What does mobility have to do with a teachers' strike?
As I write this there is a teachers' strike across Victoria creating havoc for many working parents. My wife Rachel, the joint managing director of Combo, is at home with kids coming and going as families find ways to cope with the strike.
It has caused me to reflect on a few things around productivity and the cost to industry of workers needing to stay home to look after children on a day such as today.
I am not going to get into the politics of the strike here; just the impact on business and the opportunity created by technology for work from home. My kids are old enough to entertain themselves for a few hours at a time but still require supervision so, for them, today is a holiday – yay!
For Rachel, today is a working day where she has a lot of things she needs to work on to keep the wheels of commerce turning and ensure transactions continue. We are fortunate she is an information worker, not a hands-on process worker or skilled tradesperson.
I have the peace of mind that the systems are in place to make this work from home and run quite smoothly. We can transfer calls from the office to home quite seamlessly and we have remote access to all the business software systems we use whether they are cloud-based or run from our server stack. We have video chat for face-to-face meetings, which is great for management meetings one-on-one or for several people at once. We also have the ability to print documents in the office or at home for movement of paper documents.
Today as information workers, a desk in a communal office is not an essential part of the working day. Sure Rachel is the MD, so we don't need to worry about the work ethic. However, when one of our staff went to Adelaide for a party and broke his leg we were able to have him do his help desk job from Adelaide just as effectively for a month while his bones mended.
Pip Marlow, MD of Microsoft Australia, has recently declared Friday an office-free day. Don't bother coming in because we won't be here. Work from home or go visit clients but please stay away from the office. Microsoft Australia has a goal of 20% work from home to reduce the load on the office and environment. What a great concept!
Clearly there is some trust involved in this so it will not work in a hostile work environment filled with fear and loathing but it has great possibilities for a group of motivated professionals who are inspired to work hard and deliver results. This of course is something technology won't deliver but good leadership and team-building will.
So for your business to be ready to create flexible and mobile work solutions a technology company has all the tech solutions you need, unfortunately that is the easy part. If your staff are not yet inspired to work diligently without a boot on the back of their neck you have a bigger problem that will take longer to fix. Driving a cultural change needs to become part of your strategy for taking advantage of the work-from-home technology era.
There are many events that will motivate working outside the office, from natural disasters to teachers' strikes to employee preferences. Funny thing is we find it is the best performers and most desirable staff in our business and others who want the freedom to work from anywhere so they can do more. Whether your culture and technology are ready or not, it is time to take action to be ready for the next phase of the liberated workplace before the next talent war sets in to Australia's improving economy.
Chances are that you will need expert help with both the cultural adjustment and right technology. The good news is help is out there and you are not alone.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.