Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Aren't We always Out of the Office?

Anyone that reads this post has used email at one point or another.  And if you've been in the business world for a length of time, say just six months, the odds are highly favorable that for at least one day you have not been in the "office".  You might have even used the Out of Office functionality of your email system.  Of course when I refer to the office I am thinking about some place where you have:
  • A chair
  • A desk
  • A phone
  • A computer (with peripherals)
Notice that I have not differentiated between cubicles, conference rooms, corner offices, etc.  I have simply referred to a static location where you, as a worker, are expected to be physically present in order to get work done.

But is that how we truly work today in 2012?  Let's shelve that question for just a moment so that I can refer back to a situation that I experienced a little over 10 years.  I was an IT director in a multi-billion dollar, United States based manufacturing corporation.  Our firm had been growing rapidly, mostly through acquisition and we had offices and people located all over the globe.  Yet, our culture had not adapted nearly as fast.  All of the true power was located in the corporate headquarters because, due to the acquisitions, "corporate" was making all the long lasting decisions on what to do with the newly acquired businesses.

My teams were scattered all over the world but I faced a constant pressure by my peers and supervision to "co-locate" them at corporate headquarters.  The reasoning at the time was that people could only be managed if they could be seen and their managers could practice "MBWA" (management by walking around).  In general, our corporate culture collectively believed that if you could not be seen, you were out of the office.  This drove me crazy because I knew that productivity was not tied to where a person worked but what they ultimately produced.  I don't know how many times during my tenure at that company that I heard people define how much value they were creating by "...being in the office 10-12 hours per day."

Now fast forwarding back to 2012, let's think about how work has changed.  The PC is dying out, laptops are not cool like they used to be, tablets and smart phones are everywhere, and we are constantly working.  If you're like me, you are never out of contact with your phone/tablet/computer for more than an hour (unless you're asleep and that doesn't count).  Like my colleagues, I am constantly "available" 24 hours a day.  Yes, I'm guilty of sending work emails, checking my messages, and plugging away at venues such as date night with my wife, vacation, and the playground where I should be throwing the ball with my boy and not tapping on an iPhone.

We have a whole new generation of workers just arriving on the scene who will be wholly incompatible with the concept of a static office.  This is the Facebook/Foursquare generation who generates content - work and play - on the go.  Technologies such as desktop virtualization, cloud-based email, and ERP delivered via a SaaS model will be a requirement, not a nice to have.  And this is just the beginning.  We will have workers that will create whole new venues for productivity that we have not even imagined yet.  Expect to see more of this as we see the gradual fusion of organic and silicon technologies progress.

For all you current and future CIOs out there, here is a word of advice.  DO NOT develop applications and IT solutions that are tethered to an office setting. Not only will your offerings be obsolete - you will personally be viewed as a dinosaur.  Business processes in the 21st century happen outside of the "office".  Your tools and offerings should be created to move along with their users, wherever and whenever they happen to be.

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