The 6 hour work day – film and animation life at Curveball.
There was method behind our madness. Firstly, avoiding the 3pm slump. Surely even in the most exciting jobs, a feeling of lethargy washes over you late afternoon? Our creative brains can only create for so long. Secondly, we wanted work to compliment our home life, hopefully resulting in a new surge of creative energy.
Just to be clear, although we’re reducing our hours down to a minimum of 6 hours, the team can choose how they pace themselves. It suited some to focus for 6 hours and either go home or work on their own projects. Others wanted to take a more leisurely pace (as most people working 8 hours probably do) and stay beyond 6 hours.
The team says (Olly Lawer):
You condense down what you normally do in a day to 6 hours because, in your head, you’re thinking ‘that’s how long I’ve got’ and then it leaves room for all of the other stuff that you’ve wanted to do for ages. So in this last month I’ve started projects that have been on the back burner for longer than I can remember.
What’s the reality?
Of course we had some concerns and there was an adjustment period…awkward.
Fear: We will miss deadlines
One of the main fears for us was ensuring film and animation deadlines were met. We did include a caveat that if a project wasn’t completed, you stayed until it was – however late that was. What happened in reality was that the team were more energised and focused. We’ve only had to use the caveat once and even then, it was because of a change of brief, not mismanagement of time. In short, people felt more in control of their day/workload. They chose how to plan their time. Overall, it just felt more natural – you left when you could and stayed when you chose to get ahead on a project, which is lovely as some days you’re feeling it and others you’re not.
The team says (Tom Cowles): Clock watching no longer exists as for the most part you’re in the zone and focused in your work- when you finally rest and glance at the clock in the corner of the screen, you’ve usually over stayed half an hour with the option to call it a day if you choose to.
Fear: People will feel bad when other people get to leave and they don’t (and vice versa)
I don’t think any system, be it pay, holiday or bonuses can be truly fair. Someone always feels they’ve got a raw deal. Although by teasing out the issues and discussing them during the trial period, we could try and mitigate them. The biggest challenge has been making sure we’re incredibly well planned and we’ve also adjusted a couple of our processes. Deadlines for example, Hannah didn’t feel she could come in early as our deadlines are close of play. Other team members now send the creative to the client, so the pressure isn’t all on Hannah. It makes for a more aware team.
The team says (Hannah Morley): Generally the 6 hour working day has gone really well for me. I do still feel like I need to be here for the start and end of the day when we have deadlines to meet but with some extra planning it could work permanently.
The office was incredibly lively for the whole of April (despite the awful weather). People looked well rested and focused. Laugher abounded and the only occasional cause of grumpiness was running out of coffee. People were coming in and out of the office at different times and that gave it a very dynamic feeling.
The team says (Marina Brunale): As someone who is definitely a night owl being able to wake up later does what 5 cups of coffee in the morning wouldn’t do: I have so much energy now. I feel much more productive and I often stay at work after 5pm because I feel much more in control.
How it panned out
Sometimes we had to stay longer even than 8 hours (when going out filming or to meetings in London), but this is nothing new. The team reacted in different ways, as you’d expect. Some came in early and left at 2:30 to enjoy the lovely British weather. Others stayed longer than 6 hours, either focused and enjoying their work or doing their own projects.
In all cases, the team said they had a feeling of control and responsibility. We stayed because we thought that was the best choice. It’s about having control of your own time – focusing when you’re at your best creatively and resting when you’re not.
The team says (Tara Peak): Although I worked normal times most days, I did use the 6 hour day when I needed to. I saw the whole thing as a choice.
People got to spend mornings or afternoons with loved ones, pick up kids from school, take a leisurely walk to work, go to the gym (no excuses now) etc.
The team says (Caroline Jobbins): As I have a daughter and choose to take her to school and collect her each day, the flexibility is crucial for my work/life balance!
All in all, it made our work/life balance better and gave us a bigger feeling of control over our time and personal responsibility over our projects… as expected.
I know right now we sound like that friend who spends the winters in a tropical island and comes back with a tan and talking about how wonderful life is. But there were some bad things too.
The bad side
We like to have team meetings every Wednesday. We have unhealthy snacks, a laugh and talk about the important and silly things. It’s Curveball team bonding and it’s beautiful, really (and slightly weird).
The team says (Jack Purling): When asked how the 6 hour work day affected his life Jack responded ‘in an alright way’… (he’s clearly ecstatic)
During the month of April we missed two of those meetings. It was a very busy month, but I think the 6 hour days had something to do with it. People were more focused with everything compressed into less hours. As people adjusted to working in a different way, we found a flow, making it easier to plan in our weekly meetings.
The main kind of bad situation that arose from our 6 hour day experiment was not knowing when to count on someone being around. Of course, our Studio Trafficker keeps tabs on when people are going to be in, but we are so used to everyone being there all the time that you forget that someone might not be in, just when you planned to speak to them.
The team says (Martin Eke): Being able to have the occasional lay-in has been really nice. It’s been something that I’ve been able to take advantage of whenever I’m not too busy in the office.
Most of the bad things, however, we see as just a part of the adaptation process.
You guessed it, we decided to extend the experiment for another month. We’re seeing a lot of benefits and the difficulties don’t warrant giving up.
The team says (Daniel Spencer): A lot of us within the industry are indoctrinated to wear long hours as a badge of honour. The truth is, we work in a creative industry and amazing ideas rarely flow from a state of exhaustion.
I’m not saying that eradicating long days completely is the way forwards (it’s impossible on shoot days or when we have tight turn arounds), but let’s make sure it flows both ways.
We’ve got a plan to solve the issues we came up against.
For the weekly meetings where we discuss our film and animation projects, we will make sure they happen at the same time every week and that we stick to it. They will happen even if some of us are out filming or in a meeting and then we’ll fill each other in on what’s happened.
Also, to make it easier for people to know when each of us will be in. We’ll have a board on the wall – a visually easy way for people to put down when they’ve come in and when they expect to leave. That way when we’re planning our day around another team member it will be much easier.
Stay tuned for any future updates…