Location: The secret to a happy British workforce or a double-edged sword?

An intriguing paradox has sprung up around technology in the workplace. Surveys such as this one, which tout the importance of job location to employees, seem to jar with the conventional wisdom that says technology has made location all but irrelevant in the world of work.

What do I mean by irrelevant? Well, when it comes to being able to get the job done, connected employees can work from almost anywhere: from the living room to the car, in a communal workspace on company property or in a public coffee shop. It doesn’t matter where they are, in many industries and businesses basic internet access is all it takes to put ‘the office’ wherever it needs to be.

And this is where the paradox emerges. Location may matter less now from a practical perspective, but greater choice and flexibility has elevated it to a level of emotional importance that actually makes it of far greater consequence than ever before – and that has some very practical implications indeed.

For someone who has spent as many years as I have providing collaboration solutions to companies of all sizes, this is particularly interesting. When this technology and others were brand new and disruptive they were chiefly sold on their productivity and efficiency benefits.

Now these benefits are established and taken for granted, however, we’re starting to see their impact on improving the wellbeing and quality of life of employees. And the consequence of that improvement is a radical shift in employee expectations that many of us did not foresee back then. (Or if we did, we didn’t talk about it!)

This can’t be undone and, as the survey I opened with suggests, any business that hopes to attract and retain talent but fails to take these expectations into account will be at a serious disadvantage.

It doesn’t take long to find studies or research to demonstrate this. Two out of three of the world’s most effective leaders are unwilling to relocate, the availability of flexible working was important or very important for 41 per cent of employees when choosing their current employer and a majority (57 per cent) says that the availability of flexible working in their workplace is important to them.

This is only going to be exacerbated as younger people progress through the workforce: nine out of ten people born between 1980 and 2000 – who have grown up almost entirely in the digital age – identify flexibility as a top priority when selecting a workplace.

The good news is that to adapt to this ‘new normal’ requires an attitude change rather than a large capital investment. The size or resources of your business isn’t necessarily a barrier to putting in place the technology that will enable business owners to provide a working experience that meets modern expectations – if they want to.

Like in motor racing where engineering wizardry from Formula One or Moto GP can eventually be seen in mass production models, so it is in communications technology. Video-as-a-service solutions, for example, allow you to buy as much or as little video capacity as you need, when you need it, because they are cloud-based.

Less easy to pin down is whether or not these increased employee expectations are the climax of the technology-in-the-workplace revolution of the last few decades. If we wanted to indulge ourselves by looking slightly further ahead at how the workplace of the future might evolve from here, we might see signs that the simultaneous demotion/promotion of location’s importance has developed into a two-way street.

recent study by Ernst & Young shows that a healthy work-life balance is becoming harder to achieve for some employee types and age ranges. And although it is not explicitly stated, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that this ‘work-creep’ has been enabled in part by technology making people more accessible.

Clearly technology has made employees more efficient, productive and loyal, and even willing to take a lower salary – according to the research – but the cost to employers has been a massive shift in what’s expected of them. How they respond will make the difference between a good place to work and a great place to work.

Tim Stone is an EMEA vice-president of Polycom, a leader in unified communications solutions.

Image: Shutterstock

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