Free(ish) agents

15 Aug 2007

The latest trend to challenge CIOs is the mixing of professional and personal computing requirements to enable a better work-life balance.

A recent report by Gartner will certainly have piqued the interest of many workers. The research company said by 2015 a significant increase in ‘less-time’ roles will raise the total number of knowledge workers and decrease the average number of hours each works per week.

Now, before you get too excited, it only really applies to the type of job where the emphasis is on knowledge and highly skilled areas where it is not possible to conveniently split it into digestible time splices. But it is a possible peek into the future of work generally as we begin to absorb the impact of how modern life is impinging on societal structures and what that means for all of us.

Gartner calls it ‘Digital Free Agency’, which it said described how people are blending professional and personal computing requirements in an integrated environment.

Brian Prentice (pictured), research director, emerging trends and technologies at Gartner, says the 20-hour job description could soon emerge. These would be specifically crafted roles that will be designed to broaden the potential candidates by appealing to key demographics such as working-age mothers, ageing baby boomers and some Gen Xers that are skilled, committed to work but unable/unwilling to turn their job into a lifestyle commitment. But for the rest of us the standard 40-hour work week will remain the norm.

The key to a philosophy such as this taking a foothold is for employers to start recognising the merit in this approach. Prentice says in order for organisations to prepare for this they need to
1) identify hard-to-fill roles, particularly in high-skilled areas
2) work with managers to determine an acceptable subset of responsibilities that can be accomplished realistically in 20 hours
3) consider whether multiple roles need to be created to achieve the full result.

“It’s an issue of hiring the staff and assuring that the role meets the less-time requirement (using this as a way to get 40 hours of work for half the pay is going to blow up in an organisation’s face),” he adds.

New thinking

So where does a management who loves to see bums on seats fit into this new paradigm? According to Prentice, ultimately senior management needs to worry about whether it is attracting and retaining skilled staff. “It still amazes me how common it is for organisations to let go of highly qualified people because they have a family or want to ratchet back (the new form of retirement) their work hours. From the CIO’s perspective this is where digital free agency kicks in. They need to create an IT environment that allows these people to embrace the use of technology for professional and personal responsibilities in a mixed model.”

Gartner is encouraging CIOs to view digital free agency as a business-relevant trigger that can spur the creation of policies that address two countervailing trends: the need to control the computing environment on the one hand, whilst providing increased user autonomy on the other.

“Digital free agency is certainly not without its challenges, but CIOs need to recognise that it is a business value opportunity that enables specific governance strategies to be developed as well as setting the stage for further consumerisation initiatives. Ultimately, by preparing for digital free agency, the IT department will be able to position itself as a proactive enabler of true business change,” Prentice concludes.

By Eamon McGrane