The Guardian, which really owns the beat on the shorter workweeks trend, reports that the Wellcome Trust “is considering moving all of its 800 head office staff to a four-day week in a bid to boost productivity and improve work-life balance.”
A trial of the new working week at the £26bn London-based science research foundation could start as soon as this autumn, giving workers Fridays off to do whatever they want with no reduction in pay. Some parts of the organisation already operate a no-emails policy in the evenings or at weekends, but this would mark a more dramatic change….
The core of the organisation’s work is processing and assessing grant applications for scientific research across biology, medicine, population health, the humanities and social science. That is the kind of predictable process that might be well suited to a shorter week, it believes.
The Trust isn’t well-known in America, but it’s “the world’s second-biggest research donor after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
It’ll be very interesting to see how this plays out. On the outside, grantmaking doesn’t look like the most strenuous of jobs, but from what I’ve seen from friends who work at American philanthropies, the people who work there are very dedicated, really want to make world-changing moves (when you’re at the Gates and Wellcome level, at least), and have to both think really deeply and go to a lot of meetings; and when the founder is still alive and involved, that can put a lot of pressure on people to deliver results. This combination of a need for serious insight, to develop a vision of what the world’s problems are going to be years from now and to work with people who are coming up with solutions that’ll address those, to build consensus within the organization for this program line and that specific project– it’s a nontrivial exercise.
I have learned not to feel guilty whenever I close the laptop to watch a movie or try some new recipes. Usually the best ideas come during or after breaks, and things that take hours to work through when I am tired will likely be solved in minutes once I am rested.
I think for lots of us, learning to not feel guilty when you stop work will have a ring of familiarity to it.
Lo Celso also has a nice bit about “learning to experiment outside the lab,” by trying new things in one’s non-work life. I’m convinced that one of the things doing sports can do for knowledge workers is give them a degree of physical courage, or ability to handle stress and discomfort, that translates into greater capacity for intellectual courage and risk-taking. (John Ratey’s Spark is great on the cognitive benefits of exercise.)
December 25, 2018 / askpang / Comments Off on “the first step to the investigation of the creative mind is the historical approach”
From the opening page of Rosamund E. M. Harding’s The Anatomy of Inspiration:
We venture to suggest, therefore, that the first step to the investigation of the creative mind is the historical approach…. Such historical research should be regarded as scientific and of psychological value and not merely read to pass amusingly an idle half-hour.
I’m planning a couple trips myself, and I’ve gotten into the habit to building in some extra time for this kind of exploration. I have some of my best ideas when I’m on the road, but it helps to be open to them!
The Asahi Globe, the Asahi Shinbun’s weekend magazine, has a special section on rest that features a profile of me, or at least a picture of me sleeping in the hammock in the backyard.
That sweater, incidentally, is one that I bought at the Happinez festival last year, and has become one of my favorites. It’s made from recycled jeans material, and is amazingly comfortable and great to write in, especially in the Bay Area. (As Jenna Maroney said on the 30 Rock, “Have fun always carrying a light sweater” when you move to the Bay Area.)
I’ve been terribly remiss in blogging, because I’ve been on the road since the end of September, appearing at a couple events and doing research for my next book, on how companies move to 4-day weeks without sacrificing productivity or profitability.
It’s been a spectacularly useful trip, if rather long. It started with several days at the FOLIO literary festival in Óbidos, Portugal.
Óbidos is a little medieval town, complete with big walls and a castle, and is a wonderfully intimate location for a literary festival.
After that, it was up to Scotland, where I interviewed companies in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked— I always love Edinburgh, and think I’d really like Glasgow if I got to know it.
From there, it was on to Copenhagen.
Copenhagen is another of my favorite cities, though it’s beauty is more domestic and functional than dramatic: it’s beautiful because everything is so well-designed and proportioned, not because it aims to knock you senseless.
By now, the trip is looking like the worst solution to the traveling salesman problem ever proposed!
Finally, it was back to London, with a brief overnight in Gloucester.
I did a ton of interviews with company heads and employees at companies that are now running 4-day weeks, mainly by figuring out ways to make their work more productive, so they’re working 30- or 32-hour weeks rather than 40 (or more).
I also put in an appearance at the SOMNEX sleep tech show in Shoreditch, which is a neighborhood I’d never before visited, and which is really great.
The place is, as one of my colleagues put it, the world’s biggest Instagram backdrop, and is filled with amazing street art.
I think I could do a talk consisting of nothing but images of graffiti, posters, and signage from around Brick Lane Road.
It was a terrific trip, and I got a tremendous amount done (which I describe in detail to my newsletter readers). But after almost three weeks away from my family and dogs, I’m glad to be heading home!
