights from customer data 13:07

Nicole Stanton: The data and insights that we collect from our customers, we always are looking at it from the point of view of benefiting the developer. And so we are always asking questions, does this feel safe if somebody else saw this, are we comparing developers? A lot of our competitors, they'll have charts on, is your developer elite, normal or are they... they actually rank developers based on their data and we are very far away from all of that. So our insights really are very geared towards what information can we give you to help the developer and help the manager to manage those developers better.

So no specifics. Even our always-on metric, we want to be careful that it's not trying to inspire a culture of hey, if you are on all the time, that means you're working more and that's better. We're very much promoting the idea that that's a bad thing. So we do get concerns over privacy often with our data and most of the time when our customers are in our product and see how we're displaying things and the care we've taken to really protect that developer, most of those concerns dissipate.

Shane Hastie: Yes, the temptation would certainly be there to try and use this data to drive performance.

Nicole Stanton: Yes, we are strong believers in using data for good instead of evil.

Shane Hastie: Thinking back to the four-day work week, how has that impacted your... I'm going to make an assumption that it's been positive, but your ability to hire good people? And you mentioned that you've got people at least half the team remote now.

Four-day week as an attractor for great people [14:50]

Nicole Stanton: Yes, we have gotten a huge influx on all of our job openings when we went into the four-day work week. We have posted those jobs to a couple of different websites that are promoting the four-day work week and that'll also help us to get candidates. Ultimately, when candidates see that we do the four-day work week, we get a lot of applicants

Shane Hastie: Nicole, you mentioned that you are a distributor team, you've got some people in Seattle and the rest spread across the states, how frequently do people actually come together? And those who are in Seattle, do you have a single office where they come every day, or is it the horrible hybrid or how do you do that?

Nicole Stanton: We do have a shared office that we use on Mondays, so anybody in Seattle can come in on Mondays to work together and a lot of people will. That of course is optional for where your comfort level is because we're all from different walks of life with different medical needs and everything else. It's very much whatever you feel safe doing. With the distributed teams, we have everyone fly in every other month and we will do a week of being in person for those that are comfortable and being in person. And me specifically, we have product dinners, but different departments will do different dinners and things to reconnect as well as brainstorms and things during the day while we're in person to kind of reset and to reengage and to also just meet all of our coworkers and things that tend to gel so much better in person. We do have Zoom options and remote options for those who don't want to come in to that space.

Shane Hastie: What else do you do to maintain that culture?

Nicole Stanton: So during those every other month, kind of everybody meetups in the city, we will have usually one big dinner. We've done ax throwing before with everyone. Our last big party and we're actually probably getting a little too big for this to be the case anymore, but one of our coworkers lives on a lake and we took over her backyard and just threw a wonderful day gathering for the summer, in which case, of course, we're a very competitive bunch. We all separated out into teams and played an Olympics game that involved some paddle boarding and some flip cup and some other things that we can compete against each other with, which is always fun.

Shane Hastie: A culture insights company providing feedback to organizations, bringing that learning into your own organization, walking the talk and the four day work week. What's next?

Growing the company [17:20]

Nicole Stanton: I think at this point we are really looking at growing with going through series A, which has been great. Our customer service team has been growing like crazy as well as our sales team, which is pretty exciting. We currently have a great experience for developers and for developer managers. We are also looking at rounding out that experience for executives within our product so that as an executive you can see stats on teams. Again, not to compare but to look at why work might not be getting done, whether that's a team not having enough time to do that work because they're in too many meetings or there's too much context switching, which is another one of my favorite insights.

So context switching is when a developer has too many different types of work on their plate, it's really hard for them to find time to work on those things because the ramp up and ramp down from those different items adds time to their calendar.

Shane Hastie: Nicole, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us today. If people want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

Nicole Stanton: Absolutely. is the best way to connect with our company. We have a blog there, which we like to post different articles where we're interviewing our developers on different things, different insights on how to cut down on your meetings and increase your deep work, things like that. And then we also have a LinkedIn and a Twitter account to follow.

Shane Hastie: Wonderful. Thank you so much.


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