Intelligent automation is the key to Aussies enjoying a 4-day work week

It sounds counterintuitive – work one day less but get the same amount of work done, or perhaps even more. But that’s exactly what the four-day work week movement proposes.

When New Zealand’s Perpetual Guardian tried a four day week, they counted improved staff morale and low stress levels as benefits without any loss of output. Microsoft Japan cited increased productivity and a 23% energy saving when they reduced working hours similarly.

How does automation reduce work hours?

We often hear that the answer to improving output is to work smarter rather than harder. And the basic solution to this dilemma is automation. It is such a powerful lever.

By removing repetitive and time consuming tasks from the work day, people can feel more refreshed, be better engaged with the work they do, and get more done as they are able to 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.

How did the pandemic change Australia’s work approach?

And with the COVID-19 pandemic causing people to reconsider their relationship to work, the four day week gives businesses a model for how their staff can deliver the outcomes required while also harmonising the relationship between their personal and work lives.

And with it becoming challenging to attract and retain talent, removing boring work and giving people space to recalibrate their work/life balance, automation can shift the balance. The advent of the five-day working week in 1948 brought us a great boon: the weekend.

The ability to enjoy more leisure time meant Aussies had time to invest in more recreational pursuits, which boosted spending on sports, major events, travel, tourism and hospitality.

With advances in tech, automation of business processes can enable Aussies 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.

How can employers adopt automation to work models?

When people are less bored they can achieve a state of flow and become more productive. They can actually do more in less time, leading to increased productivity. This enables them to be as productive, if not more in four days as they were in five.

It may be the answer to reducing absenteeism rates, burnout, anxiety and turbocharging growth in our economy in new ways. And it could help us feel less stressed and give us time to invest in relationships and our own health and well-being providing the right balance.

Often, when businesses think of automation, they take a broad view. But when we scratch the surface we discover that it’s not entire jobs to be automated. Rather, specific tasks.

For example, an accounts payable worker might extract information from the finance system each morning, produce an aged debtors report, highlight customers whose bills are more than 30 days overdue and send them a standard reminder email.

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 lets that member reclaim a couple of hours each day. At the end of a week, a full day that can be saved.

How does intelligent automation affect employees?

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 5 creative hours in everyone’s day.” By ‘decluttering’ the workday of 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. Re-imagining 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 free time with family, friends and enjoyment? Automation can improve work life balance without compromising productivity.

 

Leigh Pullen is the CEO at CiGen