The caring, sharing economy

My first job was delivering prescription drugs to the infirmed after school on my bicycle. One minute before my start I’d arrive, throw that day’s scripts into my backpack and off I would trundle. When I get back, I’d have to clean up the boxes from the day’s deliveries and burn them (yes it was pre-recycling). Little did I know that I was Activity Based Working – I worked where I needed to at that time!

Today, I’m engaged in helping companies improve communications between their staff and to their customers and suppliers. Their people are scattering to the winds so they need to embrace new models of work. The key elements of productivity, culture and engagement are:

Where: Our location at a point in time determines the requirements and limits of our work.
How: What tools or resources are at our disposal for us to use to most effectively work.
Why: The most engaged employees are there to have fun AND make money.
Each of these are being significantly impacted by change today. Our work environment, hours, location, motivators etc. are changing more rapidly than in any time in history, and it is being bought about by technology. No, robots are going to take over but technology is. In a hyper connected online and real time world our approach must be forced to change – whether we like it or not. It is how we drive and control the change that is the key element to having a productive and happy workplace.

Where we work is about business culture than location. If I don’t like the nature or style of people I work with but I love what I do and my customers, I’m more likely to work at home or at a customer’s site.

When I first worked in an office environment – I had an office. I shared it with someone else but I had made it, I had an office! Now as CEO, I can have an office but I choose not to. I’d rather work amongst my team, to enjoy the banter, to engage live during brainstorming or problem solving. If I need to do something in private, I will simply move to a meeting room.

Open plan, flexible offices are the norm today. No more walls and the team is much more visible. While this has provided many benefits, it often can be the cause of some problems. Some companies are embracing activity based working, allowing people and teams to form flexibly to suit the needs of that day.

For 20+ years I have heard of the promise of telecommuting as an alternative to all workplace woes. The limiting factor wasn’t company or individual motivation, technology or even cost effective bandwidth, it was employee engagement. Remote employees feel segregated. The recent abundance of video solutions goes a long way to addressing this, but nothing does beat the morning “chat” in the tea room or having lunch with a colleague. The right answer is balance of location, a grand activity based working model if you like. The organisational change required however can be significant and not underestimated. The move to measuring quality of output rather than input is a fundamental though shift which can only be embraced if sufficient reporting data is made available to managers.

A recent trend that I see growing fast are co-working spaces. Either commercial ventures or government initiatives, these spaces provide the luxury or human engagement without the drudgery of the daily commute. They started out as collaborative offices for start-ups, freelancers or small teams. They provided high quality fit outs and services like high speed internet or video conferencing at an affordable rate. Co-working spaces have become a popular alternative to working from home.

Each of these topics will be covered at the Australian Skype for Business Launch & Conference www.skypeforbusinessconference.com.au.