How cobots could soon make four-hour days a reality

Posted by
Harriet Little

When the futurologist who forecast driverless cars has something to say, we listen. And when what he’s saying is that the office day might shrink to four hours over the next few decades we listen very, very carefully. 

Dolly Parton sang about working nine to five, but you might not have to. According to a new report by futurist James Wallman for Yell, daydreams of clocking off at lunchtime may become a reality thanks to the rise of robotic colleagues called ‘cobots’. 

We know working eight hours or more every day isn’t good for our health, increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. It’s also not good for business, because people are only really productive and creative for about half the typical working day.

Wallman says that at the moment we can’t limit our work to the shorter hours we know are better for us because so much time gets eaten up by admin – ordering office supplies, and filing invoices, for example. But when affordable robots can take on these tasks, he predicts businesses will shorten office hours and in doing so boost happiness and productivity.

We’ll soon be rubbing shoulders with mechanical colleagues. But will they join the tea rota? 

Of course as well as the tech innovations. there’s a big cultural shift that needs to take place before this idea will become mainstream; Wallman estimates that the majority of businesses will be working shorter hours in 2040.

If it sounds hard to believe just think about work culture in Denmark, where it’s already seen as bad protocol to work late hours. Even though Danes spend less time in the office, they’re the second most productive workers in the EU.

In lots of countries there’s been a shift over the last few years towards companies taking the health of their employees more seriously. Arianna Huffington is a powerful advocate for reducing women’s stress at work, and insists we need to spend more time in bed than in the office.

Wallman says that by using cobots to reduce hours, workers will then be able to specialise in jobs that need a human touch. We predict the next hot topic around the water cooler will be cobot etiquette: researchers at the University of California are currently teaching their robotic colleague Baxter how to give high-fives so he feels part of the team. Cute.

Images: Unsplash