An article in ITProPortal, A True Digital Workplace, reminded me of a discomfort—and privilege—I’m currently experiencing.
My computer broke down, and I was given a laptop as a replacement because the company is slowly transitioning all of us to laptops. I was excited at first about the option as it would allow me to work from home with ease. However, my excitement abated when I learned of a company policy: Everyone who has been issued a laptop has to bring it home with them every night. Locking it securely in a cabinet in your cubicle or office won’t do.
At first I thought it was a security issue, but then a co-worker forwarded me the e-mail announcing the policy, and I saw that the reason is the company wants us to always have the laptop with us in case there is an unexpected emergency. I guess they feel they won’t be getting their money’s worth unless we are able to work through everything and anything—urban apocalypses included. They had taken what I initially saw as a positive good and turned it into a chore. I suspiciously wondered if the people behind this policy had come across research showing that when employees were forced to bring their laptop home every night they were more likely to end up doing work after hours. Was this just another way to sneakily squeeze more work out of us?
What bothers me about this stifling policy is it misses the gift of the digital workplace: flexibility and freedom from chore-like rules in how and where work gets done. Most of us have home computers we could use in an unexpected pinch. The value of the company laptop is we can have it with us for all those times we know in advance we either need to, or just would rather, work from home. A true digital workforce is cloud-based, not reliant on whether or not an employee has a company-issued laptop with them.
For example, my father’s employer, the VA Hospital system, has technology that allows staff to log into their workplace computer from any computer. So they can view their work computer’s screen and contents while sitting at home with their own computer. Not only does this cloud-based system avoid the chore of lugging around a laptop unnecessarily, it also provides greater security since the information is in the cloud, versus on a laptop or other mobile device that can be lost or stolen. A cloud-based system can be hacked into, but it’s easier to lose a laptop than it is to hack into a well-secured online system. Just ask anyone who’s ever left a laptop behind while going through security at the airport (as happened once to a traveling companion of mine), or got to their destination only to realize their laptop was still in the back seat of a cab or on the seat of their commuter train.
Training a workforce to adapt to the new digital age isn’t just about teaching employees how to use new technology such as customer relationship management software or inventory management systems. It’s also about teaching executives how best to optimize technology to better lead their workforce.
As part of your leadership development coursework, do you offer seminars or presentations about the ever-expanding workplace/data options technology offers? Many executives at your company, especially those who came of age before the home computer revolution of the 1990s, may not even realize that the ability now exists to access all the contents of your work computer from your home computer—as you lay flopped on the sofa watching reruns.
A company that truly optimizes the latest technology has the power to take the feelings of chore and monotony out of the workplace. A good test of whether a new technology investment contributes to a better way of doing work is to ask whether any additional chores are created by making the investment. In today’s world, technology that’s worth the investment makes life (including work life) more streamlined, and eliminates steps and process, rather than adding to it.
Lugging a laptop to the office everyday (not a small thing for a small person) defeats the purpose of the digital workplace—entirely adaptable and not dependent on any physical device.
Do you educate your company’s executives about all the new, exciting options technology gives them to create a streamlined, flexible experience for employees?