Tuesday, November 12, 2013

WWCF: Computerless companies or Flipped companies?

Which will come first?

 Most major U.S. corporations do not have company-owned personal computers 
Most major U.S. corporations have "flipped" the work week

Here is some explanation. My prediction is that at some point in the future many firms will find it unnecessary and undesirable to have the firm own and maintain computer hardware for individual employees. Instead the firm will just have some company servers hosting software/apps/websites that employees can tap into to do their job using a computer device(s) they own themselves. With technology ownership comes the burdens of keeping the technology running and safe. And increasingly employees use the technology for personal purposes blurring the lines between who that machine really serves. In fact many if not most are already practicing BYOD(evice) through smart phones and tablets. It seems it is just a matter of time before a company's technological connection with employees is more like the current connection between companies and customers. 

For this half of the WWCF to come first, we need to see a majority of major U.S. corporations adopt this policy on near company-wide scales. And this might be close at hand. IBM is offering advice on the idea. And reading between the lines of a few studies suggests we all but may already have a winner. These seem premature. I think for this to be fully achieved we would need a bit of a cultural change--employees will need to see not having their own computer/device(s) used as the way to connect to the firm and do their jobs as an antiquated concept. We are not quite there yet.

As for a "flipped" work week, I am referring to the idea that workers have fewer days in the office than days out of the office. This might mean workers would do the bulk of their work away from the office, or this might mean just a few highly concentrated days of uninterrupted work surrounded by multiple leisure days. In any event less time spent in the office leads economist David Levinson to believe we are nearing the end of auto traffic (and while we're off on this tangent, here is Reihan Salam's take on Levinson's vision). But back to the point. While I agree this indeed is a trend, I'm not sure Levinson's quick timeline is accurate. All the more so since a majority of major U.S. corporations is the benchmark. 

Getting there in either case means fighting against culture, bureaucracy, and conventional wisdom not the least of which includes that which has worked should not be hastily disregarded. In my estimate these inertial forces push back our winner until after 2033 (20 years from today). And I think BYOD will be the winner. Both the firm and the employee will tend to like this outcome. As for being at the office, it's an increasingly nice prison. And from the firm's perspective, the power of "being there" is real and difficult to replace. You can ask the gardener to bring his own shovel, but you can't ask him to weed from home.