The month of August, 2023. We did things a bit differently.

In December 2022 we gave ourselves an aim to have some extra flexibility in the month of August 2023.

3 min read

Written by
Sam Wheeler

Director | Co-Owner | Admiral of Ops

Sam Profile
august 2023

We weren’t sure what that extra flexibility could look like in reality at the time.

Let’s first set the scene and go back a bit further in time.

August 2021 was when we first trialed a 4 day work week. One of the many reasons for kicking off this trial in August was so that we could all have proper recuperation time, to plan our work around our lives (not fit our lives around our work), and to enjoy the summer months of the year.

As you know we never went back to a 5 day work week. We have successfully achieved two years of being a 4 day work week company.

"We have the freedom to manage our schedules and workload so that we can fit work around our lives, and not the other way round."

As August 2023 edged closer, and work commitments came in, we knew we had to fully commit to a plan if we were to make having team wide time off happen, no half hearted attempts which would result in unnecessary stress and impacting our summer time happenings.

"Big Lemon are incredibly transparent with their employees and clients alike. Employees are kept in the loop with all upcoming work, financials, current and future plans."

We use Miro to manage our capacity, a much used tool for us internally and externally for all sorts of projects, including for our Discovery Sessions and MoSCoW analysis that we run with clients.

The relief felt by our clients when we didn’t schedule any deliverables during August was a mutual feeling. Clients also had holidays planned, kids to be with, a life to live.

It is never easy doing things differently. Going against the grain, the done-thing, the norm.

So in reality how did the weeks plan out:

Week 1 - the team had a week for personal development, training, volunteering, something that aligned with their needs and purpose, that was personally fulfilling.

Week 2 - the team took a week off. This wasn’t the same week, but whatever week was best for them.

Weeks 3 and 4 - extra-extra flexibility, no launching of products, no harsh deadlines, no big meetings, no chasing, just in-your-own time work happenings.

"They make sure work fits around me and my life and have a 'family comes first' attitude which is often rare to find!"

As co-founders and business owners you take on a different level of responsibility, and historically we have struggled to step away, to take a break, for that time to be undisturbed.

I am so very proud to say that our current smashing-it team and always-pivoting business model means taking time off as a founder has actually been possible over the last few months, and wow does it feel good, a real team accomplishment that everyone feels the benefits from.

"They are not strict nor stuffy, but understand that we are all human beings with lives and families outside of work."

However this summer holiday, the school summer holidays, were a bit more unpredictable for me. I love working. Have huge passion and drive. But work has to work for me and my family. I have stayed true to that for many years now. I was able to work 2 days a week through the whole six weeks of the school summer holiday. A bit of yucky-feeling-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach-feeling when you overthink it. As a working parent, with no ‘village’ around me, this is my world, my little one is the priority. Mum guilt has always been a huge pressure for me, and this summer was no different. However, what a summer I have had, making some wonderful unforgettable memories.

I spotted an inspiring article in the Guardian recently, ‘I’m taking August off – and so are all of my staff. It’s the best decision we ever made’, by Jo Hunter, co-founder and CEO of 64 Million Artists.

Some highlights from Jo’s sharings:

"When we tell people about this, they often think it’s hugely radical and impressive, or they think we’re lazy snowflakes who couldn’t possibly be productive. But to me, it’s just common sense. And not really new. Plenty of European countries slow down or stop in August".

"Poor mental health is costing UK employers £56bn a year due to absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover."

"If you prioritise your bottom line over your staff, the choices you’re making are costing you in the long run."

"I know you’re probably thinking, "but they’re a small company who can afford to take risks", or "it’s easy for them to talk, but they don’t have 1,000 employees and pressure from shareholders", and you’re right. We are an organisation of 10 people. But looking at the state of the country at the moment, who can afford not to take risks?"

For me it comes back to that much needed society-wide shift: work-life balance, flexible working, get rid of the archaic ways that once were, the rigid structure and stifling constraints that not only hinder mental and physical health but are limiting individuals in so many ways. Working parents, single parents, those with carer responsibilities, those who want better and should be able to have better. It’s not lazy, or afraid of work, it’s an individual's right.