I was at an airport café, waiting for boarding. As always I welcomed this break as it gave me time for checking my emails and completing some tasks. And I was not alone: Several people occupied the tables with their tablets (PCs that is), smartphones and notebooks at hand. It was a laid back but concentrated atmosphere. A modern cacophony of dishes rattling, coffee machines steaming and the clicking and doodling sounds of our electronic companions. When I sipped my coffee and watched the people around me, I realized that I was partaking in a historical change (at least for me). Just think back some years – this scenario would have been unimaginable.
We grew up with the paradigm that “work” was tied to a certain place and time. Office workers were chained to their desks from nine to five. Although there are still many areas where time and place are essential (think of nurses, pilots, fire-fighters or chefs) but for office workers there is a whole new freedom now. Where does it come from? In case you worry that you have missed a revolution, there wasn’t one. What happened was a rather imperceptible change driven by cloud computing technology. This is state of the art by now, with more and more smartphones, tablets and unlimited broadband access. The applications known from private life are going to change business life as well. What I saw at the airport has been confirmed by a recent study of Berlecon which found the following: In every fifth enterprise, more than 50 percent of the staff is working mobile (i.e. outside the enterprise) more than once a week. And in every third enterprise people are working mobile within the building.
The mobile access to business related data is essential for a growing number of employees. And of course, more and more powerful tablet computers will come with smart virtualization technology that enables full access to all enterprise solutions a knowledge worker needs. This changes the whole enterprise culture. The office-centric concepts – where only those employees were believed to work hard, who were physically present during office hours – makes way for a productivity-oriented behaviour. It does not matter where and when you are working as long as you do your job in a timely manner and with good results.
In the long run, the cloud computing revolution will develop even further. Think of the skilled worker shortage. When your enterprise is located, let’s say in the Northern part of Germany and you found a talented new employee who lives in the Southern part – well, up to now this means he has to move in order to take the job, and usually this means a dramatic change in his private life he might not want to take. So why not let him work from his home? It is no problem to connect him to everything he needs for fulfilling his task via modern technology solutions. It does not matter if he works in his study, in a café or at a customer location as long as he does his job reliably and well. He might also share an office with other mobile workers, thus sharing infrastructure and benefiting from social interaction and a routine of a day.
But what about the nurses, the fire-fighters and chefs? Why not improve their administration tools as well? Why should the chef not be able to create his new menu and order the ingredients with his tablet on a park bench? Why should the head-nurse not be able to make the service schedule with a tool that considers everybody’s wishes automatically?
If you as a manager are accustomed to have your employees around you might fear to lose control if you lose sight of them. But recent studies show that flexible and mobile work styles actually increase a company’s productivity. So with the cloud revolution we might also have to revolutionize our thinking from “Trust is good, control is better” to the reverse. But that is another story.