Business

Have SMEs joined revolution to smash 9-to-5 work ethos?

The traditional 9-to-5 working day is disappearing

BUSINESSES and how they operate their daily function is changing, and the common 9-to-5 work ethos for businesses is almost extinct even in Northern Ireland.

With wi-fi access forming part of restaurants' standard service, or free wi-fi on Translink buses and the Enterprise trains between Dublin and Belfast, there is no rest or indeed hiding place for the business executive any more. In addition to this came news earlier this month that making calls, sending text messages and using a mobile internet connection will be the same Europe wide as if you are at home in Ireland.

New roles requiring round-the-clock attention are becoming more common, and the average working week in many industries has increased by up to seven hours, in some cases more. This has severely affected our work/life balance and is prompting employees to strive for more flexible work schedules.

More and more young people who are fresh to industry and engaged in carving out a career for themselves are making a flexible working environment a priority when applying for jobs. Companies that are willing to consider moving away from the traditional Monday-Friday 9-to-5 paradigm are more attractive to potential employees and some HR professionals suggest that these companies can often be a happier place to work as a result.

On a recent visit to SAP headquarters in LondonI had to scan the internal restaurant to find a table that could accommodate our group of Fuel and SAP staff on the Thursday, and yet at the same time on Friday, I could have had a row of tables to myself. The queue at the Costa Coffee shop in the main reception was pretty small too. The reason, I was told, is the flexible working environment in place.

With technology enabling business to be conducted anywhere, the need for workers to be physically located in the same office is diminishing. Tools such as Skype allow meetings to take place between staff members wherever they are located (including the local coffee shop), and even important conversations can easily take place on the move.

As digitalisation continues to impact industries across the world, companies and employees alike must embrace this change. What may have worked well in the past may no longer fit the needs to today's businesses and employees. Routine is not always required, and flexibility is becoming more the norm.

Using technology to engage remote workers and streamline communications can help managers achieve that necessary balance between micro-managing and providing clear guidance and direction to a distant workforce. The deploying of virtual reality headsets for collaboration is one of many ways for successful managers to utilise technology to close the gap between in-house and remote workers.

While it's one thing to pull on a headset and collaborate with peers miles away, don't underestimate the benefits of a simple video chat using an app like Skype. Most people today carry this technology in their pocket, encouraging quick face-to-face sessions to hammer out details or gain clarity on an assignment.

Today, virtual reality headsets and software bring everyone even closer together, allowing them to interact with objects in a mutual, virtual environment. For instance, you can share your PC monitor in a virtual environment with colleagues in their own home offices, creating a more seamless interaction than other desktop-sharing software might.

The days of an entirely virtual office may be years off, but, for now, the technology can improve engagement in meetings by immersing workers in a shared environment.

:: Trevor Bingham (editorial@itfuel.com) is business relationship manager at ItFuel in Craigavon. Follow them on Twitter @itfuel.

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