From Maternity Leave to 4-Day Work Week (Behind the Scenes)

This is part of our series on IWT’s 4-Day Workweek Challenge, where we take you behind the scenes to show what it’s like for us as we test out a compressed work schedule. The email you’re about to read is written by Tony Ho Tran, a professional journalist for The Daily Beast and a former copywriter for IWT. Join us as we dive deep on the highs and lows of the challenge. 

Nasrin nearly cried on the first day of her long weekend. It was a Friday morning — a time that was typically used for meetings, answering emails, and planning the week ahead in her role as a project manager for IWT. 

But this day was different. 

Instead of starting her day at 6 a.m. like she usually would, she slept in a little longer. When she got up, she was able to drink coffee with her husband Blaine, eat breakfast with her 4-year-old daughter, and spend time with her newborn son. 

She was able to slow down and not worry about meeting deadlines or putting out fires. Instead, she savored the day like you would a good, warm cup of coffee. 

“I just got to hang out with them and have a really nice, slow morning,” Nasrin says. “Then we went to the zoo. It was my daughter’s first trip there. It was just so lovely.”

Nasrin’s Little Flamingo At The Zoo

Nasrin got to do all of this not because of a holiday or PTO, but because of IWT’s new summer-long 4-Day Workweek Challenge. This test is an experiment to see if having a compressed workweek is all that it’s cracked up to be… 

…or if it’s WAY more trouble than it’s worth. 

“The honeymoon is over”

So far, the team is more than a month into the challenge. 

But that’s not the case with Nasrin.

In fact, she’s been away for the past 3 months on maternity leave following the birth of her son. So when she came back to IWT, she had to adjust to a completely new schedule — and system of working.  

“It was weird because I was trying to figure out what projects we were working on,” Nasrin says of her first week back. “Coming back from 3 months off is weird in general, because for the first few days you’re just catching up.”

Even though she knew that she was going to get the 4-day workweek, she still struggled to adjust to:

  • Returning to work after maternity leave. Studies have shown that the first two years are crucial to a baby’s bond with their parents and their development of long-term mental health. That makes those hours that you can spend with your infant that much more precious. 
  • Coming back to a wildly different schedule. New routines and habits can take more than a month to develop in the best of circumstances. In Nasrin’s position, though, she needed to be able to adjust — and quickly. 

These two things would be difficult on their own, but are downright herculean when taken together. 

“It was a bit of a struggle,” Nasrin explains, adding that even though she knows she’s privileged to work full time from home and loves working at IWT, she still had a tough time adjusting.  “Maternity leave was so nice because the four of us just got to spend a lot of quality time together. And then all of a sudden I’m in a different room all day. It’s like the honeymoon period is over.”

Adjusting systems to the 4-day work week

Nasrin works at IWT though. That means that one, she’s ambitious, determined, and resourceful, and two, her co-workers are too. 

That’s why she was able to rely on a few tried-and-proven systems in order to make that first week as easy as it could be.

1. Plan ahead

First, she planned ahead. That meant looking at both her whole week’s work and next week’s work to make sure that she knew what to expect. 

This is important — especially as a project manager working for a company doing a 4DWW. 

Remember: Everyone has the choice of taking either Monday or Friday off for the entire summer. This means not everyone’s schedule is aligned, which makes Nasrin’s job a whole lot 

trickier. 

“All my deadlines for Friday are essentially on Thursday,” Nasrin says. “And since I’m the project manager, I have to adjust that for everyone.”

It became a kind of puzzle where she had to fit all of everyone’s pieces together in order to create the whole picture. 

Nasrin Figuring Out How to Manage the Projects and Deadlines for Everyone’s Schedules

2. Work with urgency

Second, she injected more urgency into the work that needed to be done. You’re not staying long hours to make sure you get Monday or Friday off (that would defeat the whole purpose). 

Instead, you’re hustling just a tiny bit more to get it done. 

“It’s essential to be looking at your work every week and asking, ‘Do I have enough actual time to do all of this?’ because we have less luxury of pushing certain things to tomorrow,” she says. “We have to get it done.”

3. Rely on your teammates

Third, she relied on her teammates. This can be hard — especially for people with the “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done” mindset. However, Nasrin knew that she could rely on her fellow IWT co-workers to pick up the slack where it needed to be picked up. 

For example, the week she came back there was a project that needed to get done on Friday. But she found out that the person tasked to execute a crucial part of it was going to be out that day.

“I thought, ‘Shoot, someone’s going to have to come in on their day off,’” she recalls. “But then our other teammate said, ‘No, I’m here. I took Mondays off. I can take care of it.’ So it was nice to see that alternating actually works well for everyone.”

This drives home potentially the most important — and recurring — theme for this challenge: the importance of team buy-in. A compressed workweek won’t work unless everyone at the company is 100% committed to it. 

Everyone is committed to a shared goal. This becomes a very powerful motivator to get the work done — and that means collaborating and communicating with one another. 

“That’s one of our values,” she says. “We stick together and we’re really collaborative. The 4-day workweek encourages us to do that even more. We all are more united because we want that extra day.”

For Nasrin, that not only means an extra day of not attending meetings or hitting deadlines. It’s an extra cup of coffee with her husband, another breakfast with her daughter, more time spent with her newborn son — and maybe even another trip with the family.

And that is what makes the 4DWW truly worth it for Nasrin.

“Growing up, my dad had to work at a mall two hours away, so he was away six days a week basically,” Nasrin says. “But I don’t remember that. I remember the times we spent together — and I’m hoping that’s true for my kids too.”

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