The Four-Day work week

The challenge of maintaining a work-life balance has become increasingly hard, especially with the last two years of work from home due to the COVID pandemic and a four-day week seems like one way in which to address this challenge. The discussion around a four-day work week has been gaining momentum over the last few years with proponents citing successful trials by companies showing improved employee engagement and happiness, with no discernible loss in productivity.

I foresee several challenges with this, especially in professions that traditionally billed by the hour, such as consulting. If the above claim is to be believed, then that implies that the same amount of value will be created in 32 hours that used to be created in 40. In turn, that would imply that the rate per hour would be increased, to compensate the fact that the four-day week does not imply a reduction in salary for the employee. In essence, we would be passing this cost onto our clients and we’re assuming that the value conversation remains equitable. With independent consultants, this would simply mean that they would continue to work 40+ hours per week and would now justifiably be able to increase their rates by around 20%. It would be very hard in my opinion to convince a client that this is equitable.

Another place where this will be a challenge is in areas such as 24×7 support. In this scenario we would need four six-hour shifts, instead of the previous three eight-hour shifts. To achieve the increased number of shifts, at least one extra person will be required by the company providing the service. This will result in a 25% increase in servicing cost, which will be passed on to the client. Again, I’m not sure this is an equitable approach, and many clients will balk at a 25% increase to their support and servicing costs.

Where productivity is concerned, there are many ways to improve productivity, that does not come from the increased pressure of delivering 40 hours’ worth of work in 32. As per this excellent article discussing this exact topic,, productivity can be increased by removing distractions, managing your time effectively and other means, not associated with the increased pressure.

The conversation about work-life balance is also somewhat of a misnomer. While it is certainly unhealthy to work 60 to 80 hours per week, it is equally unhealthy to be in a profession where the driving ambition is to escape it. I propose an alternative phrase that more closely aligns to my worldview, “Work-life harmony”. It sounds similar, but it differs in this key point, balance implies that for eight hours of work, I must receive eight hours of leisure time. Harmony implies that my work and the rest of my life are intermingled in a way that supports each other. I work to earn the money to spend on leisure. I can choose my way of work, and the location of my work such that it suits my life and my leisure. With the new way of work brought on by the pandemic, we have more freedom than ever to choose where we work, since most of us have been working remotely for at least two years. With this new freedom, you could choose to work from a beach, or a ski-slope. Take a moment between meetings to go for a swim, or to fetch the kids from school and take them for ice-cream before the next Teams call or document is due. We can create harmony in our lives by weaving our work around it, instead of seeing work as being in conflict with our life.

1 Year of Lockdown? A few thoughts…

It is amazing to think that today (26th March) marks the 1 year anniversary of “lockdown” in South
Africa. In one way, it seems like only yesterday, yet in another, most of us have never witnessed a world
so fundamentally transformed from one year to the next.

Of course, the transformation has been broad and multi-faceted, affecting all aspects of our lives, both
private and professional. The lockdown thrust the digital economy to center stage and we have always
believed, that technology could solve many contemporary business challenges and optimise business
systems and structures.

Have you ever thought of working from home before COVID? Yet once COVID-19 hit, businesses had no
option but to embrace the digital world. This digital surge, though forced, has produced incredibly
positive results in many areas of business and technology… to the extent that the business landscape
might never return to a 2019 context.

At Azuro, we are proud to reflect on some highlights and how we used the past year to grow and
develop our team, our offerings and ourselves as a management team.

Our biggest highlight would have to be the 10-year anniversary of Azuro in October 2020. To achieve
this milestone during a pandemic still came with mixed feelings but it did truly manifest the immense
gratitude that we have for our customers, partners and of course our team of superheroes who have
been on this journey with us.

Another major highlight for us is the growth of our Coastal unit from 1 to 5 people during the last 12
months. This team has a strong focus on Business Applications, Governance and Dynamics 365.

This team has been running a fully remote setup since its inception and enabled us to make the switch
to taking the entire organisation fully remote during the initial lockdown in a matter of days. This
worked so well that we were in the unique position of enabling a number of our clients to do the same
in a similarly short space of time.

As fortuitous as this was, it had a bittersweet outcome that resulted in us not renewing our lease to our
office at the Oval in Bryanston and we know that our team will always remember this poignant moment
on 30 June 2020, we locked up our home of 6 years for the very last time.

As always, we’re committed to finding innovative solutions and adding value to all our engagements and
we are thrilled at the thought of tackling new challenges with our amazing clients and partners.

If you would like to know more about what we do and how we can help you, please get in touch with us
to set up a free 2-hour consultation around your technology needs.

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The Journey to a Remote Team

Azuro’s journey to remote working started in 2015 when we adopted Office 365 for email, document storage and collaboration, with Skype for Business for chat and calling. Thank goodness we’ve moved on from there to Microsoft Teams. The reasons for us adopting these tools are varied, but they were primarily about reducing the internal support burden, disaster mitigation and convenience.

The first objective was to reduce our support burden. We were maintaining our own Exchange Server, a file server, an on-premises SharePoint server, an on-premises TFS (Team Foundation Server), on-premises database servers (SQL) and on-premise CRM server (Dynamics CRM prior to being renamed to Dynamics 365). This meant lots of server hardware, virtual machines and infrastructure overhead. We were experiencing frequent power outages and our hardware was aging, so we had to decide whether to invest in additional hardware to mitigate the power problems and to support newer versions of software, or to make an alternative plan.

We opted to migrate all of our core business services to the cloud as it would reduce the internal support burden with fewer servers to maintain, it would mitigate the power failure risks as the services are no longer hosted in our office and we would not need to upgrade the power mitigation options for our team, as we could work from elsewhere if the office lost power due to a power failure. By adopting Office 365 we replaced the file and SharePoint servers with SharePoint and OneDrive, we replaced our Exchange Server with Exchange Online and our Dynamics CRM server with Dynamics 365. We also migrated our TFS server to Visual Studio Online (now Azure DevOps). This meant we only needed a database server for our accounting package, so we migrated the accounting database to Azure SQL.

Once we were fully deployed to the cloud, the next hurdle was to understand how to better manage a team that is no longer in the same place every day. We realised that we needed better metrics than the old consultant metric of hours logged vs hours billed. Being a delivery-oriented business, we developed a set of KPIs based on story points completed. Since our sprint boards are deployed to the cloud on Azure DevOps, we were able to automate the production of KPIs, and grant our customers access to their projects ensuring greater transparency and collaboration in the delivery process.

Fast forward to 2020. The world is in crisis with a global pandemic that’s ground almost all travel to a halt and confined most people to their homes. For Azuro, this just meant switching off the lights in the office and letting everyone continue from their homes. Of course, there are challenges, but most of them relate to environmental issues such as intermittent connectivity issues and expensive data costs. All in all, the transition to fully remote has been largely uneventful and we mitigate the isolation issues by maintaining an open “chat channel” on our Teams for anyone to dial into and touch base and connect with whomever else is online. We recommend that our team members have their video on during any calls to increase the connection with the rest of the team. All non-delivery members have been invited into the stand-ups to enable them to remain in touch with the daily operations of the business.

We’ve been advocating a shift in consulting behaviours for quite some time and are encouraged by how well our team and customers are adapting to the new normal. The ease of this transition would not have been possible without the adoption of great tools and our preparedness with the processes to support them.

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