Interview: Andrew Barnes and Stephanie Jones Talk About The 4 Day Week
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Barnes is the innovator behind the 4 Day Week. He grew up in the United Kingdom, was educated at the University of Cambridge, and served in the Royal Navy before embarking on a career in financial services and wealth management that took him to Australia and eventually New Zealand, where he now lives.
After conceiving the 4 Day Week just two years ago, Andrew responded to global curiosity about his ideas for the future of work by writing a book about the subject. Andrew’s co-author is Stephanie Jones, who has worked with him since 2015 and has a background in journalism, magazine publishing and public relations.
Tell us a little about the 4 Day Week.
Andrew: The genesis of the 4 Day Week as a new way of working came the end of 2017, when I was flying from Auckland to London – the longest commute on the planet – for a Christmas break with my children. I was working through my reading pile when an article in the Economist caught my attention; it detailed the results of two studies of UK and Canadian office workers which found that on average they were productive for only 1.5 to two hours in a standard eight-hour day.
I ran a trial in my business to find out how productive we were as individuals and teams, making the deal with my staff that if we could claw back an extra 45 minutes or so of productivity a day, they could have a paid day off each week. It worked better than we could have imagined; staff were happier, healthier and more connected to their families; productivity and profitability went up; and we – quite unexpectedly – made headlines around the world. The degree of interest led me to write the book and to set up a foundation, 4 Day Week Global, with my partner Charlotte Lockhart to help other organisations implement a similar productivity-focused, reduced-hour model.
What inspired you to write this book?
Andrew: Quite simply, there was a big demand for it. Once our 4 Day Week trial and its results hit the headlines, I was fielding requests far beyond the media – from business leaders, policymakers, academics and others all over the world, asking to buy me a coffee and pick my brain. I cannot physically drink that much coffee, so there needed to be a book explaining what we had done and how, and why the 4 Day Week is a new work construct fit for the digital age.
What research was involved?
Stephanie: The research was largely my responsibility. We knew the book needed to grapple with some of the big questions about work in the digital age; namely how technology, workers’ desire for flexibility, consumers’ push for convenience, and the dominance of huge multinational tech companies are converging in the form of the gig economy. We needed to understand and explain the world of work as it is today and how workers and corporates are engaging in the process of work and employment, and the book is informed by a tremendous amount of research into these issues.
The major challenge was currency! because the 4 Day Week has become such a dominant theme in the discourse; and companies are running new trials all the time – Microsoft Japan was a prominent one late last year – while policymakers and leaders are calling for a new way of working. The underlying precepts of the gig economy are also being challenged by workers in courts in multiple jurisdiction, so the legislation is being written and rewritten as we speak.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
Andrew: We started with several in-person conversations; we would sit and talk at my office or home and Steph would record and transcribe. We did not initially have structure but I had many ideas based on my history in business and my experiences as a founder and leader, and Steph would write discrete chapter drafts and I would give my notes on them. After some advice from a book publisher we refined our structure and broadly stuck to that for the duration. I would carve out time to write out my thoughts and ideas – sometimes based on questions from Steph – and then hand them over.
Stephanie: We started writing the book in December 2018 and handed in the final edits in October 2019, so it was a fairly speedy process considering we were both working our ‘main’ jobs simultaneously. We worked out early on that the most efficient way to work was for Andrew to give me his handwritten notes and for me to do the research and write chapter drafts for his review. Andrew travels a tremendous amount and did the Peking to Paris Rally in the midst of writing the book, so my having control of the day-to-day writing meant he could be out the back of Kazakhstan with no internet connection and the manuscript could still advance.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?
Andrew: The book gave me an opportunity to rant, which was quite cathartic. I credit Stephanie Jones and our editor, Tom Asker, with shaping this into the interesting book you now enjoy.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Andrew: The process of writing a book is often quite drawn out. A final moment is hard to define; however, I did reward myself with a trip of a lifetime to Antarctica as a guest of the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Stephanie: I went on holiday to Bali with three of my best friends. Technically the book wasn’t quite finished at that stage, but I could see the finish line. For anyone to write a manuscript and turn it into a published book that is out in the world is a singular achievement, and it’s important to celebrate that.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Andrew: When I’m not reading 1930’s crime fiction, which is diverting but often rubbish, I enjoy catching up on ideas from other authors, so among various books I have read: Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist by Kate Raworth, which sets out a sustainable future for the planet; and Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman, which looks at the conflict between being a constituent MP and a legislator. It is a commentary on the UK system, and I feel that New Zealand has a better framework with our list MPs, but only if they are chosen for their ability to scrutinise and develop legislation. However, my favourite book of the year is the boy’s own true life story – The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, about Scott’s last expedition to Antarctica. A great adventure story and best summarised by Scott’s epitaph from Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ – “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Stephanie: I am going through an intense non-fiction phase and have loved Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She Said, and Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside– all brilliant, incisive confrontations of major social issues by women with strong, clear voices. I have also just started delving into the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards longlist, beginning with A Mistake by Carl Shuker, which is a short but superb blend of science, history and emotion, and Attraction by Ruby Porter.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Andrew: At present I am in the thick of book promotion and have been travelling in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom doing book events and media appearances. It is the ideal time to be launching a book about the future of work, with people returning to work from the Christmas holidays and wondering how they can do things differently, be happier and more productive and run better companies. With 4 Day Week Global this now dominates my time, and I think we are at a tipping point when we think about the climate crisis and the urgency of the need to fundamentally change how we live and work if we want to survive.
Stephanie: I don’t have another book project in the immediate pipeline so I am thrilled to get back into reading. The only problem with writing a book is that it leaves very little time to enjoy the work of other writers!