Can digital technology enhance our work/life balance?

Striking a good work/life balance and embracing the rapid developments of technology has been a challenge for employees, as well as employers for a number of years now, especially for a business like Amicus ITS where we operate and support clients 24×7.  With the rapid deployment and acceptance in the workplace of mobile devices (BYOD and corporate mobiles + increased procurement of laptops), this has created flexibility options for many workers to answer emails, work on projects or just keep track of workload, out of hours or from offsite.

The question is – does this extra work, or working in a different environment create greater productivity and effectiveness, or is it allowing the individual to be swamped and creating a guilt culture about completing work or a ‘see I’m working now’ badge?

Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote speaking ahead of the ‘Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford 2015’ conference this week, commented:  “The challenge today is that we are a first generation digital society and still figuring out how to make it help us.  We now have mobile devices with email and most people think they should respond to the traffic all the time.  People need to manage their time right and access to work, to be in the right environment to be most productive. The point of the devices is to enable you to choose when you should engage with work. To do this successfully, we need new culture to support this”.

As part of the management team at Amicus ITS and with overall line management responsibility for our HR function, I believe that having the flexibility of a mobile workforce is a valuable tool for business in delivering productivity for the business and flexibility for the workforce.  However, I think we have to acknowledge that there needs to be a mature management culture overseeing this and individual discipline for those involved.  With all the enablement and security activated, it can also ensure that business continuity plans are quicker to exercise.  We have to get smarter about distinguishing work expectations and move away from micro-managing employees to thinking about how we can engage better with staff.  We should provide this balance when staff are out of the office both supporting them to escape and enjoy their downtime, as well as facilitating those who want to utilise some of this time for ‘clearing the decks’ or innovative thinking, by providing them with anywhere access to systems and data.

This is a thought echoed by Head of Envisioning at Microsoft UK, Dave Goplin, whose view is that, “It would be wrong to stifle innovation or good work if it suits the individual”.

The 2009 MacLeod Report for UK Government “Engaging for Success”, showed that disengaged employees cost the UK economy about £60 billion per year.  Technology is moving swiftly, but corporates are still slow to react and missing the boat on engagement.  As Dave Goplin said:  “If we can fix the challenge of engagement and enthuse the workforce by integrating technology with flexibility, employees will increasingly reconsider the importance of their work and the organisation they are working for”. 

At the back of all this, as a Managed Service Provider there is the corporate handle of ‘Shadow IT’.    Full governance, controls and management of what applications are allowed on a device, as well as keeping the data secure at all times has to be in place, before any of this vision can take place.  But it’s a good idea which progressive companies should position themselves to embrace and consider – and could make the difference of being the ‘go-to’ employer of choice in the next decade.

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