Is it possible for an entire company to work a four-day week, grow revenue by 120% per year and do millions of dollars in yearly sales?
At Treehouse, the online school I founded in 2010, we figured out how. We work a 4-day week, and in just 32 hours per week, here’s what we’ve been fortunate to achieve:
- Over $10,000,000 in yearly sales
- 70 full-time employees
- Yearly revenue growth of over 120%
- $13,000,000 raised in venture capital
- Over 70,000 paying students
What’s the trick?
We have over 70,000 students at Treehouse and only 70 employees—and we only work 32 hours a week. I have been working 4 days a week since 2006 because I wanted time to dedicate to the people I love, and when people join the company they often wonder if we’re for real. Sometimes, they expect they’ll have to work 40 hours anyway—but they end up positively surprised. How are we able to achieve a customer-to-employee ratio of 1,000-to-1? By increasing efficiency.
Here’s how we do it.
1. No internal email
We’ve banned using email internally. Because email is push instead of pull. Instead of going out and pulling the information I need, when I need it, email allows others to push information on me, by copying on emails I don’t need to read, when it’s convenient for them. Therefore I spend the majority of my time trying to clear my inbox, doing things that are important for other people, instead of advancing my priorities.
Instead of the push email model, we use two simple tools: Convoy and Flow.
Convoy is a simple forum, just like Reddit, except it’s only visible to Treehouse employees. You can post ideas, celebrate wins, discuss competitors, say happy birthday, post funny videos—anything really. If someone has time to consume these things, they just go to Convoy. All this ‘noise’ (even if it’s healthy noise) doesn’t clutter up your inbox.
You go pull the information when and if you want it. We have @person tagging in Convoy so that you can mention people to get their attention. However, this doesn’t email the person – it simply puts a notification at the top of Convoy so the next time they log in, they’ll see where they’ve been mentioned.
I get probably 10 to 20 emails a day and they’re almost all from external people. It’s amazing.
We manage our projects with a simple tool we’ve built called Flow. Here’s how it works:
- You propose a project that you’re passionate about, including a title, description and measure of success.
- You add “roles” to the project that are needed for completion. For example, if you wanted to add a new page to the site, you’d add a designer and a developer.
- You hit “Propose Project.”
- Once a day, everyone in the company is emailed a summary of the all the proposed projects in Flow (one of the few things we use email for).
- If you think you’ll be able to fill one of the available roles in the Project, you go to the project in Flow and click “join.”
- Once the all the roles for the project get filled, someone clicks “start,” picks a due date and work begins.
- At the end of each day, every person on a project enters a simple “status” for what they did that day on the project and chooses a % complete for their role in the project.
- If you need to discuss something with other people on the project, you go to the discussion tab and start a new discussion (much like a forum) or jump in HipChat and chat about it.
This leads to the second vital secret to the four-day week.
2. Asynchronous communication
95% of all communication at Treehouse is written. We avoid facetime meetings and phone calls whenever possible. Keeping communication in written form means that people can respond when it’s convenient for them.
As you know, it completely wrecks your productivity when someone comes over to your desk and taps you on the shoulder, or pulls you into a meeting. You have to stop what you’re doing and participate in a discussion, whether you really need to or not.
However, if I ping you on HipChat, you can respond when it’s best for you. We remove the “I need to know ASAP!” communication that is often so rampant in companies today.
Yes, we occasionally use Google Hangouts to have a face-to-face meeting, but we avoid them if possible and always make attendance optional.
3. The big picture
There’s just one more small piece to this puzzle: We don’t have managers at Treehouse.
The overarching theme here is this: We treat our employees like the responsible adults they are. We let people set their own priorities and communicate when it’s most convenient for them.
The amazing benefits
There are plenty of reasons to work a four-day week.
- Recruiting is easy (we still pay full salaries and offer a very generous benefits package). We regularly have new employees choose Treehouse over Facebook, Twitter and other top-tier tech companies.
- Retention is easier. One of the team told me he regularly gets emails from Facebook trying to win him over and his answer is always the same: “Do you work a four-day week yet?”
- Morale is boosted. On Mondays everyone is fresh and excited—not jaded from working over the weekend.
- 50% more time with our family and friends. I get to spend three days a week, instead of two, with my family. 50%. It’s insane. For those on the team without kids, they get to spend this extra 50% on their hobbies or loved ones.
I hope our experience encourages you to consider working a four-day week. It sounds insane, until you try it.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanCarson. We welcome your comments at [email protected].
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