“I’d take a look at the document myself, but I’m not near a computer,” is a line we have all heard at some point in our working lives. More often than not it is uttered five minutes past the initial deadline and results in the person who is located near a computer spending the next hour frantically editing a document, while instructions are barked at them over the phone. It is not, I am sure you will agree, a particularly smart way of working.
If the above scenario stood alone in the compendium of confounding work practices then the problem on our hands would be easily surmountable. But unfortunately much of what we consider a part of the daily grind is outdated, counter productive and pointless. We have become so wrapped up in processes, ‘to do’ lists and deadlines, that we rarely take a step back from the task at hand to ask ourselves, “what’s the best way to get this done?”
The technological age in which we are living affords us the opportunity to fundamentally change our attitude to work. The devices that we haul into work with us each day during the ritual of commuting have the power to enable a new and more flexible approach to employment. Unfortunately, when you talk about flexible working most people hear “working from home”. But there is so much more to it than that.
At its core, genuine flexible working is pretty simple. It means being thoughtful about the tasks you have to achieve each day and choosing the most appropriate location from which to accomplish them. Work should no longer be defined by a specific location, but instead as simply an activity; something you do, not somewhere you go.
Flexible working is about being productive regardless of your location, whether that’s at home, in the office, at the airport, on a train, in a café or at a specially designed drop-in office. It is also about being productive because of your location. You might need to work close to a customer or somewhere quiet, away from the noise and hubbub of a busy office.
Smartphones have a big role to play in making flexible working a real possibility. Up until now smartphones have enabled us to tick off one or two activities while we’re on the move. We could maybe check our email, reorganise our diary or connect with customers. However, as phones have continued to get smarter, it is now possible to tackle far more without turning on the laptop. Smartphones are beginning to deliver on their promise in helping us to re-evaluate our relationship with work.
Suddenly, proximity to a computer becomes less relevant. On a smartphone, for example, it is possible to open documents and edit them, regardless of where you are. Also, smartphones are now more integrated with other technology, helping to provide us with one seamless experience across all devices. So for example you could begin editing a spreadsheet on your smartphone on your way to your office, then when you get there, simply pick up where you left off on your PC, all the while enjoying the same familiar user interface and level of functionality.
The technology exists to transform the way we work and most of us carry it around with us each day, oblivious to the potential in our pockets. The biggest challenge we face in terms of making flexible working a reality is our own attitude towards work. After years of approaching the same issue in the same way, it will take a considerable behavioural shift to help us to realise the possibilities of flexible working.
But those businesses that do will gain a significant competitive edge over their rivals. Not only will their employees be freed from the more frustrating aspects of work, they will also be more productive and able to respond to requests quickly and efficiently.
Increased flexibility over where and how we work is just one way that we can change our approach to business. Alongside unleashing the potential of social media and how to effectively manage change, it is one of three themes explored in the book “Business Reimagined“. Through the book it examines our relationship to work and challenge common perceptions about how to make the most of the daily grind.
Think about your job for a second and in particular, what frustrates you most about it? Is it the fact that you have to cram yourself into a packed train to get there? Is it the person sitting next to you who talks incessantly when you have a deadline to meet? Is the fact that you spend so much time travelling to meetings that you never seem to get anything done? Now take a look at the technology available to you and ask yourself, “Does it need to be this way?”