The havoc this pandemic has created in each one of our lives cannot be denied but the air we have breathed recently is the cleanest of this century. For those, who are keeping the world running, the essential services would have reached their work place with no traffic on the road and without first getting tired on the way, with all their energy to spend at work at hand. But the foremost, the extraordinary event has expanded the horizon of human mind. People would no longer live in denial of the fact that lives can change so dramatically in matter of weeks or days. Can all this be the opportunity for the phoenix to rise up from the ashes? Can the world re-design itself for the better?
The answer is that we have to. Whatever, less or more damage this virus would do, the possibility of going back to previous life without any alteration appears to be nil. Many aspects such as social distancing, less travelling would be echoing for years to come. But how it can be a blessing?
Let’s have a look at pre-covid life. Amit works in a MNC. On weekdays, most are heading to commercial hubs for work like he is and on weekends most are heading to malls or markets like he is. Thus, he ends up facing ferocious traffic congestions. He goes to office for 5-6 days a week depending on work load. He is neither giving sufficient time to his family nor for skill up gradation to keep him afloat for advent of artificial intelligence or other disruptions. He doesn’t even have time to spend money he earned. Many young Indians and millenials can relate to Amit in more than one way.
Indian population demographic is probably both, the biggest opportunity & serious threat for the Indian economy. India’s current work force is just little shy from half billion. In next 10-12 years, around 200 million of new young Indians would join the workforce. AI, Jobless growth, literacy standards have turned the odds dramatically against employing even half of these new 200 million restless minds. If we are able to channelize the potential of these 200 million young minds then India would become part of unprecedented growth story. Unemployed people neither pay taxes nor provide services nor contribute much to demand & consumption. They can be swayed easily to crime/chaos, thus make governance difficult. Therefore, if unemployment is not checked then India may fall of its own weight. Another dangerous issue standing on the doorstep is the number of people employed in logistics, tourism and hospitality as it is about to take major hit.
We have seen our elders to spend their whole life on one kind of skill/job/business & survived the advent of computers. We are unable to realize that we are in faster changing world than they were. A single skill may not last lifetime. The Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D printing would pose a severe threat to the generations of middle class if they don’t learn to train them to survive in future. The mighty Indian IT revolution in the governance-for a spot check! Time has always been constraint for the ambitious great Indian middle-class. This is not a solipsistic disruption but an intrinsically adaptive pleiotropism of DNA of Indian economy. Things are bound to show these adaptations when extent of competition is going to be fierce day by day.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” ― Henry Ford
The social distancing is here to stay for a significant time, may be even for years. Social distancing can only be achieved by reducing the population density which is hard to achieve in commercially active hotspots. So, dispersing population density across the space and time is the way to go. However, the good news is that the broadened horizon due to recent events can help us adopt methods which we may not just sometime back. Anytime to achieve something, first thing that gets changed is our daily routine. In this fast changing world, sticking to same 5 day work week may not be a smart idea anymore. Cost of not expecting an innovative outcome is grotesquely more than not allowing it to happen. And the innovation is The Shorter Work-Weeks or flexible work hours. Rather than getting the lot of work done by lot of people in less time, the idea is to disperse the work and people in 24 hour, 7 days a week. Economy should work round the clock for all days. The idea was conceptualized around 3 years back but would have been ridiculed at that time. But this world event has changed perspective globally and would now let people see the merit without preconceived notions.
The average work span of an individual is between 40-45 hours per week. Studies have already shown that 5 day 8-9 hour is not the most productive way. There exist atleast one way in which we can achieve the same productivity with more creativity and innovation in working only 3.5-4 days a week. In the same week, one can devote at least half-day a week to learn new relevant skills. If two persons work on the same spot for half week each then we can achieve 7 days a week economy. There should not be a distinction between weekday and weekend. Every day is weekday for one and weekend for other.
This may not only improve the current scenario for all the stakeholders such as employee, consumer, employer, producer and government in many ways but may have positive impact on employment, education, congestion, pollution, social engagement, and economic growth etc.
First, GDP would get a boost up when both consumption and economic activities increases by virtue of extra-time for both consumer and enterprise. Financial services, public services, markets etc. remain open 7 days a week for any prospect customer. All Indian commercial activities would be in full swing for all days of year as opposed to 5-6 days per week. Increased production would offset increased demand lowering the risk of inflation/deflation: a breather for Indian economy and hypothesis less result for Indian policy makers. Higher consumption will lead to higher GDP.
