Research suggests that UK workers are under more pressure and are more stressed now than at any other time in the past 25 years. Leaders from the TUC to the shadow chancellor are calling on a four-day working week as the answer. While some businesses have welcomed the idea with open arms, many are still fearful of the impact of reduced working hours on company productivity.
If a four-day week is to be achieved, we need to find a solution that releases the burden from workers, whilst maintaining business efficiency and output. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are pivotal but there is an urgent need for businesses to redesign operational processes and rethink automation in order to provide a better employee experience.
We have already witnessed how sophisticated digital colleagues have entered organisations, creating a hybrid-workforce, to help ease employees’ existing workload while maintaining on-demand access for customers and clients. With their conversational and cognitive abilities, virtual colleagues are already liberating us humans from time-consuming, repetitive (and, frankly, boring) tasks.
Unlike humans, virtual assistants can work around the clock, seven days a week, without so much as needing a tea break. By becoming workers’ eyes-and-ears out of hours, virtual assistants can respond to customer, client or employee queries at any time of day. Or, thanks to the emotional intelligence incorporated in more sophisticated solutions, they can recognise urgent or emotionally charged emails that immediately need the employee to jump online. This means that the employee isn’t constantly monitoring their emails but can switch off, knowing that any urgent items requiring attention will be flagged immediately. In the future, we will all have the possibility of working with a top-grade digital concierge that interacts with all work-systems, to whom we can delegate tasks.
Automating tasks will significantly reduce employees’ workloads, helping us become more productive than ever before. Not only will this be a critical enabler for businesses to confidently reduce working hours without compromising efficiency, but it will also improve employee satisfaction as their office hours focus on more challenging, creative and emotionally resonant tasks.
As we venture into new areas of collaboration for humans and machines, we can enhance both the employees experience and drive better customer engagements. It’s no longer a bold idea to consider a four-day week, it’s all about the power of intelligently orchestrated AI.
In addition, ‘business-as-usual’ doesn’t need to be put on hold when employees leave the office, and it can also help to eliminate the ‘always-on’ mentality that has become so ingrained in our office culture.
The blend of human potential with advanced AI technologies will enable workers to add more value in the workplace. With reports that the UK workers’ unpaid overtime amounted to £32 billion last year, it’s time that businesses start investing in AI to drive productivity and improve the overall employee experience. Companies investing in a ‘hybrid-workforce’ will no doubt see a huge reduction in employee workloads, an increase in productivity as well as staff satisfaction, and will, therefore, be the pioneers of the four-day week.
The four-day week is increasingly becoming a conversation in the HR space, as although it may be difficult to adapt to this new culture, many are already examining the benefits of this.
“One of the reasons why we work this way is because we were standardized around this structure because of historical structure, for example, in India, they work six days a week. So I think that a four-day working week is definitely possible.” said Zoe Cunningham, Managing Director, Softwire.
“I think that’s a challenge when you’re working with people who are working five days a week because you have this concept of what happened on the day you’re not there. But I’m very opposed to a concept of working where people have to be instantly available.”
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“Businesses that support it will again be able to employ a range of employees that they might not have had access to otherwise, particularly senior women”
With AI being implemented further into businesses and increasingly more employers considering this new working style, it could be only a matter of time we see this new week of working become standardized.