As the offices are gradually opening after the lockdown due to the coronavirus, more and more employers are looking at new ways of working. The founder and the chief executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has communicated to half of their workforce that they can do their jobs outside Facebook's offices over the next five years or even more, if they wish to. Not only that there are other tech firms, like Twitter, which has asked their employees that they can also continue working from home forever, if they wish so. The flexible working policies suit those people the most who are anxious about returning to the offices like working moms who can take care of the kids too in between their work, while on the other hand it also gives a breathing space to the companies as they are in the process of introducing and implementing the new social distancing measures.
There are lots of people who suggest now that it’s time we should have a shorter work hours too. A four day work week in the offices or even if the working days are five in a week, then the daily work hours can be reduced to six or seven hours a day. Now it’s purely in the hands of the employers and the employees too. As we've learnt so much after the Covid about flexibility of the people working from home and that productivity can also be driven out of the offices which was not even thinkable before the Covid times.
Some time back the Tech giant Microsoft tried a four day working week in Japan which was very successful in terms of the productivity and the employee feedback. It says that it now has a hybrid workplace strategy as offices have slowly started to reopen, although working from home still remains an option for most of the employees. Working from the home and shorter working weeks both have been hugely applauded by the HR experts as an alternative rather than the mass return to the offices.
It provided a better work life balance for the people who needed it very badly like the part time students, the new mothers, the parents who wanted to spend more time with kids or looking after the elderly people at home. Post Covid 19, if the employers learn how to employ flexible working that would be a huge battle won for human resource management. A shift towards more remote working also allows companies to rethink about their expensive office space. Mastercard said it is looking towards consolidating some of their offices while Facebook has plans in place for working hubs across the US. After the Covid-19, you might see many of the companies shrinking down their real estate and employees can carry on working from home. It will be quite interesting to see how the employers cater to the different crowds of employees working from homes, offices or anywhere.
In February 2018, Germany’s largest trade union, IG Metall, in an agreement with the employers, secured for each German metal worker the right to work less than the standard weekly hours of 35 and as few as 28 hours a week, if a worker so chooses. Then in the year 2020, IG Metall proposed a move to a four day week to help secure jobs against the economic fallout due to the coronavirus crisis and the structural shifts in the automobile industry.
Employers won the right to offer longer 40 hour contracts to more workers. Workers are not compulsorily required to accept longer hours. So, both the employers and the employees have secured a greater flexibility in their choice of working hours. This change in the work schedules in Germany is not the first in the world. This has been preceded by experiments with shorter working hours in Sweden and workers in Britain for a standard four day working week.
The German workers work substantially fewer hours than a typical American worker. On one hand, their standard workweek is 35 hours and on the other, their vacations are also weeks longer than those of the Americans. The full time German employees are currently entitled to a minimum of four weeks of paid vacation in addition to a number of public holidays, the exact number varying from one state to another. The objective was to provide their employees with more of an opportunity to attend to the family responsibilities without sacrificing their duties at the workplace. But, there is no such provision for the American employees. So, this same aspiration has been expressed by some of the American workers, especially the women who constitute almost half of the labour force. Usually, in a market economy, the individuals search for working hours which would help them balance the home tasks along with the requirements of the job. They would rather move out of the company which has a long and strict work schedule and shift to another which has a more accommodating work schedule, a movement which might be costly for both the workers and employers too. If more employers offered shorter working hours and more flexible hours, then the workers would not have to switch to other companies to achieve the particular balance between their work and the home.
TRENDING WORK PATTERNS
Now, we can see the working patterns has been revolutionized by the technology and that enables us to be able to perform a whole lot of tasks with ease and in a shorter period of time. We can now send and receive emails from wherever we are, can join meetings from anywhere in the world and keep in touch with our colleagues through a wide network of the social media. We can access all the documentation from anywhere without even going to the office and we can keep track of the latest developments in our field without even having to attend series of conferences and number of meetings.
Despite the ability to work from any place and at any time of our choice, we are still tied to the routines established by our previous generation of workers. The usual norm for most of the people at work is to have a job at an office which is located at a fixed place and work there for a fixed set of hours every day. In return to that, we get the salary, some other benefits and perks and get the feeling of a strong financial security. But now this is being seen as a very low productivity model which is not really satisfying for the employee and neither very effective for the employer too.
As now we have a generation of young people joining the workforce who have never known a world without the internet. They always expect to be able to communicate with their colleagues from wherever they are and whenever they like. They do not understand the traditional boundaries between home and work life and the need to be tied to a fixed desk and long hours in order to get the work done. They are questioning the long hours culture and the conventional pattern of working which has been inherited by us from previous generation. They value their personal freedom a lot, so they expect some discretion to be given to them over the number of hours and the place of work in their lives.
THE NEW NORMAL
Majority of the companies now do their business by working from home and in a more flexible working environment, which has been aided by the technology and video conferencing platforms like Google Meet and Zoom. As we are starting to return to the offices and find a new normal, the alternative working arrangements are also helping in reducing the commuting time and also helping in maintaining the social distancing norms. Covid has taught the employers to move away from the conventional thinking that productivity can only be driven by a fixed set of hours which is usually longer and that too can happen from an office environment only. We have seen the business going on as usual and growing well in a flexible working environment and shorter duration of hours too.
The tech giants are leading when it comes to extending the flexible work environment over a long term like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Barclays, Microsoft, Mastercard, Twitter and others. Most of the big corporates have now given the liberty to the employee to decide on his own if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours off, a day, a week or even a month off. The assumption being that even if they work for fewer hours or days then their absence will not in any way damage the business or for that matter their careers too. It has been observed that even if they work for shorter duration, still they are able to deliver and meet the business targets. In the last one year, companies have made huge gains and profits by providing a flexible work hour norm and a more conducive work environment. It looks like shorter working hours will become the norm all over very soon and will soon be induced all across the world and uniformly as it is giving good returns to the companies and the employee is also happy working for less hours and days. It’s a win-win for all.