Cloud computing is at the heart of the new world of work

1 Dec 2011

Microsoft is redesigning its Sandyford offices to reflect the new model of flexible working

Increasing numbers of Irish office workers have better technology at home – better broadband and better computers, for a start – than in the workplace and the demands of modern lives ought to make flexible working both at home and on the move a reasonably viable option.

Yet one-third of Irish workers have never worked from home, while slightly less than 10pc work exclusively from home, according to a new Microsoft study.

The study reveals that:

  • In 2010, Ireland had the least productivity growth in Europe, except for Greece, out of all OECD countries
  • 39pc of Ireland’s 2.1m workers commute more than 10km to work every day
  • 80pc of Irish workers do overtime work each week
  • 81pc of people believe their lives would be better if they could work more flexibly

The study also reveals that only 13pc of Irish workplaces are actually supportive of working flexibly compared with 25pc in the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland, and 20pc of workplaces in the UK.

The problem appears to be that trust is still an issue and despite the onset of cloud computing, mobile technologies, and unified communications ‘presence’ technologies that indicate workers are in fact at work and working, most Irish employers cling to the prehistoric notion that you are only working if they can see you at your desk.

With motor tax and VAT likely to increase in the forthcoming Budget, Irish employers might have no choice but to change their minds.

“The challenge is that Irish employers are not showing the flexibility they could,” explains Martin Cullen, sales director of Microsoft Ireland.

“The technology is there and the people on the ground crave it. But the fact is management in Irish companies can’t seem to align themselves to flexible working and that’s a lost opportunity.

“It has to start with a management decision around trust.”

Cullen’s colleague Jeremy Showalter, information worker lead at Microsoft, says the problem is a knowledge gap and lack of awareness of the latest technologies.

“Managers also need to value flexibility. Technologies like the cloud – which most workers are already using – enable people to work more productively and efficiently. Work is what you do, not just a place you go to.”

Irish firm Ezetop takes on flexibility

An Irish company that has embraced flexibility is young Dublin firm Ezetop. Ezetop’s Jim Carr explains that the company, which enables instant global top-ups for mobile phones around the world, grew from three people in Dublin to more than 120 people in six countries serving 300,000 retail outlets around the world.

“We have to have teams of people around the world and we are not obsessed with nonsense like what time this or that person is sitting at their desk. We use technologies like the cloud and unified comms to make sure they are actually working productively.”

Ezetop got rid of its traditional PBX and with the help of Unity Technologies moved to Microsoft’s Lync unified comms technology. Effectively, it was able to allow workers to walk away from old desk phones and do all phone calls and videoconferences on smartphones and notebooks.

Unity’s Andrew Miller says that increasingly new generations of workers will expect this flexibility. “Many of the new workers are digital natives and as well as that experienced people want flexibility, too.

“Companies are realising that if you want to employ the right calibre of people you have to allow them to work more flexibly.”

Microsoft’s Cullen concludes: “Businesses are under intense pressure to deliver more with less resources. Cloud computing is at the heart of this change. Enabling people to do things better and more flexibly will deliver a cost benefit to the businesses.”

“You can’t run a globally distributed business unless you are in the cloud,” adds Ezetop’s Carr. “People need to be empowered to work from anywhere.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years