Second, India is a young country. Around 40% of the country is of age below 21 years. In the next decade, to employ the employable youth we need to create a little less than half of current capacity. Not engaging this new workforce is a serious threat to economic stability of nation. Probably, the Citizens who are settled or are beginning to settle in their life may have myopic view and may not be ready to give anything of their own settled ways to pave way to these new 200 mn young ones. Productive time will be added to people’s life span to spend more time with family which is a grisly issue in metropolitan life-style. The time spent on the road to commute to office per day would be saved by individual every week. Also Financial intermediaries, markets, government offices would be open round the week to service the citizens.
Creation of half week shift would result in immediate increase in employment. Further, AI would also need its development, maintenance, regulation and production. These would be high value addition jobs, if came to India would be positive in many ways. Opportunities such as Consulting and freelancing in areas of technology, creative and social skill would become abundant to relatively higher or multi skilled individuals. Therefore, citizens to find them in favorable position need time to upgrade themselves which would be duly accessible to them this way. Highly skilled citizens will not lose relevancy and therefore sense of security.
Third, 5 day work week concept is almost as old as the current schooling system. Probably the fallacy of current education content and whole system is beyond debate. Despite that the extant of its deep roots is still making it bloom. On the other hand, if citizens who would be constantly upgrading their skills and have first hand exposure of the industry interacts with mind sponge of young kids in schools would not yield less than wonders.
Fourth, bigger and diversified weekend may increase the tourism create better economies of scale for tourism and opportunities for Incredible India to emerge as global tourism destination. One of the industry which would be most affected is tourism, If this step not taken then Private investment for infrastructure developments for tourism will not remain viable and government may end up spending a lot to revive it which would have consequence of its own. However, because of more free time led increased tourism would solve this problem from root.
Fifth, If employees are to work in two batches then an organization can work for 7 days a week for more hours per day. Therefore, the infrastructure cost of the organization will come down because this is not challenging the constraints of existing infrastructure. The production capacity will increase while no additional capital investment. The only pain is that organizations would need to re-structure the management of resources, timelines but definitely this would not the only reason to re- structure it in coming years.
It will help in better capacity management by service provider. One of many examples is of a commercial mall. Commercial activity in shopping malls is low on weekdays but very high on weekends. This uneven demand is problem not only for seller but for buyer as well. This move will streamline the demand; reduce costs for both seller and buyer. It will also help in optimized use of public resources such as parking and public transport etc.
Sixth, Employees working in two shifts a week will reduce the traffic congestion with higher speed of movement of vehicles would result in lower wastage of fuel by virtue of better mileage. Thereby, lowering the pollution which has become great menace in metropolitans? It would also save our forex because of low consumption of Crude oil used for office commutation. Lower import bill, higher tourism and out sourcing of highly skilled citizens would certainly ease the forex reserve and ease the trade deficit.
Seventh, India as a nation has been a great admirer of family values. Studies have shown that higher working hours has lead to increased number of divorces. Individuals can then spend more time with their spouse, kids and parents.
Citizens with some free time at their hand should also be engaged in flagship programs such as Swach Bharat and Beti Bachao Bati Padao, teach poor kid in government schools etc. as per citizen’s skill and interest. Citizens who work in different industries would give first hand information to underprivileged. This way, we can truly include and empower the underprivileged to prosperous future. Feeling of patriotism through such an interface would empower citizens towards nation building.
Re-aligning of focus and energy for self improvement, sustenance and nation building is the target by optimizing the current work style and ecosystem and should not be misunderstood with lower work and responsibility. This policy measure has been designed to trim out the inefficiencies in our daily routine and make way for more efficient best practices. Each policy has many stakeholder, it is emphasized that every stakeholder should be all better except for some pain on the way.
All of this requires a modification of current work ecosystem through participation of all stakeholders. Undoubtedly, there will be concerns as well. Evolution has taught us that nothing is free from fault but the journey to create the apt ecosystem and pragmatic incentives to stakeholders should begin. Extreme team spirit needs to be encouraged from top to bottom for a great vision of 2022 of our Prime Minister.
Although, this may not be implemented in days and requires adaption, creation of ecosystem, debates and discussions among stakeholders. Nothing to lose but to try, the imagination of shorter workweek is phenomenally convincing!
The author is a government servant. However, the views expressed are personal.