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The race to a flexible workplace

BY: SGI|2 May 2019
BLOG| Evolving world of work

Currently, there are two opposite workplace evangelists making headlines. There’s Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma – worth $39.3-billion – on the one side, extolling the virtues of the 996; a 72-hour, 9am to 9pm, six-day work-week. On the other side, there’s Perpetual Guardian’s founder and CEO Andrew Barnes preaching the merits of a four-day work week. Both models have been praised and criticised, with the four-day work week being trialled in a few countries, like the Netherlands and New Zealand.


The four-day week – longer working hours across the four days compensate for the three-day weekend – seems a fitting extension of the ubiquitous ‘flexible workplace’ conversation happening around the world. Most studies have found favourable results from employees having increased flexibility, with a study of the Perpetual Guardian four-day trial showing a 20% improvement in productivity.


Ma says he doesn’t want workers unwilling to put in the time (aka 12 hours a day!). However, his model might just be in jeopardy in the future. In fact, a survey of 15 000 business people in 80 countries by the International Workplace Group found 80% of workers would choose the flexible working option when deciding between two employment offers. It also found 50% of employees worldwide are spending 2.5 days a week out the office, and 85% of the participants believe flexibility has improved their workplace’s productivity. (You can just hear Barnes gloating in the background, can’t you?).


Another recent study by Adler surveyed 1000 UK workers and found the number one most desired workplace benefit is flexible working (48%), which beat out pension schemes and performance bonuses! Closer to home, the City of Cape Town is implementing flexi hours in order to combat the Cape’s appalling traffic congestion issues.


The results are in, flexibility is in favour, and it has big implications for organisational design and the workplace of tomorrow.


Here are four ways flexibility could change the ‘office’ of the future:

1. Maternity and paternity benefits will be more flexible

South Africa is not bad as far as maternity benefits go but we’re nowhere near as progressive as we should be from a paternity leave perspective, despite the recent increase from three to 10 days. ‘Scandi’ countries currently come out tops, with women able to have a year of maternity leave plus 100% pay, and men able to take over two weeks leave. Ideally, we need a ‘x-ternity’ leave policy, which isn’t linked to gender and allows guardians to share their allocated leave however they choose. When back at work, flexi hours enable parents to achieve more of that elusive work-life balance, which ultimately means happier, more productive employees.


2. Office design will change considerably

Say bye-bye to open-plan! A recent Raconteur article asks preeminent business people and architects to reimagine the office space in line with the workplace of the future. The consensus? Flexible working will demand a new kind of office, full of unique spaces which can be changed to suit different demands. There’ll be socialising spaces, co-working and collab hot-spots, plus smart ‘pods’ that can either be converted into private nooks or meet-up crannies – like the one pioneered as ‘Project Jack’ for Google’s London office.


Andy Heath, design director for WeWork, calls the movement ‘the cellularisation of different-sized, reconfigurable spaces’. Creating a sense of community through social spaces will be a must, especially given the prospective loneliness of employees who spend increasing time working remotely. The article also suggests more hybridisation, with the outdoor coming indoors, and community spaces merging with offices – like basements being used as ‘maker spaces’ and learning areas popping up everywhere.


At SGI, we imagine many of the reconfigurable spaces being places where you can fit in quick, snackable online study amidst busy work days. Then some yoga upstairs in the zen pod, perhaps?


3. Say sayonara to presenteeism

The persistent problem of presenteeism – distracted workers in the workplace – might lessen considerably following more flexible working. At the moment, it costs SA businesses about R89-billion annually. However, if people are controlling their own hours, they’re often likely to be more focused and better at prioritising tasks. This certainly seems true in the ‘let’s fit five days into four days’ case studies so far. People work optimally at different hours of the day – that’s a proven fact. So why not let people choose to work when they know they’re at their best?


There are, undoubtedly, pros and cons to more flexibility for employers and employees. On the downside, there can be increased stress from trying to pack more into a shorter space of time, and there’s potential burn-out from needing to be on-hand and connected constantly. But, so far, the pros certainly seem to outweigh the negatives and more and more businesses are moving to flexible working – primarily so they can keep attracting the top talent they need.


4. There’ll be more time for study

We’re certain that another reason more companies will hop aboard the flexi-train is the fact that the model better facilitates flexible online learning, giving people the opportunity to optimally structure their days to accommodate both.


The sweeping movement to online education ties in perfectly to the rise of the flexi-workplace. Why? Because both are flexible and convenient! If you’re determining your work and study hours, you can optimally structure your day to allow plenty of time for both. This makes you a valuable resource and ensures you can continuously refresh your skillset to stay in-demand and relevant amidst the changes of Industry 4.0.


To find out more about how we can help you to learn while you (flexibly) earn, visit our course pages.


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