Meeting-free Fridays aim to boost slumping end-of-week productivity

Hibaaq Abdillahi says meeting-free Fridays have dramatically boosted productivity at Oyster, a human resources firm where the 32-year-old brand manager works. At previous jobs, she had Summer Fridays, but that did little to relieve the feeling of being “just ready to be done” by the week’s end.

Oyster is among an increasing number of companies trying new ways to solve an age-old problem: easing the Friday lull. Called “Flow Fridays” or “Focus Fridays,” the idea is to give employees more time to get stuff done as the week wraps up.

Getting more out of Fridays has long been an issue for companies. Researchers at Texas A&M University School of Public Health who have studied the so-called “Friday effect” have documented how productivity dips, whether workers are in the office or working remotely. But fixing the Friday malaise has taken on greater importance since the pandemic. One study of declining engagement pegs the estimated cost to the US economy at $1.9 trillion.

Earlier attempts to make Fridays more fruitful were aimed at easing dress codes — Casual Fridays — or giving a couple hours off for a few months — Summer Fridays. Others have tried offering free pizza or ice cream. But those strategies did little to turn the tide.

Steven Fitzgerald, president of Habanero Consulting Group in Vancouver, said getting rid of meetings on Fridays helps the 65-person team get more out of the day, while boosting morale.

“It’s easy to go meeting to meeting to meeting, and frankly, you just don’t give your brain the space to think,” he said.

Some companies are testing out doing away with Friday afternoons entirely.

“We could get as much productivity out of four-and-a-half days as we do out of five,” said Mark Benden, professor of environmental and occupational health at Texas A&M. “I don’t think that Friday afternoon is gaining us much.”

Katelyn Rodriguez, a 32-year-old from San Mateo, California, found Casual Fridays “placating,” rather than helpful. A few years ago, her end of the week changed when she started working for a communications firm. It offered Flex Fridays, giving her more time with family, like taking her young daughter to a music class. “That’s been huge,” said Rodriguez, who works as a designer.

At ticketing platform Eventbrite, employees get the first Friday of the month off. Roseli Ilano, the company’s head of community, said she takes the day to watch Netflix and take care of her aging mother. “It's a perk I value deeply,” said Ilano, who lives in Oakland.

Much of the experimentation in the workplace post-pandemic has been at smaller companies, but that’s slowly changing. Shopify, the e-commerce software company, grabbed headlines last year with its push to eliminate unnecessary meetings. JM Smucker established what it calls core weeks, in which employees are asked to come into the office Tuesday through Thursday every other week.

Other companies have gone the other way: United Parcel Service and JPMorgan Chase, for example, have mandated five days a week in the office for some workers. Deutsche Bank is banning staff from working from home on Friday and the following Monday.

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