Communicate caught up with Sawsan Ghanem, Managing Partner at Active (DMC), to understand her decision to adopt the four-day workweek and see how it’s been going so far.
What, exactly, drove your decision to adopt the four-day workweek?
There were several driving factors. The first important step for us was to not only research and analyze the experiences both [as] published and through contacts in the UK, where this had already implemented, but to also match it to practical elements like the UAE Labor Laws and how we could “fit” this format into them.
The primary driving factor, though, was PEOPLE. We know that, in the marketing, advertising, and public relations sector, people are what makes an agency. We also, over time, understood very well the challenges involved in attracting and retaining talent for smaller independent agencies – despite their being [not so] different from the larger global names – and wanted to make Active (Digital. Marketing. Communications) an attractive place to join, be a part of, and thrive in.
Productivity is another word you will hear a great deal associated with the four-day week narrative and we realized that this is a medium-term goal that we want to achieve. With our team enjoying a better work/life balance, they will become more energized, creative, and passionate about what they do for our clients.
Why did you think that now was the time to make such a move?
Well, the issue that, sadly, remains central to many things, is COVID-19. We have been at the forefront of the new-ways-of-working narrative and have been fortunate enough to have been closely involved in the new approaches companies are taking to work. From work-from-home to hybrid to the four-day work week, we always looked at them all through the spectrum of this region and what the best approach for us at Active is. We started evaluating this move in April/May of this year and, based on my response above on our approach prior to implementing the four-day week, we designed the format and laid out the foundations for it to begin on September 1, 2021.
How was this decision received by your employees?
Disbelief, at first! They really thought we were joking, which was fun. But when they realized we were very serious, they were extremely happy, as you can imagine. They recognized it for what it was – a conscious decision to put them front and center of the agency’s growth and success, and to contribute to it so that we can recruit more talented people as we continue to grow.
How was it received by your partners and clients?
Every one of them was positive and receptive to this move. A few are keen to hear from us after a few months on how everything is going and on what challenges [we] faced. Some clients were keen to understand how we were planning to accommodate our social media services support, especially when it came to their social media campaigns and community management activities. At the end of the day, even though we moved to a four-day week, we still are communication professionals who are passionate about what we do and are regularly checking, reading, responding to emails, and monitoring news and content on social media channels. We will not be signing off and disappearing per se.
In terms of implementation, how does it work exactly? How do you manage clients’ requests when they come on your extended weekend? What kind of adjustments did you have to make? What kind of new processes did you put in place?
You decide to do it and take the bold step and then, you enlist the support and help of the most key people in that equation – your team and your clients – and you do it!
As I mentioned earlier, we looked at the UAE Labor Law framework and how we could try and work with it and have a four-day week. As an agency, we have always had written policies and procedures accessible to all our team members; we reviewed those to reflect this new way of working. We gave the team a month to assimilate and refine their workdays around this, as well as to be ready for any client questions once we announced it to them. At the end of the day, we also recognize that being agile and dynamic allows us to learn and respond to any unforeseen challenges that may arise from taking this pioneering step in the region.
What did this decision mean for salaries? Are you able to maintain them and how do you balance out the cost of an extended weekend?
This has made no impact on salaries – we never looked at it as a cost-saving exercise. We have always had a very simple belief as owners of Active: [if] you invest in the right people and support them, then your business will grow. So, we actually see this as very much part of a growth strategy for the agency for the next three years.
What are the benefits that you already see and the ones that you expect to see in the longer run?
It’s a bit too early to give you any direct benefits but we have said that we are very happy to share these towards November/December, when this has been running for 8-10 weeks. [However,] we already see a team that is enthused, excited, and also appreciative of the move. They are as proud as we are of the fact that Active has taken this bold step and is one of the first to do it.
What are the pitfalls to avoid?
That’s a hard one for me to answer because if you have a mature and responsible team, there can’t be any. The issue arises where you have immature or irresponsible people that choose to abuse this. However, we have a team that we identified as being mature and seeing this positively; so, we can only see the benefits.
Generally, the idea of the four-day week is seen as unthinkable in the UAE – a market where the notion of hard work is prized. How do you explain this reluctance and how do you address it when you’re faced with it?
As we have seen over the past two years, when so much of our accepted norms have changed, we are all creatures of habit and change doesn’t always come easily or isn’t adopted easily. This plays a big role in why there is suspicion, resistance, and reluctance. There are and always will be people who prefer to stand on the sidelines and cast doubt and suspicion rather than actually get in the game and play – they tend to wonder why their lot hasn’t improved and become more cynical when it doesn’t.
But what we have mainly experienced is hugely positive comments; it is down to what suits each organization. And I can leave you with one interesting comment, or question rather, that was posed to us and that we loved: Who invented the five-day workweek? When did that become the accepted period of working? High four to you!