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Reaping The Benefits Of Flexibility

Mark Heymann

Jan 14, 2022

Across all industries worldwide, today’s employees are making their voices heard on the growing need to revamp traditional work schedules and rules based on evolving lifestyle preferences. In fact, recent survey results indicate that as much as 83% of employees would feel more loyal toward their employers if more flexible work options were made available to them. Yet from hotel, restaurant and retail businesses to senior care and student housing facilities, many employers have resisted offering that flexibility and, until recently, have continued to adhere to outdated practices and antiquated labor laws.

With the onset of Covid-19, an instantaneous global shift occurred, with many employees suddenly required to work remotely. Some have even went as far as to declare the five-day workweek dead. The pandemic has no doubt been the catalyst that forced a large number of employers to restructure their workforce strategies overnight. However, long before the recent shift, multiple industries had already begun waking up to the fact that labor policies put in place at the beginning of the 20th century, to a large extent for manufacturing operations, are no longer relevant and indeed can even be detrimental to the diverse needs of today’s service-based economies.

With 54% of employees in 16 countries indicating a reluctance to return to pre-Covid work routines, the global labor market is undoubtedly entering a watershed moment where offering flexibility can mean all the difference in running an adequately staffed and successful business. With millennials, who grew up during the era of smart technology and personalized service now taking over more positions from older generations, such preferences are expected to continue to grow.

Demonstrating The Success Of Workplace Flexibility 

Fortunately, for those who remain undecided on the practicality of introducing flexible work options, several regions have already experimented with employee schedule flexibility and have shown impressive results. For example, in Iceland where, beginning in 2015, the national government implemented a four-day work week trial, a shorter week actually led to either the same or a higher level of employee productivity. With employees also feeling less stressed and able to better balance both work and daily life needs, the trials have since resulted in unions renegotiating work timeframes, with 86% of Icelanders now having moved to shorter workweeks or being provided the right to do so in the future.

Other countries are also conducting their own experiments to determine the advantages of greater work flexibility. In Spain, a similar four-day workweek is being piloted. Some companies are already experiencing the benefits, with one organization noting a 30% drop in absenteeism.

Even in Japan, which has some of the longest working hours in the world, efforts are likewise underway to promote greater flexibility by providing employees with a 4-day work option. Long recognized as a nation with one of the highest employee stress levels, the Japanese government states that restructuring the workweek will not just result in reduced employee burnout but also lead to companies being able to retain experienced employees. These experienced staff may otherwise feel the necessity to resign due to schedule incompatibility.  

As more employees and businesses experience the advantages of a flexible work week, many more nations will likely follow suit. By providing staff with the freedom to decide when and how they work their hours, more studies continue to prove that productivity excels rather than diminishes. For companies seeking to retain the loyalty of their workforce while attracting new employees despite the ongoing labor shortage, adopting a flexible work schedule strategy certainly appears to offer little if any drawbacks.    

Sustainability And Workplace Flexibility Go Hand-In-Hand

With 81% of global consumers indicating that it is either very or extremely important for businesses to implement environmentally-friendly practices, work schedule flexibility can also do much to cut down a company’s carbon footprint. One example is the fact that fewer workers commuting at the same peak travel times means fewer vehicles stuck in traffic, unnecessarily burning fossil fuels.

With 77% of executives agreeing that adopting sustainable practices leads to increased customer loyalty, work schedule flexibility is set to become a vital tool not just for maintaining high productivity rates and employee satisfaction but also for preserving a company’s positive reputation with its customer base. 

Transitioning To A Flexible Work Strategy

Despite the obvious advantages of a flexible work week, many employers have simply not had the capacity or ability to manage fluctuating schedules and individual employee time needs —until recently. Thanks to advancements in A.I.-driven labor management technology, however, workplace scheduling is no longer the complex and time-consuming process it once was. Using a combination of algorithms, these platforms can instantly identify and implement work schedules that accommodate specific employee schedule preferences while ensuring that business operations are properly staffed to meet customer service demands.

In addition to AI-driven scheduling, a key to flexibility is cross-utilization, especially in the service industry, where organizations need to respond to service demands. With many peaks and valleys for direct service, staff needs to be able to contribute by doing other jobs during non-peak times to enhance flexibility while meeting customer needs. Technology that facilitates changing availability, self-shift selection based on required service time frames as well as shift swapping and heightened communication, especially through mobile devices, will facilitate the transformation to greater staff input and flexibility in the workplace. 

A final key component is also accurate business forecasting, which can also be enhanced with AI-based technology. In any operating environment, projection of expected business volume and service demand patterns is a foundational component of optimal productivity and service quality. As labor laws in various regions continue to evolve to meet employee work schedule expectations, AI-powered workforce management will increasingly prove to be not just valuable but essential to business adaptability and success in the new marketplace reality.

Originally Published in Forbes

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