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Virtual office: you’re ready but your boss isn’t

Virtual office: you’re ready but your boss isn’t

The technology that enables us shatter the archaic office structure exists. But old thinking dies hard, and that's what's holding things back, says Precious de Leon.

October 25, 2011 3:12 by

Kipp has moved to what we will describe as a cozier office. Space and seating arrangements aside, it took three days (kind of) for our server, internet and phone lines to be set up, even with the collective efforts of our IT team.

As such, this means Kipp has been working from our homes and remotely in between events. Thank goodness for WiFi, so few and far between in the UAE as it is.

Aside for ready access to a printer and social interaction among peers, our digital-only presence pretty much allows us to work everywhere—regardless of whether or not the server at the office works (Note also that most of Kipp’s materials are on a separate cloud server so we are not at the mercy of the disconnected company network).

So it really isn’t a surprise, we at Kipp, advocate a virtual office, much like what Gulf News described in this article. Of course, coupled with a few regular social meetings with the team over a cuppa or a pint—whichever your poison.

“Enlightened organisations will increasingly define objectives and allow their employees to choose the most effective way to deliver them, rather than count the number of hours they spend at a desk,” said Marie Puybaraud of research firm Global WorkPlace Innovation in that GN article.

But can this trust-based office model really work in present day Middle East? We doubt it. The technological capability may be here, but the mindset just isn’t. At least not yet. Before we jump into any sci-fi Minority Report-type office environment, we have to admit that no amount of computer tablet, touch surfaces, webinars and video conferencing can cure holes in an office that already shaky corporate protocols, politics and culture.

Any company jumping necktie first into a virtual office without the confidence that its management has the right attitude and skills to manage a remote team is just putting a band aid solution to their problems—albeit a very funky new age band-aid. (this is similar to our thoughts on iPads being given to children in classrooms for the sake of saying the school is a tech leader, without addressing the growing apathy among the students.)

“There is no doubt that we are leaving the era of the static desk and are moving into one of mobile technologies,” continues Puybaraud. “Very soon, the days of expecting employees to commute to simply sit at a computer will be seen as very outdated.”

Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it probably is. How many of you, Kipp readers, still have bosses that keep tabs on whether you were on time, constantly asking you for a breakdown of the way your day was spent? And ultimately, how many of these same bosses do you think will ever go on board with holding their staff accountable for their own deadlines and letting them work remotely? Not a lot I’d imagine.

And that’s just what the American Business Media said in their white paper: “While the employee usually enjoys less stress outside of the working environment, the manager’s ability to interact with the employee may be weakened.”

This, in theory, shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance to the virtual office, which let’s all agree has a lot to offer in terms of creating a more efficient way of working. This can only mean the need to recognise the changing role of the manager.

Less interaction shouldn’t mean less understanding. And in truth, work delays and communication lapses happen in current office scenarios anyway, so these can’t be used as excuses against a virtual office.

But it’s this kind of barriers that leads me to believe that the changing office environment goes far beyond the remote offices, surface computers and web-conferencing. I think we are possibly looking at a future where ‘enlightened’ organisations will only hire full-time employees for core admin and management positions, and the rest will be delegated to third party agencies on long-term contracts—individuals and agency teams alike.

Imagine how much companies can save not having to manage…

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