Industrial Revolution attitudes hindering adoption of mobile working, says Microsoft chief envisioning officer

IT departments are under increasing pressure to deliver agility to their business as a number of technologies offer the potential to lead a ‘re-imagining’ of the workplace, based on collaboration and flexible working.

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Many businesses continue to operate under Industrial Revolution principles by continuing to tie their workforce to centralised IT departments, and are failing to capitalise on the disruptive technological changes such as remote working. 

That is the view of the Microsoft’s Dave Coplin, given the role of chief envisioning officer at the software company, who claims that archaic process-driven working practices have failed to keep pace with the fast moving IT trends, such as mobility, social networking, and the consumerisation of IT.  

Coplin argues that the rising demand amongst organisations for a knowledge-based workforce means that industrial working practices – where employees are paid for their part in a process, rather than for a business outcome – are becoming less appropriate as companies place value on creativity in order to stay competitive.

While certain technological advances have promised to simplify work and create greater freedom for employees, this has not always been the case, with email being one example of how new technologies have served to further tie employees to process-intensive tasks. However, Coplin, who has published a book titled “Business Reimagined - Why work isn’t working and what you can do about it”, believes that the latest wave of innovation should be able to support better ways of working – provided that business use the technology intelligently.

One example of an opportunity for innovation is in the advent of flexible or remote working, enabled by widespread access to technologies such as broadband internet and access to mobile computing.

However, while moves towards remote working have already been occurring among many organisations, Coplin argues that adoption has not been quick enough, and, importantly, few businesses have taken a company-wide approach to the adopting flexible working practices.  Instead workforces continue to congregate around centralised IT infrastructure, something Coplin told ComputerworldUK is no longer necessary with the rise of mobile computing.

“The challenge is that there is a concept of work which is based around the process and evolution which started in the Industrial Revolution, where we had individuals swarming around factories in order to get work. We have carried on with that concept right up until today, where people will swarm around the office because that is where the infrastructure is.”

“In the past, if you wanted to use the best technology you had to go into the office because that is where you would get to use it.  Then, if you wanted to use the internet, you had to go into the office because that is where the kind of bandwidth you wanted was.”

“Contrast that to today’s world, where I am walking around with more computing power in my pocket than used to be on my desk five years ago, and I have got broadband connectivity pretty much wherever I go. So why am I drawn to one building in order for me to do my work?”

Debate around the issue of remote working came to the fore again recently when Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer demanded that all employees working from home should return to the office, after looking at the amount of activity on virtual private networks (VPNs).

However Coplin said that such decisions show a lack of trust by a company senior management.

“The memo at Yahoo asks that all of the employees who don’t work in the office to come into the office, because basically, if we can’t see you, you are not working. Whenever that memo gets sent, the specifics of why it got sent are more or less irrelevant - the principle underneath it is trust.

“It basically says that we don’t trust you, and I think that is a huge issue for organisations.”

Instead companies should not be viewing remote working as an HR perk, and looking to put in place a flexible working strategy as widely as their organisation will allow, he said.

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