CIOs urged to prepare for the ’20-hour week’

31 May 2007

Retiring baby boomers, working-age mothers and generation X workers seeking a better work-life balance will lead to the demise of the traditional working structure and CIOs must be prepared to cater for a new approach – the 20-hour working week, Gartner has warned.

As the consumerisation of IT increases the proliferation of digital devices, content and services, the balance of power is shifting towards individuals in an organisation, according to Brian Prentice, research director, emerging trends and technologies at Gartner.

“As IT becomes woven into the fabric of people’s lives and traditional work-home boundaries are rendered obsolete, digital free-agency will emerge,” said Prentice. “CIOs need to prepare for the arrival of this new work phenomenon, which is being driven by political, social and technology changes.”

Digital free-agency is a term coined by Gartner to describe how people are blending professional and personal computing requirements in an integrated environment.

Retiring baby boomers, working-age mothers and generation X workers are seeking better work-life balance to juggle personal, family and community responsibilities. Traditional work structures are inhibiting people’s ability to achieve this, according to Gartner.

These changes are linked to global social shifts including the move away from a single breadwinner/single care-giver family model and the traditional view of retirement as the end of working life. Gartner said the potential power of this combined demographic will be a force to be reckoned with by governments and businesses around the world.

“When people in these demographics have marketable skills employers will find it difficult to ignore their requests for more flexibility,” said Prentice. “The additional pressures of an aging population and skills shortages will lead to the adoption of digital free-agency and flexible work structures as social, political and business necessities.”

As the need to employ skilled staff from demographics unable or unwilling to work 40 hours a week increases, Gartner believes the “20-hour-per-week job description” will emerge.

Rather than a draconian measure to halve the working hours of all employees, the 20-hour job description, as suggested by Gartner, is an approach to help increase an organisation’s ability to attract and retain skilled and highly qualified workers.

“The 20-hour-per-week job description is a relatively simple way of addressing a growing problem without radically restructuring well-established management models. Gartner is asking the CIO to consider a long-term planning scenario that prepares for the 20-hour job description and the rise of digital free-agency. That consideration needs to happen now,” Prentice explained.

“CIOs need to accept the fact that there will be an increase in less-time roles and the people in these roles will be increasing their use of IT including devices, communications technologies and social networking. They will be spending less time at work but using technology more in all the other aspects of their lives.

“It will be very hard to draw a distinction between the personal and work computing environment. The shift in power away from the organisation and in particular the IT department will be even more significant with these people,” said Prentice.

By John Kennedy