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I write this blog after watching a very interesting video in which the argument for more collaborative working and changing the ‘old ways’ was made strongly. I also write this around a week before a trip to the USA for some well earned R n R after what’s been a busy but very productive year so far.
The two elements are linked, in that I am of an age when I remember very clearly the times at Christmas each year when the family would gather at my dad’s house for festivities, to be followed by the rare treat of talking to my Uncle who at the time was living in San Francisco. The call was placed and we would take turns saying “hello”……. Then waiting for the 2-4 second delay on the line before worrying that we were costing my dad too much on the phone bill and handing over to another relative for their turn. Let me be clear, I’m only 42, so this was back in the mid to late 1980’s not the Victorian era, but the way technology has moved forward in those 30 or so years means that fundamental changes have taken place in the way we communication – and in turn that affects the way we work.
Although I’m not keen to jump on the back of another companies marketing slogan, I do feel that the simplest way to explain the way that work is changing is to use the phrase ‘everything everywhere’ – working in the modern economy requires collaboration, access to information quickly and being able to work (a difficult term to pin down I know) anywhere that’s convenient at that time.
Running an IT Support company perhaps allows me to see and benefit from these major changes more directly than most, but in my world I can communicate with clients pretty much anywhere, provide remote support via an internet connection and complete admin tasks using my laptop. It may not surprise you to learn that even while writing this blog I’m in a well known high street coffee chain, on a laptop, using the WiFi to run Skype in order to talk to my support engineers and managing inbound queries that require my direct attention. In the time its taken to write this blog I’ve emailed 4 different clients on account matters, ordered some new hardware from our supplier and had two Skype IM chats about an ongoing issue with a client. That’s considered work, right ? But because I do it in casual clothes and not in a formal office environment it seems many people don’t see it as work at all.
It used to be a running joke with my mother, who is from a very traditional background, that she used to ask “are you working today” – it was asked because in her world I only ‘worked’ if I went to an office and most days I didn’t so in her mind I was not working. This approach is common in many business environments and harks back to the time when we as ‘workers’ were paid for our time, not our results. We clocked in, clocked out and were paid based around the number of hours we put in each week. That approach is still the main way we all get paid today, but we are often less productive in such a formal environment and are increasingly able to work and be productive away from the office – so why not embrace this change ?
Fear is, I suspect, at the heart of most business owners reluctance to change but it’s a shame as I think many would find benefit from a more flexible approach. Surveys and investigations back up this flexible working theory time and time again. In a survey conducted earlier this year by YouGov on behalf of Skype, it was found that more than a third (36 per cent) of British workers say they feel they would be just as productive working from home as they are in the office, while 23% think they would actually be able to get more done in their own home than they would surrounded by the distractions of the workplace – imagine a very expensive Management Consultant telling you that they could boost your business productivity by 23% – you would say “no way, not possible” and yet the answer is as simple as letting people work to a time frame that suits them, not you.
There are many important issues that arise when people want to work flexibly or work in locations away from the office, many are technology based and that’s where IT support providers need to offer an equally flexible approach to their services. The days of large, fixed and server focused business are dying………….. and in the small business community are pretty much dead already. What’s needed is an embracing of Cloud services and the understanding that by not selling ‘stuff’ (servers, hardware etc) and selling advice, support, consultation and knowledge that they will be stronger not weaker.
I’ve been an advocate of this approach for some time and I’m going to stick my neck on the line now and say that if smaller businesses don’t change in the next few years then they will suffer a huge downturn in their profits. More importantly, they may find it hard to recruit staff as many in the under 25-30 year old generation are so used to working online that they are not going to be keen on working in a business which to them is ‘old fashioned’ – look at the problems we had in the 1980’s and 1990’s as workers so used to employment in factories and industry found it hard to move into more admin and knowledge based employment – well its not difficult to see how a generation of individuals not used to working online might also find it hard to find work in an economy that’s geared towards collaboration and flexibility.
So, in conclusion its easy to see that IT support providers need to offer a much more flexible approach to supporting their clients. Its not about hardware management as much anymore, and instead its about understanding their business and then providing new and perhaps innovative solutions to let them work in the most flexible and productive ways possible. Oh, and the link between all this and my trip to the USA next week ? Well with the way I work in the UK, I’m not going to be too far away from work when (trying) to relax the USA either!
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About the Author
Craig Sharp is a stakeholder and driving force behind Midlands based IT Support provider Abussi Ltd. Founded by Craig in 1995 as a database supplier, Abussi has transitioned over 20 years from software into Managed IT Support. Craig has always sought out clients who have between 5-35 employees because he believes passionately that when you work with SME’s you have the best possible opportunity to affect positive change. Most importantly Craig has a passion to educate and inform. Leaving university to be a teacher because of his overwhelming desire to impart knowledge to others has never left – it informs the way Craig talks to clients about new services which will transform their business or in how he puts across the benefits to clients of updating business processes with an emphasis on IT.