IT has blurred the boundaries between work and home life – here’s why that’s a good thing
I joined the working world around about the time the American comedy film Office Space hit cinemas and satirized the lives of office workers preparing for the Millennium Bug. It’s crazy to think that small office cubicles, where people would work away in their silos, formed the centrepiece of the film.
It seems a world away from the futuristic vision of the professional knowledge worker.
Connecting to the data we need to be able to do our jobs and the wealth of smart devices we have at home and at work now means that the workplace extends far beyond the four walls of our office spaces. Thank goodness!
This, unsurprisingly, is changing the way that people think about work – and impacting how businesses go about attracting and retaining the data scientists, the social media experts, the new breed of tech-savvy talent we see today.
Technology should attract, not dismay employees
Our Workplace 2025 report explored issues around the technology employees use in their day-to-day lives.
I found myself thinking about how we expect workplace technology to deliver an experience we’ve become used to in our personal lives – like the simple, easy to use suite of applications I have on my tablet at home. But as many as half of the participants in our study said that the range and quality of software applications their employers provide them with are ‘adequate’ or ‘poor’.
Poor technology has a knock-on effect on our ability to get work done. More than a quarter of participants in our study said that their productivity is negatively impacted by technology issues such as outages or non-working devices three or more times every week, with a further 49% hit typically one or two times per week.
The temptation to use your own personal devices to complete work tasks when those provided by your employers let you down is hard to resist – 85% of our respondents said they currently do this.
This isn’t good news though, as aside from the obvious security risks it poses (that IT and security departments will need to juggle!), it also points to a larger dissatisfaction among the workforce.
This fact was borne out in the study’s finding that almost half of those surveyed said that their current workplace isn’t having a positive impact on their organization’s attempts to attract and retain talent.
For businesses looking to thrive in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, this statistic should serve as a warning. It’s perhaps an obvious point to make, but the ability to attract the best and brightest workers will be a defining factor in the success or failure of businesses in this era.
Those that can provide the right roles, culture, environment, and experience to meet the demands of an evolving, cross-generational workforce will succeed.
Underpinning all of this is a seamless workplace technology experience.
A big ask; one which not only aligns with (or surpasses) the expectations of increasingly tech-savvy people, but that can meet the robust security needs of the corporate world too. One which, put simply, bridges the current divide between their experience of consumer technology in their personal lives, and what they experience in the workplace.
How can businesses achieve this?
There are a few things that, in order to succeed in the race for talent, all businesses should be focused on:
- Make security an enabler, not a restrictor
As mentioned above, security remains of paramount importance. However, it shouldn’t be a burden on how people work. The increase in remote, virtual, and flexible working arrangements only makes getting this right more important. In many cases, this has led to employees using their own personal devices to complete work tasks – 85% of our respondents said they currently do this.
But security practices today often present as barriers to seamless usability. Instead, businesses should consider an intelligence-led approach to security which identifies users and allows secure access. This approach also allows security policies to match the flexibility that different employees require, establishing different settings dependent on individual working locations, needs, and preferences.
- Make things simpler and more intuitive
More than two-thirds of the respondents in our survey expect a beneficial impact from the use of more automation and rapid deployment mechanisms in their workplace, which suggests this is an open opportunity for businesses to streamline their processes to make work simpler and more straightforward, and free up employee time for more complex tasks.
- Extract more value from company data
To develop an effective automation strategy, organizations need to get better at gathering insights from the data their employees generate during the working day.
Furthermore, by taking a more organised, open approach to data, companies will be able to create more personalized, innovative workplaces as they can learn about their employees working practices and can therefore serve them better.
The flip side to this approach – and another potential benefit – is being able to provide employees with access to the data they need more effectively.
Only 34% of employees in our study believe that they have the data they need to perform their job at their fingertips. Time spent searching around complex and siloed intranet systems for vital information is time wasted. Clearly there is room for improvement.
- More choice
Businesses need to consider how to make the technology their employees use more user-centric.
The simplest way to do this is to give employees more choice over the tech they use, but this comes with its own need to evolve IT support to accommodate this more flexible element of choice.
In many cases, this will involve providing more self-service and crowdsourced solutions – like how I recently used YouTube to fix my leaking tap – and will require a service desk capable of offering this kind of support.
A straightforward question
Businesses need to consider how to use their workplace as an asset in the race for talent. At its most straightforward level, what this really comes down to is employee empowerment.
Whether it’s offering a more personalized security system, providing a greater choice of workplace technology, making data access easier, or giving better flexible support options, the focus of any improvement will always be the impact it can have on the end user.
Accordingly, every step taken should begin with a straightforward question: how does this benefit the end user?
The answer to that won’t always be simple, but it’s guaranteed to make your workplace more competitive in the race for talent.
At the end of Office Space, (spoiler alert) one especially disgruntled employee ends up setting the office building alight and escaping to Mexico after years of being mistreated and ignored. Fittingly enough, this darkly comic turn centres around a piece of workplace technology: his stapler.
20 years on from the release of the film, the scene serves a fitting, amusing metaphor for the importance of looking after your employees and equipping them with the tools they need.
What’s clear is that this race for talent is already well underway, and those businesses unable to keep up will be left behind – if not actually burned down.