GreenIT: What will it take for mainstream companies to allow their employees to work when, where and how they choose?

I’m working at London’s GreenIT09 conference today and during the keynote I asked the question shown in the title to this post.

As was the case at last year’s conference there is much talk of great progress being made by suppliers and their customers in reducing the electrical power requirements of data centres. The following quotes were referenced:

  • “50% of hardware acquisition cost is expended in cooling and power in 2009” – an analyst 
  • Power cost will equal server capital cost by 2010″ – an anyalyst

I have read similar quotes from a variety of sources and rather than focussing on the details I think it’s fair to say that data centres consume a great deal of power – supposedly equivalent to the airline industry – the cost of power is likely to continue to increase – power is a significant Operational Expense

Paul Coby (CIO, British Airways) gave a very interesting talk during the keynote – the highlights of his talk were:

  • 14% global CO2 emisions Worldwide due to transport, same as agriculture
  • emissions from cars and vans comprise 45% total transport, rail is 2%
  • BA are “finding the happy conjunction of cost saving, IT efficiency and GreenIT”

I’ve spoken (both online and in person) to many people from businesses across a wide range of organisations (businesses, public sector and charities) over recent months asking how people do their jobs.

Paul’s reference to the incredible percentage (14%) of CO2 emissions being due to transport really illustrates the a key aspect of my findings – most organisations mandate that their employees work at specific locations at specific times using prescribed tools.

We should free people to work when, where and how they choose thereby enabling the following benefits:

  • reduce travel times, frequency, cost and stress – enabling people to choose whether to travel in rush hour when they choose to collaborate face to face can reap these benefits. A hybrid of working from home at the start/end of the day can bring significant benefits – preventing people meeting face to face by expecting excessive working from home can be detrimental to productivity. It’s all about choice though as some people will still prefer to work in the office all of the time.
  • improved work life balance – being able to “time shift” and “location shift” work can bring significant benefits to both the employee AND their productivity levels. Parents may be able to take their children to/from school and also remain productive (depending upon the age of their children!) when sickness prevents their children from going to school

The technology required for effective remote working has existed for many years – there are innovative products and services that can be purchased to enhance the experience but the basics of a laptop, headset and a broadband/wireless/3G connection can be used by normal (non-technical/specialist) people across the land TODAY without significant additional cost.

Going as far as Voice over IP and video conferencing (using personal/often built-in webcams) can improve the feeling of connection with your remote counterparts. I’m particularly partial to innovative solutions such as Microsoft’s Roundtable device as I blogged about in detail here though don’t get hung up on buying additiona hardware and software – these may make sense once you’ve freed your employees to work remotely simply using webcams.

Clearly some tasks are best carried out in person and some roles/jobs are physically oriented hence are unable to take advantage of “time shifting” and/or “location shifting” – good examples being driving a bus, serving in a restaurant.

In my experience in order for work to be something you do not a place you go it’s critical for the entire management chain to buy into measuring their employees productivity by their results and both parties being clear upon the deliverables and time frames – this is cultural change though as @tebbo pointed out “cultural change starts with individuals”.

People coming into work (typically the so called “Millenials”/”Digital Natives”/”Generation-Y”) are not encumbered by the legacy of how work is traditionally done and hence I’m confident over time the barriers will be removed.

Your comments are much appreciated

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2 responses to “GreenIT: What will it take for mainstream companies to allow their employees to work when, where and how they choose?

  1. Most of the change required is one of mindset and expectation but HR and H&S legislation will certainly not help to allow more flexibility. Pionerring individuals need to “sell” the benefits to organisations so that it gains sufficient momentum to become mainstreamed.

  2. An excellent post. This is an excellent observation of incorporating something that benefits businesses in terms of their own productivity, the economy in general and of course ecologically speaking too.

    What i like is your tone which makes suggestions for improvements with well thought out and researched references without sounding lost. You’re not telling people how it should be done. Your merely showing managers of businesses that working from home (or elsewhere) is not just an excuse of personal convenience but it is a great benefit.

    Managers like to feel the control of a team beneath them and the ability to monitor and influence (control) the productivity of the team. Until businesses change their way of thinking and remove the overkilled heirachy structure and attitudes of todays businesses, we may see your vision come to fruition. Now is the time to put these suggestions to practice. What have we got to lose? Nothing. What have we got to gain?
    – better loyalty from employees
    – lower staff turnover
    – lower overheads due to smaller office space requirements
    – better business commitment if executed and monitored effectively
    – more productivity
    – less impact on the world’s eco-system as detailed by you.

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