Like many things in life, the manner in which we work goes through waves of change. Past trends have included the ‘open plan’ and ‘hot desking’. Today, it’s working from home (or anywhere really) that is becoming more accepted.
Technology is driving this particular change, with innovations such as cloud computing meaning that most of us can now work at any time from any place. But while technology offers opportunities, it also offers challenges. Just how contactable and 24/7 can we be before we’re too enslaved by our own freedom?
At the moment, one can argue that the pendulum has swung too far. Technological change has made many of us too available and, in the push for mobility and around-the-clock access, adequate boundaries haven’t been put in place.
Technologies are now being developed to address this however, with new tools imposing limits and putting structures around the total freedom that the cloud and mobility deliver.
Like the realisation that open-plan offices still need closed spaces, they’re restoring balance to the situation, and should be embraced as a positive change.
The freedom to work anywhere at any time has also had another casualty: teamwork. While our changing working patterns are more productivity (and have a huge upside for customer service, for example) without some type of meaningful or face-to-face contact, teamwork can be compromised.
I like the analogy of having a sun to your solar system. Without one, it’s a real challenge to get maximum productivity from any team.
A sun can be many things:
- A physical office: This is the traditional approach, but many of us are spending less and less time there.
- Telecommunications: Tools such as video conferencing and unified communications help to bring disparate teams together.
- Technology: Whether it’s Active Directory or an online collaboration tool like Basecamp, technology itself is working to provide the central focus point that it’s enabled us to lose.
- The virtual office: By providing meeting space and a business infrastructure, virtual offices are playing an anchoring role as central connectors – something that an increasing number of highly mobile and fluid businesses require.
With collaboration frameworks in place – as well as a few curbs on 24/7 availability – the opportunities of today’s technologies are something that all businesses should be seeking to exploit. That’s especially so for SMEs that have limited resources – because mobility and the cloud allow us to escape our desks while keeping our businesses running, building stronger businesses becomes a step easier.
Whether it’s to access new domestic and international markets, or simply more meetings with clients, technology is changing how we work for the better – enabling collaboration and custom across geographies.
What will be key is preventing burn-out by putting some controls on carte blanche work hours in place, while also ensuring that productivity, and not simply lifestyle, is the focus.