It sounds counterintuitive: work one day less but get the same amount of work, or perhaps even more, done. But that’s exactly what the four-day workweek movement proposes and achieves. When New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian famously tried a four day week, they counted improved staff morale and decreased stress levels as benefits without any loss of output. And Microsoft Japan cited increased productivity and a 23 per cent energy saving when they reduced working hours similarly.
We often hear that the answer to improving output is to work smarter rather than harder. This is why automation is such a powerful lever. By removing repetitive, mind-numbing and time-consuming tasks from the workday, people can feel more refreshed, be better engaged with the work they do and get more done as they can achieve a state of flow in their work.
Achieving that sense of flow when we work requires three things; we need an achievable goal, the skills to do the task, and few interruptions. The work also needs to be challenging, not too easy and not so hard as to be discouraging. When we have people working at their best, this is the state they spend the most time in.
And with the COVID-19 pandemic causing people to reconsider their relationship to work, and the need for many to work from home, the four day week gives businesses a model for how their staff can deliver the outcomes required while giving them the opportunity to harmonise the relationship between their personal and work lives. And with it becoming increasingly challenging to attract and retain talent, removing boring work and giving people space to recalibrate their work/life balance, automation can shift the balance.
With advances in technology, automation of business processes can enable Australians to reclaim one of the only resources that we know is completely irreplaceable, time. Removing boring tasks enables businesses to increase productivity and creativity, and it reduces workplace stress and boredom.
Often, when businesses think about automation, they take a broad view. But when we scratch the surface we discover that it’s not entire jobs that can be automated but specific tasks. For example, an accounts payable worker might extract data from the finance system each morning. That task might take a couple of hours each morning. Each step in that task is understood and is the same each day, making it a great candidate for automation and letting that staff member reclaim a couple of hours each day. At the end of a week, that’s a full day that can be saved.
As well as saving lots of time, intelligent automation reduces stress and boredom. Tobias Lutke, CEO of Shopify, recently tweeted, “For creative work, you can’t cheat. My (belief) is that there are five creative hours in everyone’s day.” By ‘decluttering’ the workday of boring and repetitive tasks through automation, you can create more room for those five high-value hours.
We know that innovation is key to economic growth and survival. Reimagining how to do a specific task, seeing a new sales channel or having an idea for a new product or service can only happen when people have the space in their day to think creatively. When we are trapped in mundane, mind-numbing tasks we are not able to think in new innovative ways.
It has been 70 years since the arrival of the weekend in Australia. The real question is are we ready to trade in some of our increased productivity for a life with more free time for family, friends and enjoyment and relaxation? Automation can improve work-life balance without compromising productivity.