Flex Fridays: An evolution of the work week

Flex Fridays: An evolution of the work week

In 2016, our CEO, Spencer Kimball, wrote a blog post entitled "Can a 4-Day Work Week Work?" As Cockroach Labs has grown, our approach to establishing balance has evolved. Here's how.

Cockroach Labs was founded with the company value to Establish Balance. Working in the technology sector and living in a digital world, it can be easy for individuals to give a majority of their time to work. Further, separating our professional lives from our personal lives has only become more difficult during the pandemic, where we have welcomed work into our homes. At Cockroach Labs, we believe it's essential to maintain a work-life balance through time with friends and family, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, or intellectual pursuits. By doing so, we believe that you will have a more whole and healthy life, maintaining a balance that enables high-performance.

Introducing Free Fridays at Cockroach Labs circa 2016

With culture being a founding priority instead of an afterthought, the Founders looked at their value to Establish Balance and explored programs that could bring this value to life. Initially, the Founders applied traditional approaches like unlimited vacation and flexible working hours. However, our Founders wanted to take this further and think about non-traditional ways to support this balance. Their unconventional thinking welcomed the birth of Free Fridays, a new kind of day that breaks up the traditional 5-day work week, providing all employees with the opportunity to have one day a week where they are in complete control and can self-manage.

The Founders hypothesized that giving our employees one day a week to decide how they would like to approach the day would make Roachers happier and increase the company's chances of success. Not only was employee feedback on Free Fridays overwhelmingly positive, but we also found that employees were approaching their Free Fridays in several different and valuable ways: some employees focused on initiatives that require deep thought and no distractions, while others found themselves building prototypes of functionality far off the product roadmap or experimenting with new ideas to help improve our product. Employees also used the day for personal development — everything from working on side projects, furthering their academics outside of work, focusing on emotional well-being, and spending time with their family.

Giving space for employees to do anything from innovating to developing their careers or simply ensuring mental wellness puts our employees in the driver seat with full ownership of the day. Additionally, it accomplished the goal to help our employees find balance. As one of our employees noted, "Free Friday has been a great way to wind down at the end of each workweek, putting me into a state of mind that allows me to detach from work over the weekend easily." When we started Free Fridays, it was an experiment. Based on the feedback and engagement, we were excited to see they were working.

Cockroach Labs Moves into High-Growth circa 2019

While Free Fridays were working, we found that as we started to grow and introduce new teams, these days did not work for everyone. For example, our Revenue organization could not afford delays. If a customer has a need on a Friday, our salespeople and technical support have to be available. With the expansion of the organization with new functions and more customers, we found we had to adopt a new approach to Free Fridays.

At its core, Free Fridays offered our employees a way to improve productivity by giving them a day with flexibility. To support our scaling organization, create clarity, and keep the spirit of Free Fridays alive, we evolved Free Fridays into Flex Fridays to ensure we can support a scaling business and compete over the long term.

What Flex Friday Looks Like Today

In January 2019, we asked each department to define what Flex Fridays mean for them. For example, in Engineering, Flex Fridays are a day to self-direct what you work on. This is an employee’s day to fix problems in our code base that others are ignoring, write a tool to improve productivity, explore a technology or area of the codebase you're interested in, and prototype an idea for a new feature. Further, side projects are encouraged as such projects often lead to useful learnings or become adopted into Cockroach. A day of self-direction also implies taking care of yourself if necessary: employees can take the day off if needed, sleep in, handle errands or appointments.

In another example, our Product Management team defines their Flex Friday as follows: Flex Fridays are a way to take a break from back to back meetings and spend time developing as a PM or leader, in any way that you see fit. This may mean doing deeper problem investigations, writing code (or learning to), blogging, or just catching up on regular work with fewer interruptions. These activities can be done in or out of the office.

All across the company, one thing remains true: Fridays are a great day to remove meetings, make room for focus, and create a more balanced work week altogether. To that end, our onboarding sessions take place Monday to Thursday, we celebrate Flex Fridays by inviting teammates to openly share how they’re spending it with peers, and make suggestions for ongoing learning courses to take with the Udemy accounts we supply. Folks like Amruta Ranade, a Developer Advocate, made use of Flex Friday to transform her career here.

Our evolution of Free Fridays into Flex Fridays keeps the original intent alive, recognizes a diverse functional organization while supporting our belief that "whole, healthy individuals produce consistently exceptional results." To join us in building amazing things and finding balance, take a look at our open roles.

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