Why did you decide to introduce a 35-hour week?
Stef: ‘I have been following the debate on the four-day week for some time. Almost every single experiment shows that a shorter working week makes people more productive and creative. On top of that, it seems to make them happier. That was good enough reason for me to give it a try at Blue Lines too. And I have to say, we’re seeing all those positive effects that people talk about here as well. Best decision ever!’
What changes have you noticed?
Stef: ‘In a 35-hour week, everyone has half a day a week off work. It’s an ideal way to clear your head. Or to deal with something you’d otherwise have to do at the weekend. That bit of free time gives you some headspace. It also helps people cope with stress in the workplace. Since the switch, our team has been more focused and productive than ever. Most important of all, they’re happier. A good work-life balance is so important!’
Why don’t you tell us a bit about ‘anti-smoking day’? What does that involve?
Stef: ‘I don’t like to call it that. It’s too ‘anti’. I prefer to call it ‘non-smokers’ day’. It’s an extra day off for non-smokers. I drew inspiration from Scandinavia, where smokers get less holiday time because their cigarette breaks mean they are less productive during the working day.
When Manu stopped smoking several years ago, we wanted to turn the Scandinavian logic on its head. So we brought in an extra day off for anyone who doesn’t smoke. That isn’t the reason why Manu stopped smoking back then, but I haven’t heard him complain about getting an extra day off either. 😉’
Does everyone who lives in Ghent come to work on their bicycle?
Stef: ‘Hell, yes! Climate change is right here, right now, and every little effort helps. There is simply no way to justify the cost of traffic jams in terms of health, the climate and the economy. We have to change that, and we can. There is a suitable bike for every type of commuter today. We encourage everyone at Blue Lines to cycle to work by providing a bicycle budget. When we designed our office, we also put in a shower, which is ideal for colleagues who like to go jogging in their lunch break.
There are subsidies for companies that opt for bicycles. And that’s only logical, because there are countless benefits: you’re getting exercise, you’re reducing your carbon footprint, you turn up to work fresh and alert and you’re even helping to reduce traffic jams. It’s a real no-brainer.’
Working from home has been part and parcel of life at Blue Lines since the Middle Ages. Why is that?
Stef: ‘Everyone started working from home during the pandemic. But we’d been used to it for quite some time at Blue Lines. Our people arrange amongst themselves when they will be working at the office or from home. That flexibility pays off more than it costs. After all, if someone prefers to work from home more often than not, why would you prevent them from doing so? Happy employees are more productive and feel more involved. And happy employees mean satisfied customers. In the ‘war for talent’, flexibility is more of a bonus than ever.’
Self-managing, self-organising teams are your big thing. Explain what that means.
Stef: ‘To put it simply: an entrepreneur who is crucial to their business is not a good entrepreneur. It’s better to build a team that can manage and organise itself. That is what pretty much every intelligent entrepreneur dreams of.
You need to give your people autonomy so that they can flesh out their roles for themselves and make use of their creativity and individuality. There’s simply no point in recruiting intelligent people and then telling them how to do their jobs. You provide support where necessary, but you let them make their own choices. That gives them the empowerment they need to think more creatively and surpass themselves.
What is important though, is to give them the freedom to make mistakes. Nurture the idea of ‘failing forward’: we learn most from our mistakes. I believe that giving autonomy is the ultimate form of appreciation. And it’s essential to a happy workplace.’