Friday, October 24, 2008

Death of nine to five

The way we will make our employees work in the future will radically change; and those companies that understand this and adapt the fastest will survive. If your best employees have to be retained and motivated, then perish the thought of the 9-to-5 worker!

A survey done in UK recently revealed some interesting facts. When asked where they would prefer to work, some 15% of the respondents said they preferred to work from their garden – especially when it’s sunny!! That’s an interesting dimension. Today, the definition of work, of work place, of work culture, has changed. Not just this, today’s workforce has started to think differently, especially the younger lot. Their opinions about work, and work life are radically different from the older lot. According to an online survey conducted by Nielson, maintaining work-life balance is the biggest concern for 20 percent of Indians. Our economy is doing good as compared to the past, hence a plethora of opportunities have opened up for Indians. They have more choices today, and salaries are better as well. However, all this doesn’t come free; it demands long hours, which seem to be taking their toll. Like every emerging market, Indians too are faced with the work-life balance dilemma. Being emotional people, we worry about the happiness of our parents at home, unlike Americans who worry more about their post-retirement plans, the state of the economy, or Europeans who worry more about global warming. So our demands from the workplace are changing too; and as a result, companies are changing also to accommodate the changing preferences.

Flexi-time, flexi-location:

In Fortune magazine’s survey of the ‘100 Best US Companies’, 79 allowed their employees to work from home at least 20 percent of their time. Various new concepts have emerged like ‘teleworking’, flexi-working, part-time working – each meaning different things. Teleworking means working from an alternative work place – either home or a satellite office i.e. an office away from actual work place. So some days they work from the main, central office; and on other days, from an alternate one. Literally, teleworking means “working at a distance.” Flexi-working is having flexible timings, while part-time – as the word says – means working part of the day. These are the new trends catching up.

These trends are fast catching up in India too as our working population gets conscious about lifestyles and family time etc. Today, Cognizant Technology Solution is encouraging its employees to work from home at least one day in a week. In the future i.e. by the year 2020, they aim to make 20 percent of their workforce work from home. Cisco, a computer networking company, says that out of a total of 60,000 employees, about 12,000 telework. Wipro too wants a third of its employees to work from home in the future. In fact, it’s Godrej in India that pioneered the concept of ‘flexi-time’ years ago. They felt it was good for their female employees to cope better with work and stress. Some feel this even results in increased productivity. What’s interesting is that there’s much more to it than just making employees happy.

Flexi-time to improve balance sheets:

Be it flexi-time or teleworking, these have become tools to help companies spruce-up their balance sheets. They are not just keeping employees happy but helping the company reduce costs as well.

The Department of Telecommunication announced recently the concept of “Home Agents”. Through this system, BPO employees can log into their call centre systems and start operating from anywhere. These work-from-anywhere BPO agents will not only make their lives easier but will save the company huge costs. The company would now be able to save on electricity costs, transportation costs, and employee seating costs too. Not just this, with space requirement reducing, companies would save on real-estate costs too – which is a big saving. So, with this, operational costs and fixed costs both get reduced.

Encouraged by these facts, Governor John Baldacci of Maine has introduced flexible schedules, telecommuting and a four-day work week for his government employees. His mission – to help each employee save on fuel costs and in turn help the state cut its overall energy usage. That is a big bonus – happy employees and happy employer.

With the sub-prime crisis of the US and a slowing of the world economy, companies today need to have a firm hand in dealing with costs. Traditionally, the ways to deal with a slowdown were – decrease in increments, decrease in hiring of new employees, making deadlines more strict and so on. However, today employers are realising these may not be the best ways to reduce costs. The Silicon Valley bust in US gave birth to the concepts of flexi-time and working from home, which have proved to be efficient methods of reducing costs.

Intelligent organisations are slowly but surely adopting unique ways of working and changing their organisations. Workforce planning is today the most integral part of any business plan. Plan to cut down costs slowly and systematically before one day suddenly you realise that a large scale lay-off is the only way to save the company.

Helping you save the best

Employees are your greatest asset and if you have to let them go because of an economic slowdown and escalating costs, that’s the saddest thing. According to yet another study, average salary projections for 2009 are lower than the current year. How do you keep your best people? Not just retaining them, how do you keep them motivated and happy?

This is your chance to help them strike a lovely work/life balance. Flexi hours and teleworking are ideas that have been tried and tested and are proven to work. Contrary to popular belief, they increase productivity & the happiness quotient of employees.

Moreover, with technological advancements and the growth of wireless technologies, it has become all the more easier to implement these new ideas. When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he probably did not realise then that this fashionable gadget would help the world fight its biggest economic slowdown due to subprime crisis. Yes, wi-fis, iPhones, affordable laptops et al are giving people the flexibility of working from anywhere. The way we will work in the future is going to be very different and the company that adapts itself the fastest will survive. The employees of the future will live differently and work differently. Remember, the future will have no place for the traditional ways of working. It’s time we realise this and accept the death of the nine-to-five workday.

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