Flexible Work Hours: A Reality in the Post-Covid World
Government and organizations across the board are endorsing flexible work to drive core outcomes, such as productivity, performance, and financial health. This week, the Labor Ministry of the government of India announced it would allow companies the flexibility of creating a four-day work week – under some new labor codes – something that global companies like Microsoft have experimented with in certain markets.
Countries like New Zealand, Netherlands and Finland have also experimented with the idea and already met with some level of success. In fact, the Netherlands has the shortest work week in the world, where the average weekly working time is about 29 hours per week, according to an August 2019 article at Harvard Business Review (HBR) that gave reference to an OECD study.
Ben Laker and Thomas Roulet noted: “Among workers, 77% identified a clear link between the four-day week and better quality of life. The practice is judged particularly attractive by 75% of the Gen Z and Gen X people we surveyed — and rather than relaxing, they’re using their additional time to upskill, volunteer, and build side hustles. Two-thirds (67%) of Gen Z respondents said a four-day workweek influences who they want to work for.”
Minu Dwivedi, Partner, J Sagar Associates, believes that the Covid-19 pandemic paved way for a more dynamic and flexible work culture. Adoption of a 4-day workweek would certainly be a major next step and a significant leap forward in the same direction. From an employer’s perspective assessing the feasibility and its impact on the output would be immediate concerns to be addressed. Further, there are other ancillary challenges such as dual employment, as employees may tend use the extra free time to take up other jobs during the 3 off-work days.
“From an employee’s perspective, working for 12 hours a day for 4 days at a stretch may increase stress levels and cause burnout in the long run, which will affect their productivity. Finally, a multitude of factors such as job role, nature of industry, etc. would also play a vital role in the viability of 4 work-days a week and a blanket approach for all may not be a viable option,” she remarks.
Dwivedi also believes that a 4 day workweek may just be the game changer for enhancing participation of women in India’s workforce.
Most importantly, the recognition of a 4-day work week by law would send an extremely strong signal to both employers and employees on the need for a better work life balance. It would not be incorrect to say that working beyond normal working hours is a tacit norm and part of minimum expectations in India today, at least in the private sector – which certainly needs to change, says Dwivedi.
The news comes on the heels of cloud computing company Salesforce announcing the “9-to-5 workday is dead” and that it will allow employees to choose one of three categories that dictate how often, if ever, they return to the office once it’s safe to do so. In a recent blog post , the company says Salesforce will also give employees more freedom to choose what their daily schedules look like.
“In our always-on, always-connected world, it no longer makes sense to expect employees to work an eight-hour shift and do their jobs successfully,” Salesforce president and Chief People Officer, Brent Hyder said.
“Whether you have a global team to manage across time zones, a project-based role that is busier or slower depending on the season, or simply have to balance personal and professional obligations throughout the day, workers need flexibility to be successful.”
Hyder cites picking up young kids from school or caring for sick family members as reasons why an employee should not be expected to report to work on a strict eight-hour shift every day.
As per the new guidelines of the tech firm, employees will have three different option regarding their future work style– flex, fully remote, and office-based. Under the flex system, employees will report to the office anywhere from one to three days each week typically only for “team collaboration, customer meetings, and presentations, and others will work remote,” and Salesforce expects most of its employees to fall into this category.
“Our employees are the architects of this strategy, and flexibility will be key going forward,” – Brent Hyder, Salesforce.
“It’s our responsibility as employers to empower our people to get the job done during the schedule that works best for them and their teams, and provide flexible options to help make them even more productive.”
Several firms are giving serious consideration towards switching permanently to unconventional flexible work culture. Earlier Google’s parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook also echoed similar sentiments. Their bosses have stated, especially in the last one year, that the conventional work culture is a thing of the past as they are looking to cope up with a new flexible and hybrid work culture.
Research has also proved that a working day is never exactly 8 hours long. Calls and meetings get extended into the evening, and long commutes often eat into the day. Meanwhile, studies have shown that employees don’t actually work more than 3-4 hours per day. One reason is probably “the distractions of modern life” but the more important reason is that sustained productivity beyond that is often impossible to achieve, believe health and lifestyle experts, who point out that we work best for say, a 30-minute stretch followed by 10-15 minutes of break.
Having said that, it all ultimately depends on how interested and empathetic the organization and employers are in creating a fair workplace with reasonable expectations of productivity and targets.