Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Workplace of the Future: Technology-Enhanced Mobility

I was interested to hear last week, from the Regional HR Director at Dupont, that for many companies the virtual office is now the norm and that companies are turning their attention to helping employees maintain connectivity, not only of the technical kind but also of the interpersonal kind.

This may be the case for the private sector, but as far as I can tell it is still in an experimental stage for the not-for-profit sector. My organization for example, has a few people (only women I believe) who are working less than 100%, that gives them some flexibility, but no one (but me I think) is working part of my time from home as a rule. Experimenting with mobility has been interesting in an institutional culture which is very immediate and in some cases inpromptu. My observation is that dividing your time between a physical office and a home office demands a level of organization that is not always necessary if you routinely go into an office every day (for about 10 hours). You need to define and set some boundaries, and then keep both yourself and your colleagues mindful of them.

The Dupont spokesperson said that the golden rule of mobile working, especially if you are doing it for work/life balance reasons, was to set limits, but still focus on a) flexibility and b) the customer. To make this work, particularly if you are a part of an office-based team, is to identify your customer (your immediate colleagues, your line manager, the top boss but probably not everybody) and keep your customers happy. It also seems that if you are in a results-based environment, it is easier to show that this distributed team system can work and be productive (perhaps even more productive than a traditional office-based team).

It is also, ultimately, a perk. As the best people have more choice (HR is quickly becoming known as Talent Management in some industries), stay in the workforce longer (so salaries can reach their cap long before retirement), and the technology exists, I guess we will be seeing more people becoming mobile workers even in the non-profit sector. Institutions can also see that non-financial benefits work for employee retention and overall staff satisfaction. Still, there is a little fear about the empty institution; that social connections will be replaced by internet connections. So how can we make sure that the time people do spend together at work is really quality time, and not just coming in those big doors and going into a small office for the rest of the day (sending email to each other)? A workplace revolution needs to be accompanied by a workspace revolution....(and perhaps a small shift in institutional culture?)

2 comments:

Cecilia said...

I agree that in order for 'mobile work' to be effective, discipline is needed. One recommendation I would have is to get together, once a week, when the mobile worker and the rest of the team is in the office and go through a list of 'what should be done' and set priorities. In this way, everyone is aware of who's doing what, the work is coordinated and the mobile worker would be available for questions when needed.

Another important point would be the discipline of keeping a shared and updated electronic calendar/agenda (not only with meeting appointments but also with holidays, personal time, etc). This would help those who are in the office to plan future meetings, reply to enquiries when the mobile worker cannot be reached, etc.

Nowadays that most of us (in Switzerland) have a good internet connection and a computer at home, and telephone lines can be deviated, it makes sense to support mobile work, even if it's only on the occasional basis. Sometimes, concentration to do some work is needed without being interrupted in the office; it eliminates transport costs; it makes staff happy to work for an organization that values personal/family life and commitments outside the office. It could also be considered a perk by the staff member who has worked often over time or during weekends attending meetings and would encourage him/her to work harder and longer for the same institution.

I'm all for it. It just requires discipline and good will.

Alissa said...

Thank you for such a nice and informative blog. Now a days most of the business people are interested in using the virtual office and services. I too using the virtual office for my business from the provider palmbeachvirtualoffice.com. They are providing all the services such phone Answering, business addressing etc..