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As interest in the four-day workweek gained momentum last year, one US company’s plans to pilot such a nontraditional schedule offered extra legitimacy to the approach. Last June, Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, announced that it would experiment with a four-day, 32-hour workweek starting this year.
That pilot begins this week, as all Kickstarter employees will work their normal schedules through Thursday and then have this coming Friday off. The company, which launched almost 13 years ago and has about 100 employees, is taking an aggressive approach toward remote work as well—employees will continue working remotely even after the pandemic subsides and Kickstarter doesn’t plan to have any central office.
Organizations around the world that have adopted four-day schedules say that employees are much less burned out and get just as much work done. A large-scale test in Iceland was such a success that a majority of the country’s workers have moved to four-day weeks or will gain the right to. One survey of US workers found that 83% would prefer a four-day workweek.
With Kickstarter setting out on its pilot, TIME spoke recently with CEO Aziz Hasan about what the company was aiming to achieve and how it would measure success. On Tuesday, after the interview was conducted, Hasan announced that he was stepping down as CEO, with his last day on April 4. Hasan—who is also an illustrator—said he was making the change to focus on his creative work and his family.
Hasan’s departure comes as Kickstarter is hosting its most-funded project ever. A recent crowdfunding campaign by fantasy author Brandon Sanderson attracted more than $20 million in pledges in its first 72 hours. The total for that campaign—which promises the release of four new novels—has now exceeded $34 million from nearly 150,000 backers. Since Kickstarter’s founding, backers have pledged nearly $6.5 billion total across hundreds of thousands of projects.
At the same time, Kickstarter has had to recover from a sharp downturn in activity early in the pandemic that led it in 2020 to shed about 40% of its staff via layoffs and buyouts. And the rapid momentum of blockchain-based models for funding projects raises existential questions about the role of Kickstarter in a Web3 future.
Hasan spoke with TIME about the four-day workweek and remote work and the future of Kickstarter and crowdfunding.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Why did you decide to experiment with a four-day 32-hour workweek?
We’ve had fairly flexible hours for a long time. We try things like integrating creative work practices into the way that we work as a team. And so the four-day workweek, or the concept of this 32-hour week, to me, is just a way to continue to experiment like that. The point of the pilot really is to put some constraints on ourselves to challenge some of the norms that we have in how we work.
If we can put the right set of small constraints in front of the team, then we really need to allow them to be the ones who are giving us the feedback and understanding what’s working, what’s not working. Very big on my mind is that it’s going to work differently for different teams.
Where are you at in the pilot at this moment?
We plan to launch it in April. Right now I’ve got a small team that’s setting up the parameters of the pilot.
What percentage of your staff will be participating?
So ultimately the goal would be that everybody is. How we get to that outcome, I’m really leaving in the hands of the team because I think some teams will need to do it different ways, with different workflows. We want to be really thoughtful about that.
Does that include you and your leadership team? Will you be doing a four-day 32-hour workweek?
That would be the plan. I have myself experimented with this where I’ll take Friday off for a couple months, and just try to shift what that looks like. So I do think it’s possible. I think it’s really challenging, depending on what level you are at the company, the type of work that you do. But I think what’s really beneficial is everybody going through the learning experience together over a period of time. That’s where I expect we’ll gather the most insight and really learn what a good solution will look like.
How will you know if it’s working?
That’s a great question. This is about outcomes, it’s not about hours. So my expectation and my desire is that we can achieve the same outcomes or greater outcomes as a result of changing the way that we work. And what that means, more specifically, is that the way we are able to connect backers to creators, the way we are able to engage backers on their journey, all of those remain front and center and they’re not jeopardized as a result of the test.
What exactly do you mean when you say outcome? Job performance and productivity?
Yeah. There’s absolutely the business piece of it. Our creators and backers getting the same level of value that they’ve been getting from Kickstarter consistently without excessive error—and are we potentially improving upon that? There’s a business outcome that comes as a result of us delivering the value.
