Why Knowledge Economies Need Flexible Working (and Flexible IT)

Nicola Mortimer
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On: 7 Jul 2015
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Why Knowledge Economies Need Flexible Working (and Flexible IT)

Widely regarded as Europe’s technology powerhouse, Ireland has firmly become a knowledge economy. What is now needed are more flexible working practices and the IT solutions to make them possible.

In business there’s a truism that nothing is certain. However if there is one certainty, it’s that things always change. Ireland for example has moved from traditional industries to become Europe’s technology powerhouse, with some of the world’s leading tech brands such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft now calling it home.

This increased focus on the global knowledge economy is driving a greater demand locally for highly skilled workers, as well as collaboration with colleagues and partners in the far flung corners of the world. Indeed a recent report showed that Ireland has the fourth highest ratio of tertiary or degree level educated 25-34 year olds to total population (51%), compared to the rest of the developed world.

And it’s for these reasons that Ireland’s businesses need to start opening their doors to flexible working – enabling their people to be productive wherever they are, while giving them the means to balance the demands of modern life too. So in this and a follow-up blog, I’ll be looking at the business and technology challenges required for flexible working to succeed.

I think there are three critical areas to consider when implementing flexible working practices and these are:

  • Changing cultural attitudes – even when flexible working is desired, both management and staff as a whole need to be nurtured into the right frame of mind.
  • Selecting the right technology – from BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to Unified Communications and Collaboration, there are many tools available that support flexible working, but which is right for your organisation?
  • No security compromise – flexible working changes the dynamics of how information flows in, out and around your organisation, but there must be no holes in your information security as a result.

Changing cultural attitudes

Traditionally workplaces were founded on the idea that by being present, at a desk, on the production line or other normal place of work, people were busy and doing what they should be. And because these work locations were largely fixed, the desired management style was observational and overseeing, to ensure output was maintained.

But flexible working demands a different management style, where the focus is on productivity and creating the right environment to achieve the best outcomes. To support this, corporate culture needs less hierarchical management to address completion of work to time and required standards, rather than precisely how and where that work is done.

The same applies to the workforce generally. They need to know how to work flexibly and still perform well, when it may be more difficult to ensure you’ve `worked your hours’ or delivered what’s needed. Ultimately this is about giving them the right level of freedom and access to information when and where they need it.

A knowledge economy could also increase the amount of project-based working, where your colleagues are no longer just the people at the desks next to you, but a dispersed group, potentially from multiple organisations and using online tools to collaborate with one another.

Cultural attitudes to recruitment and talent also need to evolve. Where location might have once been a prime factor it’s less likely to be so in the future, as organisations recruit from a wider geography to find the exact talent they need.

And of course, it’s not just simply the organisation itself that will change cultural attitudes to working. New Generation Y talent entering the workforce will have different views and expectations about how they want to work and what’s important to them in the job. Their increased technology awareness will also drive demand for more tools to help them connect and work effectively.

If your organisation is not already thinking about flexible working it probably should be, especially about the challenges and changes that are required both culturally and technologically. In my next blog I’ll pick up on the latter of these as well as the information security risks associated with flexible working.