The future of work top of mind for leaders in Davos

Regardless of location or industry, Covid-19 has disrupted work practices

Ohood Al Roumi, Minister of State for Government Development and the Future, told the World Economic Forum about the benefits of the UAE's new working week. Bloomberg
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Leaders from the public and private sectors gathered in Davos come from an array of sectors and countries. And while those attending the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum have a wide variety of experiences and priorities, one topic that has cut across most discussions is that of the future of work.

As the chairman and chief executive officer of ManpowerGroup, Jonas Prising, said: “Changes in work will be one of the long-lasting impacts of Covid-19.”

The realities imposed by Covid-19, including remote and flexible work, are here to stay. That much is clear. Furthermore, the current economic realities, with a competition for talent and an increase in people leaving their work around the world, now known as “the great resignation”, mean that all entities and organisations are having to consider how work is organised.

On a panel entitled The Four-Day Week: Necessity of Luxury, Mr Prising was joined by UAE Minister of State for Government Development and the Future Ohood Al Roumi, who spoke of the UAE government’s decision to implement a four-and-a-half-day week since January.

She said that the UAE implemented the new working week in government entities for four reasons: “well-being, strengthening family bonds, economic growth as people with more time off spend in the domestic market, and to better align with global markets”.

She said that since January, the UAE government has been monitoring the effect on government staff and has found that 70 per cent of employees said they were more efficient, while there was a 55 per cent drop in absenteeism.

Jonas Prising, chief executive of ManpowerGroup, speaks during a panel session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Bloomberg

Social entrepreneur Hillary Cottam said that the notion of choice is valued by workers, saying “normative changes” are now important to allow for it. The issue isn’t necessarily of four days a week, she added, but having the ability to “build work around life, rather than life around work”.

However, not all workers will be able to benefit from these changes. "We have to think beyond knowledge workers," said Mr Prising. Those who have work that is labour-intensive don’t have the same luxury, he added.

As decision-makers debate the merits of different working conditions, the vast majority of workers will not have the luxury of choice that many high-skilled workers do.

Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology at Wharton School in the University of Pennsylvania, said: “We should think of tasks that need completion ... rather than hours.” He proposed enough flexibility in organisations to “allow groups to work on projects together in teams”, rather than imposing work practices.

And yet some chief executives expressed scepticism that all industries could have the same flexibility.

While the jury is out on how the working week and hybrid work will develop, what is clear is that the norms of the past have been disrupted, and no one size fits all.

Published: May 25, 2022, 7:14 PM
OPINION