Is the UK or the world really ready for a mobile workforce with limited offices, hot desks and communication dominated by technology?
The BBC has recently produced an article entitled “Workplaces set to get ‘smarter’“, (Wednesday 1st July 2009). It discusses the expected trend where workers spend more time on the move rather than at a designated desk within an office. It also refers to future possible technologies whereby walls turn into screens displaying schedules, tasks and emails.The technology aspects I could well believe. The explosion of Smartphones into the market place with an ever increasing number and variety of applications could easily lead people into believing a world where a projector connects to your smart device, and that smart device contains, or has access to, all of your work. However I’m not so convinced that the majority of workers will not be required to attend a central location governed by their company. I believe there are several barriers to this aspect of the predicted future.
The first is the attitude and mentality of the workers themselves. Although there are a number of workers who would be quite happy and highly productive working anywhere, there are equally a number who would not. Some people would not be comfortable with the majority of their correspondence being via technology, i.e. emails, phone, instant messaging, etc. They desire the face to face communication and the social aspects that are achieved in an office environment. Some people are not even open to the idea of hot desks. They prefer to have their own little space that they can customise to make them feel secure and at home. It doesn’t mean they are technophobes, they just like a familiar environment and place a high value on that environment and the physical interaction with others within it.
Another barrier to this mobile vision is the companies themselves. In the past a large number of companies, technology based or not, have had difficulty trusting their employees. Although the requirements on this advanced technology would also need to include mechanisms for Managers to monitor their workers outputs and achievements, there are some aspects of all work that would not be so easy to monitor. Also Managers traditionally have an issue if workers do not conform to the normal working hours. If a worker decides to play golf during the day, and complete their required work activities in the evening, that should be acceptable. However what if, despite their best efforts, the task they were due to complete by an agreed deadline could not be met. Would the Manager really believe the worker put in the required effort, or would doubts about commitment start to appear? If the worker is in the office they are more visible to the Manager. The Manager has a better chance of determining how much they are concentrating on the task in hand as oppose to surfing the web or conversing about non work subjects to colleagues.
Some would argue that everyone needs to join the modern world but isn’t it a better strategy to play to peoples strengths. If that means fast paced companies, with dynamic technology-driven individuals, with clear task based work, can work anywhere then great. For those companies and workers that prefer the common workplace environment let them have it, and use the technology to simplify their lives. In the same way that trainers have realised everyone has different learning methods and we don’t all learn the same way, do not assume we can all work the same either.