Running a “knowledge-based business” is a key factor to maintaining employee efficiency and optimum operations as companies are steadily adopting flexible work schedules, said Dr Mohamed Althaf, director, LuLu Group International.
Althaf made the statement in a panel discussion during the ‘Commonwealth Trade & Investment Summit 2021: Build Back Business’, a virtual business-to-government Commonwealth summit hosted Tuesday from London with participation from across the 54 member nations.
During the discussion, which carried the theme ‘The Shape of the 21st Century Workplace: New challenges, New opportunities’, Althaf emphasised that aside from IT companies, “every business today is part of a knowledge-based economy.”
Althaf also noted that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced companies to allow employees to ‘work-from-home’, flexible working was becoming “increasingly acceptable” with many organisations. He stressed that this was driven by “workforce globalisation” and technologies that allow people to work “anytime and anywhere.”
“The need to attract and retain top talent has been another factor that has pushed many organisations into offering more flexible working options. Covid-19 has accelerated this transition. Lockdown restrictions around the world meant that those who could had to work from home; this has created challenges, opportunities, and problems.
“The shift to a fully flexible working model forced by Covid-19 was so sudden that many organisations and many employees were not prepared for it. As a result, there are now several challenges to overcome to ensure this model works for all,” Althaf explained.
But while ‘flexible work’ has been described as “the way of the future,” Athaf maintained that ‘face-to-face’ customer interaction is a big component in the retail industry.
“A flexible work environment with the option to work remotely is often not an option. While work-life balance may seem like one of the biggest benefits of flexible working, it can also be one of the greatest challenges.
“The struggle to separate peoples’ personal lives from their work commitments and switch off at the end of the day is leading to more stress and anxiety among some employees,” Althaf emphasised.
But Althaf believes “some part of the retail jobs will be flexible and will become remote.”
“The success and expansion in online retail have made location less important than talent. Instead of being on the shop floor as a sales representative, one can be an online personal shopper or an online customer service representative, and if your company has adopted a modern IT infrastructure, you can also work from home and analyse buying patterns or keep track of sales trends using real-time data,” said Althaf.
He emphasised: “But the emergence of e-commerce is not the only factor. A major part that every business, including the retail sector, has become is ‘knowledge-based business’ – it has become data-driven; every business uses some degree of analytical, machine learning, artificial intelligence. For a knowledge-based economy, location is not important.”
According to Althaf, flexible work schedules “can definitely increase” female labour participation and senior workers participation, citing longer life expectancy and advancements in health.
“They say if you are healthy and fit to work when you are 65, chances are you can continue to work till your mid-'80s. This will drive overall productivity and prosperity upwards.
“It is very hard to future proof skills, training, and education. No innovation is possible without a good foundation and fundamentals. They must be prepared for lifelong learning and engagement. But education will also become more flexible and more modular and far more accessible to everyone,” Althaf pointed out.