As technology and processes continue to innovate, the differences between working in the office, a coffeehouse, or your own backyard will fade away. People won’t have to work remotely if they don’t want to, but the office is already becoming just one of many locations where work occurs.
With the definition of “workplace” shifting, the idea of “near” is becoming less about physical proximity and more about availability, including emotional availability. When my team and I connect on a topic, even if we’re in different locations, we are in a shared state of mind. That state of mind is much more important for productivity than shared office space.
This change will not come without challenges, though. Not every job will be suitable for remote work. Some employees need to be physically near every aspect of their job; others simply need that stability to feel emotionally engaged with their organizations. In any case, technology provides a unique opportunity to bring us closer together than ever before. We’ve come a long way from mandatory physical meetings — with real-time mobile connectivity, we can finally be “near” each other no matter where we are. We’ve come a long way from phones and intranets to real-time mobile connectivity.
The key to this innovation will be optimizing work for real people, not just their work processes. If you think the last five years were crazy, just wait for the next five.
The Non-workplace of the Future
Two key areas of technology will shape the way we work in the future: digital availability and workplace mobilization.
Services, content, and people are always available in a digital space. Distribution of information across multiple channels — such as social networks or the cloud — will make the physical office less critical to a productive workday. Many organizations still believe that sharing a physical space is necessary for productivity, but the digital workplace is already a reality for businesses across the spectrum.
Alongside this digitization comes the mobilization of the workforce. Even for those still working in an office, digital devices are the preferred access point to people and information. Messaging is replacing email as the preferred method of communication, and universal content access makes processes more mobilized and aggregated. We have everything we need with us all the time, and anyone we need to reach is available at the touch of a button.
The Expanding Role of Mobile
Today, our smartphones are already extensions of ourselves — they just happen to still include the ability to call people. If you start to think of your smartphone as a part of your body that expresses your thoughts, feelings, and physical parameters (like location), you will start to grasp the innovative potential of mobile’s role in the workplace.
Sitting together in a room to exchange information and brainstorm solutions is already a fading practice. In the new workplace, the smartphone is the “location,” providing video and collaboration capabilities so busy professionals — from entry-level employees to executives — can be anywhere and still participate. At Sitrion, we hold our daily executive scrum as a video chat on our smartphones. Though globally distributed, we’re always “near.”
Better mobile options also mean broader innovation opportunities. Improved screen and visualization options make content available everywhere. For example, I present and demo our solutions almost exclusively from mobile devices when I meet customers; I can’t remember the last time I printed a document to review it.
Additionally, processes are becoming more personal through mobile technology. Admin functions used to be optimized for the system owner — HR, finance, etc. — and required workers to go to a specific destination, like an HR portal, to execute the process. Today, mobile brings those processes to people directly on the most personal devices they have.
All of these mobilization factors will fundamentally change the nature of the workplace. Work isn’t really a place any longer — it’s a state of mind, accessible anywhere through mobile technology.
Optimizing Technology for a Smarter Workplace
For me, work is about empowerment and engagement. As workplaces continue to innovate, technology should knock down the obstacles between us and our work, increasing our willingness and ability to work and accomplish great things.
Follow these four strategies to make better use of technology and bring your office into the future:
1. Eliminate barriers. Digital availability and workplace mobilization make it easier for us to access our work at any time — and to act on the information available. IT professionals too often have the urge to control, but the more effective strategy is to give employees the tools they need to take control themselves.
2. Eliminate fear. New technologies bring fear and apprehension: fear of change, fear of risks, and fear of control or competency. While it’s wise to not dive in headfirst without proper research, acting on fear could prevent your company from realizing its innovative potential. Today, mobilization is such a massive disruption to every industry that a failure to embrace the change would be a terrible mistake.
3. Eliminate wastes of time. Time is our most valuable resource, yet we allow so much to be wasted. Technology makes standard activities like processes, approvals, communication, and accessing information fast and simple, meaning people can spend less time on tedious administrative functions — and more time using the skills that make them valuable.
4. Eliminate wastes of attention. Humans have short attention spans, and the longer you waste their attention, the more disengaged they become. Mobile technology allows for continuous engagement, but that power can be wasted if the information provided is not valuable. Every action, process, or piece of information should be designed to maximize both engagement and productivity.
Is your office ready for the workday of the future? How will mobilization affect your company, and what changes could you make to use your current technology in more innovative ways?
image credit: bigstockphoto.com
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Daniel Kraft is the President & CEO of Sitrion. He is passionate about innovation in the workplace, with a particular interest in social collaboration, mobile work style and the integration of work and life. He is public speaker on various topics involving employee engagement and productivity and has been featured on TEDx. Daniel has held executive positions in several leading enterprise software companies and worked in North America, Europe and Asia.