While attending the Americas Conference on Information Systems in Chicago, AMCIS 2013, I get the sense that hyperconnectivity is being on the carpet more than ever before. We are living in a hyperconnected world, where you practically can connect anything, from anywhere at any time. I think we can agree that this is no news. While people used to go to work to get work done, today, things have changed. As outlined by Hardik Bhatt, Director of Smart + Connected Communities at Cisco Systems, in an industry panel “you don’t go to work, work comes to you where you are.” He further outlines that “as long as I have a computer, a smartphone and connectivity there is no point of going to office unless I’m meeting with my colleagues or customers”. Hence, you often don’t go to work to work, you go to work to meet people. In this blog post, I would like to raise a few issues to think critically about concerning the implications of anything, anywhere and anytime.
Starting with the notion of anywhere, opportunities for working outside office are rapidly increasing. While companies traditionally have concentrated on providing telecommuting opportunities to their employees, today, you can assess wifi at many public places, such as cafes, libraries and telehubs just to mention a few. And where you can access wifi, you can work, right? While this might not be true for all work tasks, sometimes for security reasons, still, opportunities are evolving in a fast pace. Libraries have been considered as the place to study, but how many of you have considered visiting the library to get real work done? Libraries are changing too to become more adapted to the nature of work today. Around the world, several projects on creating satellite offices have been initiated as well. To this, Hardik Bhatt suggests us to “create satellite work spaces, hyperconnect them, make the workers feel that they work at the headquarters, if they need to go to headquarters they can go at noon, and simultaneously avoid spending endless of hours on being stuck in traffic”. Think about how those hours could be spend more productively and the value coming out.
In the CityWorkLife research project we have the opportunity to study people working under different flexible working conditions, i.e. varying degree of flexibility in where and when to work. Similar issues raised by Hardik Bhatt were emphasized by several employers of an ICT Company in our study. People tend to schedule their workday to avoid long commuting times and often utilize telework opportunities when possible. As one informant explained “if I don’t have any scheduled meeting at any specific physical place, then I can as well work from outside office”. Another person highlighted that “I don’t need to be here (office) because the people that I am collaborating with are often elsewhere. It’s seeing other people, that motivates me to come to the office”. Clearly, the notion of anywhere is dependent on worker motives, leading me in to the underpinnings of anything.
What comes to anything, companies allowing flexible opportunities as well as companies restricting flexible work should dig deeper into the requirements of different work tasks. Outlined by several of our informants, they come to the office to meet colleagues, share information and have face-to-face meetings. Correspondingly, informants often get out of office when it gets down to tasks requiring deep focusing, something best achieved with little environmental disturbances. Some workers also tend to work from home at days filled with teleconferences. Hence, workers often desire flexible work opportunities in order to get work done, in addition to opportunities for better work-life balance. Flexible working opportunities are not here only for the benefit of workers, which indeed is a valuable capital to retain and support, but also to support better worker productivity. Happy worker, happy company. However, to date, companies have not adequately assessed what kind of work tasks are best to be performed from remote location versus what tasks are best performed among colleagues at office. Either you are allowed to telecommute, or you are not. As an informant underscored “we have not talked about what kind of work would best be performed outside open-plan office… I do completely different tasks and work differently when out of office”. Hence, in order to continue to develop flexible work practices to support employees in their work, you need to assess the underlying dimensions of the work tasks. While I think most agree on that anything might be a too opportunistic view on tasks suitable for flexible work, flexible work task fit should be paid more attention.
Last, work can be conducted anytime. As many of us know, in the context of knowledge work, work does often not fit into the 9AM to 5PM time frame. You might start your workday by reading emails preparing for the upcoming day, you might do some micro tasks while sitting on the bus, and you might come up with creative ideas while you are out on an evening run. How do we measure all of that work effort? Based on our interviews, it is common for people to stay connected to work outside office hours, although some people tend to have a stronger need for boundary control. As boundaries between work time and leisure get blurred, one may ask, how do we come up with balancing ways of staying connected anytime, while allowing disconnectivity when desired. Here, I think that some investment in sustainable flexible work practices is needed.
To conclude, hyperconnectivity is clearly here to stay. Said that, there are still many important questions we need to think about, as employers as well as employees, in order to achieve the true benefits from flexible working.
Stay tuned for results from our project!