Working outside the box

TimesheetBack in the 1980s Dolly Parton sang about working from 9 to 5. Sticking to set working times has become as old as the track itself, as companies around the world become more global, mobile and better connected through clever technology.

In fact, a remake of the classic song would now probably be renamed to 5 to 9 as business time zones blur into one.

Without question the world of work is changing big time and people are choosing the way they want to work, where they work, and when they work.

Many companies now plan for a more relaxed and flexible way of working – one which provides employees with a variety of comfortable settings that match their individual work styles – and importantly spark creativity. Quite often bursts of brilliance come when people bump into each other unintentionally and start talking.

With these huge shifts in global working practices, should we be re-thinking about the type of jobs we do and the offices and technology we use to do them?

It is a much talked about business topic and is now the subject of a new paper (the first of three) called WorkShift written by BT futurologist Dr Nicola Millard and BT's head of agile working, Steve Gillies.

We've witnessed the way the role of the traditional office is steadily changing for a while, says Nicola. “But it's gathering momentum with a growing body of research showing us that the way we work is actually inhibiting our productivity.

“Ask yourself where you are most productive and I doubt that the answer is the office. Yet many of us still choose to drag ourselves every day into those big, grey, open plan places sectioned off by panels.”

The alternative to the traditional trek into the office is working from home and technology has helped to bring this about in recent years. Increasing broadband speeds may even get us videoconferencing from our lounge using HD TVs in the near future.

However, not everyone has the discipline or desire to work from home. There are an emerging set of other spaces ranging from coffee shops to museums where wi-fi technology can take people into cloud computing.

Anyone for coffice?

An emerging trend is the rise of the 'coffice' – a nickname for a place where workers abandon the offices and their home and set up to work day from a 'third space'. It's a place where people can meet and talk or simply work quietly on their own.

Nicola says: “This is not new as history has shown business is often done over coffee. But we started to see an emerging trend in Scandinavia where more business oriented coffee shops were appearing in key public places such as hotels, airports and stations.

“This trend is now being echoed in cities like London and New York.”

Bring your gadgets to work

We now think nothing of using like our smartphone or tablet computer – and that habit is also being brought into the workplace as people bring their own devices to work. A few years back it would have been unthinkable. But it now poses an interesting challenge for business as people are discovering they have much better technology at home than they do at work

According to the authors a recent survey conducted by IDC on behalf of Unisys suggests that 95 per cent of the workers who responded have used technology they purchased themselves for work. These include smartphones, tablet computers, webcams and satnavs. It is also interesting that those questioned saying they generally don't bother telling either the IT or procurement departments that they are doing it. Consequently it means that many companies remain blissfully (but dangerously) ignorant of whether this trend is hitting them or not.

But it's not a trend being driven from a process or IT perspective suggests Nicola. “It is being driven by highly networked employees who have found the tools that are useful to their job and want to use them.

“They are not being deliberately malicious or flouting security rules, they just want the best tools to help them succeed.

“We all have tools that work for the job we do. It may be that, just like a plumber will take his or her tools of the trade from job-to-job, we may have to demonstrate that we have the right 'tools' for our trade whenever we take on a new assignment.”

The world of work and how technology affects the behavior of workers and jobs is undergoing a huge rethink. It's 20 years since Dolly Parton sang about working from 9 to 5. Not too far in the future time will not matter quite so much for those in a job.

Instead it will be technology plus the more traditional work practices of good management, effective communication and solid support in the job that will hold the key.