A digital agency in Australia, Versa, shuts its doors every Wednesday. Employees at the busy maker of apps, augmented reality products and websites work 37.5 hours a week over four days in a radical 20-month experiment that has seen profit and productivity soar.
After ABC's The Business interviewed chief executive Kathryn Blackham in April last year, she said things got crazy.
"A lot has happened since!" laughed Ms Blackham, reciting a schedule that has seen her lecture UK Members of Parliament, win international awards, present at conferences and cop an inbox overflowing with corporate human resources leaders wanting to catch up on the project.
The concept is brutally simple. On Wednesdays at Versa there are no client meetings, no deliveries, no pitches to clients and no expectation of checking emails.
After a year, the data was in.
"We are three times more profitable than we were last year, we have grown by 30 or 40 percent in the last year in terms of revenue, and we have got happier staff who are much more productive," Blackham said in April.
"So all of the factors that you would have thought would have gone down because we're working 20 percent less - in theory, we're working one day less, although we are doing longer days on the other days - actually we've seen them increase dramatically."
About to head off on a summer break, Blackham reflected that the company's shift had reverberated across the advertising industry and beyond.
"More importantly for me, it's really started a conversation about how we're going to move forward in the industry," she said.
"But there's been the most interest outside our industry, [rather] than inside it."
Four-day week makes waves in the UK
Much interest has come from the United Kingdom after the BBC syndicated the ABC's April report about Versa.
Blackham spoke to MPs and leaders of UK Labour about her experience as the party took a policy of a 10-year transition to a four-day week to the recent election. (Labour was trounced, although it seems unlikely that policy was a major factor in an election dominated by Brexit).
She also spoke to high-level leaders at UK retailer Morrisons. The supermarket giant was considering the plan for its office staff, but with a key flaw.
"They were going to do it for the office staff, but not the leadership team," she said.
"I told them straight out, 'That's not going to work'. Because if the leadership team are [present] it just cascades down from there."
Blackham had two small children when she founded the business a decade ago. She made multiple attempts to build flexibility for staff, such as giving people random or fixed days. But the need to work in collaborative teams across projects meant it didn't work.
Just over 18 months ago, she shut the door on Tuesday night and closed the office until Thursday morning.
Beyond happier, less-stressed staff, the first thing Blackham noticed from having two "mini-weeks" was a renewed focus and intensity during all four days the office was open.
"I know a lot of workplaces have kind of those Monday morning 'feels', where there's a bit of a vibe in the office, people are bantering back and forward. And in the end you get that kind-of 'Hump Day' [on Wednesday], which is a little bit harder to do," she said in April.
"By the time we get to Thursday it's like a Monday again. You get a new feeling of enthusiasm and cracking on with work, collaboration."
'Haters' equate fewer hours to laziness
That hasn't prevented criticism, which the agency owner puts down to a fear of change.
"We've had a lot of backlash," she said.
"We recently cleaned up at an industry awards night in Singapore - there was a bit of (negative sentiment), a push against … there's still a real feeling that, 'Yes, that works for you, but it would never work for us'."
Or, because advertising people know the need to be succinct: "The haters love to hate."
The key issue is a perception that Versa staff are lazy, Blackham added.
"People equate fewer hours to lazy. That's not the case," she said.
"They work the hours they need, I've just made it harder to work much more."
Initially, Versa's managing director Jonny Clow had worked at large global advertising agencies and was convinced a shorter working week was not going to work.
With most jobs in advertising running 7:30am to 7:00pm as standard, he could not see how the loss could be made up.
"To lose a whole day - 20 percent of revenues - you know it's hard for us to make money as it is. This is a people business, so to think that you are not earning … that was a shock," he said in April.
Logically, he said, you would consider a four-day working week to end on Thursday, creating a long weekend each week.
However, creating two short weeks means staff treat Friday as "a proper working day" and schedule medical appointments and similar events on the Wednesday.
"I'm very used to, as an Englishman, going in with the doom and gloom you have on Monday, and 'Suicide Tuesday'," he said.
"And all that kind of stuff just goes away."
The office environment is a hum of focus, but you can feel a difference.
Milo the cavoodle wanders around, staff break off into meeting rooms and two staff hold a yoga session in one of the small meeting rooms during the lunch hour.
This year, industry publication Ad News crowned the Melbourne agency its employer of the year, and it has gone on to place seventh in the Great Places To Work survey (and was the top ad agency on the list).
Other countries trying shorter work weeks
University of Melbourne professor of management Peter Gahan said average working hours were creeping up in Australia, at the same time as a growing group of people report underemployment - a desire for more hours.
International examples are mixed. To redress unemployment in France, the standard work week has been reduced to 35 hours.
Some local government areas in Sweden have been experimenting with shorter working weeks for the same reason, and to improve wellbeing for employees.
"France had a short-term effect where, in fact, we saw unemployment rates for different groups, particularly young people, begin to fall, but that wasn't sustained over time," Professor Gahan said in the original report.
There have also been concerns about labour costs hampering the ability of France to compete within the European Union and globally, and big business pushed back on the regulation.
In Sweden, "the jury is still out", Professor Gahan said.
An experiment in major regional city Gothenburg saw reduced working hours for some workers, to compare them to workers whose hours were not reduced.
"The preliminary results from that experiment suggest, in fact, they were able to maintain productivity levels by and large, and there were some benefits for workers in terms of wellbeing and other types of outcomes," Professor Gahan said.
'Fear' of trusting staff to 'do the right thing'
Fifty, 60 and even 70-hour weeks are not uncommon in service industries, even if they are proven to be inefficient.
Kathryn Blackham said it is natural for firms to be resistant to a radical idea like hers.
"It comes down to one word and that's fear," she said.
"And I think that's fear of having to trust your own staff, that they're going to do the right thing."
Peter Gahan said innovative approaches like Versa's could help with attracting and retaining skilled staff.
"We do see, if you like, a range of effects that come through that mean that a reduction in working hours doesn't mean that there's a proportionate reduction in productivity," he observed.
"In fact, through the course of these effects, you can get improvements in productivity, improvements in efficiency and a lowering of your production costs as a consequence."
The future for changing employment models to include flexible work is strong, Blackham said.
Appearances on radio elicited copious examples of companies working four days a week, enforcing a day-from-home policy and offering different strategies to get work done alongside people's other commitments and passions.
"The more people that talk about these stories of success, the more other people will try it," she said.
But there is one element Kathryn Blackham has not yet been able to make stick, even as more companies start to shut their doors to boost productivity.
"Most people do Friday," she said. "Not Wednesday."