The appearance of COVID-19 has revolutionized the way work is carried out globally. Suddenly, we have realized that we don’t all have to be in the office and the factory at the same time. Suddenly we have unanimously agreed that we do not have to throng the streets in our cars and more so that some things can wait.
We have developed COVID-INTEL and COVID STRATEGIES to help us navigate the complexities that this pandemic has brought on us. Employers have realized that there are other ways of ensuring efficiency and productivity without the screaming and the management-by-walking. In addition, we have ‘re-discovered’ or shored up our appreciation of the technology available to us and are striving to harness the use of these technologies for achievement of work and personal objectives.
Many countries have long adopted flexi-time and work-rotations such as UK, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, etc. Whiles in some European, Far East, Asian and American nations, flexi-time is used, the concept has largely remained a theory in most part of Africa. With the exception of people who do business on line, most people have to physically be in the office from Monday to Friday and sometimes Saturdays from 8.00 am 5.00 pm.
Currently our work schedule, (i.e. everyone going to work from Monday to Friday 8am-5pm) has negative effects on our economy and lives. The single shift of 8 am-5pm with everyone going to work at the same time means more demand for fuel, more cars on the road and greater traffic congestion besides the negative effects it has on health and healthcare costs.
First, more demand for fuel results in hikes in fuel prices as demand chases supply. The less demand of fuel, the lower the price of fuel and subsequently the reduced snowball effect on cost of goods and services.
Secondly, traffic congestion has serious ramifications on productivity hours. Thousands of people are locked in traffic every day from six-thirty (6:30 am) to about nine o’clock (9.00 am) every day. This occurs on all major roads in the major cities across the nation. Examples include the Accra-Tema motorway, Adenta-Accra, Mallam-Odorkor-Kaneshie-Accra road, Tema-Nungua-Accra road, Ashongman-Accra, Spintex Road-Accra, Ofankor-Accra roads etc. The cumulative losses in productivity hours have dire consequences on our GDP and economic growth. Due to traffic congestion, there are delayed times and reduced productivity hours as people work less and less hours than required because of time spent coming to the office and early departure from offices to beat the traffic.
However, COVID-19 has brought changes to our lives and work arrangements. As a result of the partial lockdown, most work places resorted to working from home and there are still portions of workers who work from home though restriction on movement has been lifted. Churches are conducting services online and going to other places and meetings which hitherto were deemed crucial have now been reduced to non-essential travel.
So from all that is happening, one fact is certain. We can have flexi-time work arrangement in Ghana and still be able to go on with work and life. There are many benefits that as a country we can gain from adopting flexi-time and/or multiple work schedules:
The first economic benefit will be the cost of office accommodation. We can reduce the cost of setting up an office- building or renting a premise, purchasing furniture, air-conditions and other requirements. This can significantly impact on the cost of doing business positively.
Secondly, cost of setting up an office can be diverted into hiring more staff thus reducing unemployment (cumulatively). With a few ‘essential’ staff manning the office effectively, more staff can be employed to beef up production and service delivery.
Thirdly, the adoption and dependence on technology will significantly increase our deployment of technology and foster more ‘technopreneurship’. The world is moving more and more towards advanced technology adoption and AI and Africa needs not lag behind.
Fourthly, less cars on the road means, less air pollution. Environmental reports of the effects of COVID-19 indicate that the lockdown has reduced emissions by a great degree resulting in less pollution during the period.
Lastly, adopting flexi-time or multiple work schedules can result in increased employment chances.
There are three (3) modalities of flexi-time Ghana can adopt:
- One (1) work schedule (8.00 am to 5.00 pm) with some working from home
- Two (2) Shifts divided into Eight hours (8) hours each- From 6:00 am to 2.00 pm and then 2.00pm to 10:00 pm
- Three (3) Shifts of Eight hours each: 6:00 am to 2.00 pm, 2.00pm to 10:00 pm and then 10:00 pm to 6:00 am
Options 2 and 3 will greatly increase job opportunities.
Police work can be re-designed to focus more on community policing than workplace monitoring as the greater number of people will be home-based thus making room for more deployment in the police force thus reducing unemployment further.
From all the above points raised, I believe it is time for Ghana to consider flexi-time work arrangements. If and when we adopt this working arrangement, it will provide opportunity for more work-life balance, reduce waste in productivity hours, increase employment chances, increase opportunity for Ghanaians to engage in more sporting and physical exercises to improve health in addition to all the benefits highlighted above.
Policy-makers and business think-tanks should consider the adoption of flexi-time in Ghana. It’s about time!!
The writer is a senior lecturer and AG. Director of Professional programmes UPSA