office chair with sign "gone fishing" taped on it

Can Automation Facilitate the 15-Hour Workweek?

4 minute read
Ryan Duguid avatar
Can we use technology to work fewer hours, more efficiently?

In the corporate world, the idea of logging just 15 hours at the office each week is wishful thinking. But in 1930, it was a real prediction from one of the world’s most respected economists.

Following the second industrial revolution, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandchildren would work only three hours each weekday, thanks to the evolving role of technology in the workplace.

That prediction, as we know, didn’t shake out. Not even close. Instead, we’re all working longer hours. So where did Keynes’ thinking go wrong? And if a 15-hour workweek isn’t achievable, can we still use technology to work fewer hours, more efficiently?

The Element Keynes Didn’t Foresee

Instead of working less, most of us are working more. According to Gallup data, the average full-time US worker now logs 47 hours per week — nearly a full extra workday beyond what was previously the 40-hour norm.

How did reality end up so misaligned with Keynes’ prediction?

First, we have to consider the times. From 1919 to 1925, the United States experienced a 40 percent increase in factory output. Based on that growth rate, Keynes assumed that technological efficiency would enable human workloads to fall to his predicted three hours per day.

What Keynes couldn’t have anticipated, however, was the unstoppable rise of administrative functions in nearly every white-collar job. These days, whether you’re a market researcher, a teacher, an entrepreneur or a doctor, you can expect to spend hours of your day engaged in tasks that don’t necessarily feel like what you’ve been hired to do.

Many of these administrative tasks are critical — doctors taking important notes about patients’ conditions, for example. But some functions definitely aren’t very important &mdash like filling out three paper forms to get your computer fixed. As a result, many employees end up spending much of their workdays performing unengaging tasks that are burning them out and sending them looking for other jobs.

If we can’t make the 15-hour workweek a reality, can we at least harness technology to reduce the demands of unnecessary administrative tasks?

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: How to Escape the Productivity Paradox

Working Smarter With Process Automation

Most employees have observed broken functions throughout their organizations — in activities ranging from contract management to employee onboarding to document-sharing.

When processes are broken, employees end up wasting time troubleshooting so work can get moving again. This strain ultimately impacts not only their work, but also their resolve: Many employees look for new jobs as a result of broken processes.

Fortunately, enterprise leaders can often improve efficiency and morale by incorporating process automation tools to drive changes. These changes may not bring about the 15-hour workweek, but they will help employees work more efficiently — and be happier about the work they do. Here are three tips to get started with process automation tools in your workplace:

  1. Identify inefficient processes. Before automating any task, it’s important to understand which processes cause the most trouble. Data is your friend in this process. If your organization requires employees to log their time, time sheets provide a treasure trove of actionable data. Employee interviews and focus groups can also prove valuable for determining where employee time is being wasted and where it can be better applied. Understanding what slows down workers represents an important step in driving organizational efficiency.
  2. Determine which processes are right for automation. Just because a process consumes many hours doesn’t necessarily make it a good candidate for automation. Some processes, for example, are inherently problematic and therefore not productive to automate. An IT approvals process that involves a string of arbitrary and unnecessary approvals won’t be “solved” with automation, since it’s a bad process to begin with. But there are many other functions that can benefit from automation with the help of user-friendly productivity tools.
  3. Approach change incrementally. No workplace can solve its inefficiencies overnight. Instead, it’s advisable to take an intentional, incremental approach to process automation. Rather than implement a sweeping automation plan, companies should instead divide their plan into immediate, mid-range and long-term objectives. A good first step is to map out all the processes you already have in place, and then identify clear redundancies and points of inefficiency. This is the “low-hanging fruit” that can be promptly addressed with the right process management tool.

The 15-hour workweek may not be a realistic goal. But by understanding how certain tasks distract us from more valuable work — and how automation can change that — we can at least move a little closer to a saner and more engaged work life.

Related Article: Hitting the Middle Ground in Process Automation

About the author

Ryan Duguid

Ryan brings more than 20 years of global IT experience to Nintex where he is responsible for defining and promoting the company’s product strategy to help people easily solve their business process problems. Prior to joining Nintex in 2012, Ryan was at Microsoft and responsible for the content management business in the SharePoint Product Group.