Weekly Letter to the President
Copyright © 2017
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
June 26, 2020
Mr. President: With the coronavirus lockdown, one aspect of our lives has been
revolutionized ... the world of work. Computers have facilitated the transition and the
coronavirus forced a real-life test. For jobs where it is possible, we are working from
home and many of us like it that way.
There are countries that have been doing it long before the coronavirus -- at least in
numbers far in excess of other industrialized countries. In the Netherlands 14.1
percent of workers say they usually work away from the office compared to 4.7
percent in the UK and only 3.6 percent in the US. Only Finland is comparable.
Finland also allows flexible hours. Indeed such flexibility has a basis in law ever since
the 1996 Work Hours Act giving most workers the right to adjust workplace time.
Thus 92 percent of companies allow flexible hours there compared to about
three-quarters in the US and UK, a half in Russia and only 18 percent in Japan.
Employees can start or finish their workday up to three hours earlier or later. A new
Working Hours Act came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020 through prior legislation,
fortuitously given Covid-19. This now permits workers to schedule up to half their
working hours away from the workplace.
Both Finland and the Netherlands also benefit from a culture of trust and equality;
also practicality, a quality that small countries nurture to compete with the giants
beside them. Think Russia in one case and Germany for the other.
Flextime has other benefits. Studies report higher output and efficiency. When
workers are allowed to pick their hours, they drift towards when they want to work. In
Finland, they still have to average 40 hours per week over each four-month period.
Nevertheless, working at a time most suitable for their individual circumstances implies
they are working at their best, which also translates to most productive.
HSBC, the large UK bank, looked at what is driving UK productivity growth in a 2018
study. Eighty-nine percent of respondents cited the importance of flexible working
hours and work-life balance rating them higher than financial incentives. One-in-five
also cited poor work-life balance as the main reason for leaving a prior job, ranking it
higher than limited opportunities or salary increases.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, where 98 percent of homes have high-speed internet
access, there is also a culture of trust, plus a combination of technology, attitude and
expectation to make remote working a success. King Willem-Alexander issued a
photo of himself working from home to encourage others to do the same during the
But then, the Netherlands is different. ING, an Amsterdam-based bank, is now trying
out a policy of unlimited vacation time for pilot groups of workers. They can take as
much time off as they want provided their work and set tasks do not suffer.
There must be something in all this for Dutch men averaging 183 cm (6 feet) are the
tallest people on earth. At 179.6 cm, the Finns are not far behind.
Perhaps employers will learn from the statistics over here in the US. If there is a silver
lining in this dark coronavirus cloud, it could be in the world of work.