Are there any guardrails that seem clear to you? For example, other companies that have adopted the four-day workweek have put limits on when employees can have meetings and for how long.
You touched on one, which is collaboration hours. And this idea that we just, as individuals, as thinkers, need to oscillate between when we go out into the world and gain signal and input, and when we need to hunker down and sit in deep analytical thought or bring our ideas out. If we’ve gotten our ideas down on paper before we seek input, does that actually make us work smarter?
I’ve given the team the permission to blow up the idea of, “Hey, you have to be in a meeting.” A couple of our teams, I want to say the technology teams, have started to say, “Are there other ways we could do these normal product or engineering rituals?” You know, we’ve always done it a conventional way because that’s what the industry says, what if we rethought that a little bit, does that give us more latitude? Worst case scenario you end up back where you were, best case is you’ve challenged a couple of your conventions and you have a whole different frame of thinking
When you say collaboration hours, do you mean setting hours—like between between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET—where everyone agrees that they’re available for internal meetings?
Coming out of these last two years where your staff has been largely remote, what are you planning in terms of the configuration?
In the fourth quarter of last year, we told the team that we would go fully remote, and one really amazing thing happened. The ways we engage with each other as colleagues changed. We try to be as explicit as we can, knowing that the context of body language isn’t there, the context of tone is different.
When you say you’re going fully remote, does that mean that you’re getting rid of offices?
Yeah. We won’t have a centralized office for individuals on the team. We’ve given them a stipend to choose if they want to build a better work from home setup, whether they want to use a local coworking space or if they want to find other accommodations. But we won’t be going back to a centralized office.
We’ll be gathering the team at least once a year. We have one currently set up, we’re thinking about in May, which will be the first time we brought the whole team together since early 2020, which is kind of crazy to think about. And we’ve also given teams some flexibility to choose when they need their teams to come together.
Shifting to the topic of crowdfunding, are there any lasting impacts of this pandemic period on crowdfunding broadly?
Yeah. Kickstarter was born during a recession. These are moments where I feel like people stop and recalibrate and think about everything that they’re doing. It’s just a moment of introspection for all of us. The pandemic has deeply done that. So many people are stopping and saying, “Hey, what is it that I’m doing? How am I spending my time?” So I think we’re seeing signals that people are going to be taking more and more risks on ideas that they might have.
Now we’ve seen in games and comics some of the design projects in publishing, there has been this flurry of activity over the last seven, eight months. There is this project by Brandon Sanderson, a writer. He has his slate of books and novels and things that he’s writing. But then as a creative person, he could not step away from four ideas that have just been like on the tip of his tongue and had to go literally make four other novels, which is just insane. He’s so inherently driven by the work, by the stories, the ideas. They launched yesterday, it’s up to $18 million in funding. [Ed. Note: by publish time, Sanderson had more than $34 million in funding.]
There’s this energy in this moment. To me, this is the stuff that gives a little bit of hopefulness when things can feel really dark.
Is Kickstarter moving towards using the blockchain?
We haven’t moved Kickstarter onto blockchain technology. We have a choice here: we could either stay completely away from it knowing that these are tools that are going to become commonplace, or we could engage with those tools and start to enable them to do the things that I think we believe have tremendous value.
Do you worry that Kickstarter is being replaced or will be replaced by Web3 projects?
You know the way I think about this stuff is like, this is all additive. The problem that we’re solving is the same problem that’s been going on for a very long time. Someone has an idea. Someone wants to support that idea. The more tools that are out there to drive that connection, to make it easier to lower that barrier to entry, I think is really powerful.
If we are part of a greater ecosystem, then where the tools come from stops mattering as much as the number of projects, the number of people that are getting enabled. So I just see this as an opportunity to take new tools, experiment with them with the same ethos and the same mindset, and try to cultivate a community of folks that are ultimately doing the same thing.
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