Organisations should start looking at the future of the way their workforces operate in light of both cultural and technological changes. The differing needs of employees both now and in the future means that organisations should carefully weigh up their technological needs now to ensure they lead the process rather than be led by workers.
We currently have a workforce made up of many generations, but we also have a rapid pace of technological change. In just a few years, someone who used to be well versed on the latest email platforms and online collaboration tools is faced with a plethora of social media channels and smartphone apps.
Such a diverse workforce is divided by different personalities and personal preferences, and different ways of working. For example, research shows that women value flexible working hours and locations, whilst men value choice over tools and technology.
Today’s younger workforce, which has grown up using the web and advanced personal computing devices, appears to be more open to new ways of working, and find the prospect of a ‘portfolio career’ appealing.
Looking ahead, there will be no ‘traditional’ way of working, as organisations look to appeal to a diverse workforce that wants to pick and choose its projects, hours, devices and location. But organisations could be making a mistake if they simply roll out technology to appeal to this diversity.
Technology should not define a business, but become the enabler for a business to define its culture, its spaces and the kind of organisation it wants to be.
Many organisations make the mistake of giving employees all the tools they need to work flexibly, but how these are used needs to come from the leadership table. What culture do you want to create? What behaviour do you want to incite? It’s important that direction is given on how employees use this technology.
The emphasis for flexible working is often facilitating this outside of the office environment, but many workers still value the traditional office space for social interaction, sharing ideas and meeting with different parts of the organisation.
The value of flexible working is its inherent ‘flexible’ nature: an organisation cannot promote the idea of flexible working and merely cover the provision of a desk and a chair for their employees’ spare room, they need to look at connectivity, collaboration, and real-time communication.
Over the next twenty years, those workers who knew little beyond the nine to five culture will move into retirement and younger people entering the workplace will have grown up having seen their parents work flexibly.
The experience gained in the education system will be critical in shifting our culture and equipping young people with the skills they need to work in less structured ways. But there is little evidence of the education system adapting in order to prepare students for new ways of working.
The younger generation still struggles with independent work, even at university level, and this could lead to serious productivity issues in the future if our workers lack the discipline to work effectively of their own accord.
It is essential at this early stage in the virtual workplace evolution that we identify the best methods to engender a positive, binding working culture, through self-management skills, promoting ‘leaders’ over ‘managers’ and providing tools – through technology – to supplement this.
Ultimately, balance will be key.