Forbes contributor Enrique Dans recently posed a compelling question in the headline of his article, namely, “Why Are So Many of Us Still Working as Though This Were The Last Century?”
Dans goes on to lament that, despite significant advances in mobile technologies, global connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), and other trends that are increasing efficiencies and fostering remote work, many companies are still clinging to an outdated approach to work. He argues that many work and schedule policies were created during the industrial revolution when most jobs were dependent on particular machines or in-person collaboration. He writes, “When technology enables us to work efficiently from anywhere, maintaining outdated habits simply ‘because we’ve always done it that way’ is pretty dumb.”
Predicting that we’ll soon see a radical shift in how management and employees alike approach their relationships with work, Dans points to Jack Ma—once a proponent of the 12-hour workday who now believes 12-hour workweeks may be in our future.
Numerous companies have been experimenting with shorter weeks, including Microsoft’s Japanese division which recorded an increase in productivity and a decrease in costs after moving to a four-day workweek in August. During the trial, employees were encouraged to use tools like Microsoft Teams in place of meetings and, when meetings were necessary, instructed to limit them to 30 minutes or less. Electricity usage declined by 23 percent, paper printing decreased by 59 percent, and the vast majority of employees found they were more efficient and also enjoyed greater work/life balance.
As Ma told Tesla’s Elon Musk during an August panel discussion, “I think that because of artificial intelligence [and other technologies], people will have more time to enjoy being human beings.”
In addition to the employee benefits of a more flexible working model, there are numerous cost-saving opportunities as well as the chance to lower the organization’s carbon footprint and reduce emissions. Moving away from the standard 9-5 approach will also be important as companies look to attract new talent, particularly as younger generations enter the workforce. As we’ve covered in previous APEX of Innovation posts, the gig economy and other trends are having a profound impact on how future workers perceive work in relation to other life priorities.
Of course, enacting any permanent change to work policies and schedules takes time and must be carefully considered against other areas of the business. But if your organization still adheres to a rigid structure, it may be time to broaden your perspective. As Dans puts it, “There are alternatives. And many of them may not only be a good idea, but a way to help improve many other issues.”