September 20, 2018 / askpang / Comments Off on “I need you to be great for 48 hours, then I need you to go and forget about this:” Ben Shewry on changing the culture of cooking
Ben Shewry talks with food journalist Lisa Abend at the 2018 MAD symposium about becoming a chef, and fighting back against the culture of overwork and harassment:
He starts talking about going to work at Attica around 13:40. At 18:20, Abend directs the conversation toward the changes he’s made in hiring practices; the big impact of having everyone give talks about themselves; the challenge of making it possible for people to come forward with problems; and shortening the hours (from about 37:30).
Here’s what Shewry says about shorter hours (I’ve taken the closed caption transcript that’s automatically generated by YouTube, and cleaned it up a little):
Lisa Abend: …Has it affected quality? do you feel like you’re a less lesser restaurant at the level of cuisine because of it?
Ben Shewry: No I think I mean we’ve— we are working at most 48 hours in the kitchen or less in the front of house at most 45 hours or less— that’s across four days in the kitchen, so they have the staff has three days off. [applause]
I mean the quality is better than ever. Like there’s just no comparison you know? What I’m asking for– I’m not talking about being all lovey-dovey and being soft as some people have have accused me of. You know, that’s not what it is. It’s like, I don’t need 48 hours, I need an elite 48 hours from you, you know? I need you to be great for 48 hours, then I need you to go and forget about this, and have a great life, and concentrate on some stuff that’s good for you. Have breakfast with your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your wife, or you know— like, whatever. Like I don’t care. Please just don’t– don’t be here.
And at the start of this we literally had to police it. Like I’m there first, same time as Carly, and we see in the camera staff coming like two hours before their shift. Literally we have to go out there and say, “Go away!” Like, “You can’t be here! You know, like, your shift is not starting so please— go away, have a coffee, I don’t care.” And so it was a really big cultural shift for them as well, because they never ever work like this, you know? They— they always sort of— Everybody subscribes to this, “You’ve got to do the hours,” you know, “You just got to do the hours, otherwise you’re not hardcore,” you know, which is such nonsense! What about if you did less hours, and you did them a lot better, you know?
I think there’s something in that, and there definitely is something in that at Attica. That’s how it is, and the food is better than it was. But the culture, particularly the environment, the atmosphere, is like the best of all time, you know.
And that’s not to say that– I’m not sitting here saying well we’re perfect, and that, you know, we live in a bubble, that we aren’t affected by everything the same as you guys are affected by… But the culture is excellent, you know, and and people are, like, genuinely happy and they can do things. They can get a haircut, you know?
What becomes really clear is that the transition to 4-day weeks is part of a much bigger set of changes that he’s made to the culture of restaurant since buying Attica in 2015. Abend does a fabulous job in the conversation of showing how the drive to shorter hours is, for Shewry, part of a bigger effort to create a more humane and empathetic and creative workplace: that fundamentally, if you want to treat people well while also demanding a lot from them on the job, you have to let them have their own lives in exchange.
There’s also some very insightful stuff about gender, working hours, and working conditions, and how reducing hours– and more broadly, making a more humane culture– makes it easier for women cooks to do their work and also manage family obligations.
Sherry’s impatience with the idea that you have to be an abusive person to be a creative genius– or that genius gives you permission to be terrible– is palpable, and hard-won.
Cooking at elite restaurants is one of the most creatively and physically demanding jobs in the world. You’re constantly experimenting with new combinations of foods, looking for unusual and imaginative juxtapositions; reinventing ways of preparing familiar dishes; even developing new cooking methods (hello sous vide!). They have to turn creative breakthroughs into viable products: they must take something that took weeks to develop, and turn it into a dish that can be prepared by chefs on the line, night after night. Their work is open-ended: the quest for new dishes and ingredients and ways of cooking never stops.
Cooking also demands perfection, minute after minute, day after day. It’s physically and mentally exhausting; you’re working in a high-stress atmosphere. The industry gives a lot of power to chefs who are visionaries, and some of them use that freedom to be imaginative, inquisitive, curious, and perfectionist; others just turn difficult, demanding, and even abusive. It’s also a field that has more than its share of burnout, substance abuse, and other problems.
So it’s been fascinating to discover that some of the best restaurants in the world have recently started implementing 4-day weeks, hiring more staff to give cooks and staff more time off, and limiting working hours. In this episode, I draw on talks given by Maaemo chef Esben Holmoe Bang and Faviken chef Magnus Nilsson at the 2017 Food on the Edge conference in Galway, the explore this trend. It’s a fascinating part of the story of shortening working hours, and a real inspiration.
Somehow I missed the pun “putting the REST in ‘restaurant’.” Oh well, the moment has passed.