It takes a village

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15 July 2015 | 0

BillyBlogRemote working is dead. Oh, alright, it’s not dead. Yet. But it may well be. Maybe. According to a company that makes a lot of stuff, including smartphones, tablets and laptops, remote working is on the way out. The company, which also makes screens, predicts “remote working will not be the way of the workplace future. Instead, the smart office will emerge as a creative village that makes staff more productive, healthier – and happier”.

Samsung’s Smarter Futures Report (download available here) argues there is a growing appetite for “smart tech-empowered offices” among workers and “in the next decade, their desires will be delivered upon, as smart systems strip away administrative drudgery. Big Data analytics, not bosses, will build office teams, and all staff will be empowered to create unique work subcultures that allow them to perform at their best”.

Ben Waber, visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says the modern versions of villages “will allow humans to do what they are best at – communicate intuitively, face-to-face, to consult and collaborate to solve the increasingly complex work situations that we face”.

He predicts that smart systems in the 2020s “will handle the macro-picture – all the masses of data and scheduling that makes a modern office run smoothly. The net result will be a less stressed, less overloaded workforce that leaves less often, takes fewer sick days, and is a lot more positive, healthy and happy”.

JP Luchetti, consultancy director at smart solutions consultant Mubaloo, expects future smart technology to “manage our diaries, write up our notes, fill in our expenses forms, and book our meetings – leaving us with a huge amount of extra time to spend talking face-to-face with our clients and our colleagues”.

And here’s the rub, especially for those of us who live in Ireland, a country where personal communication has always been highly valued. “It is human nature to want to look the other person in the eye and decide whether you trust them enough to work with them, and to build a strong professional relationship with them,” Luchetti argues. “The idea that smart technology will move us away from that is ridiculous.”

Intuition by design
The report believes Big Data will enable smart systems to build office teams by pinpointing “exactly who the key collaborators should be – and designing ways to get them together”. Team building will become a science rather than hit and miss intuition.

The main barrier will be cultural rather than technological, the report argues, stating: “Over the next 10 years, managers will need to unlearn 150 years of hierarchical organisational wisdom in order to effectively guide their new smart technology-empowered collaborative teams.”

You could argue that’s an issue which has dogged remote working too with managers unwilling to cede control and oversight.

Anyway, it all sounds laudable enough (and potentially very profitable for makers of screens and smart technology), but how do creative villages overcome the practical difficulties which remote working is supposed to help address? Waber believes that “the workplace is shifting from a rigid, hierarchical environment into a modern version of the villages we all lived in until the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago”. But is it really?

Unlike the pre-industrial revolution villages, I have a sneaking suspicion that an awful lot of creative “villages” are still going to be based in very large cities and conurbations. In which case, I can’t help wondering what they will do to solve the problems remote working is supposed to alleviate, such as the time wasted commuting into busy city locations where office space is at a premium and infrastructure is creaking. Not to mention the expense.

So what’s the likelihood that creative villages will actually be located in villages or towns? Pretty remote I’d say.

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