In his whitepaper, Business without Borders, Stuart Kirkby has highlighted the challenges and opportunities of business transformation. In this exclusive interview IN:SIGHT took a deep dive into the issues Kirkby has uncovered through his research and the opportunities lost when business fails to integrate technology, people and office spaces into a single plan of attack.
IN:SIGHT: Stuart, thanks for joining us – you’ve recently published a whitepaper looking into the way we work – can you tell us a little bit about it?
Stuart Kirkby: Sure, yes. The objective was to establish a baseline of the key areas that influence the way we work today – namely people themselves, the places they work and the tools they work with. What we found is that siloed investments often result in disappointment – but the problem usually isn’t about the technology, it’s about whether or not staff are actually empowered to use the technology to make productivity gains.
IN:SIGHT: So why do so many businesses miss out on the benefits of technology?
Stuart Kirkby: Some people work one way, others work another way, and we all use the tools we are given in different ways or not at all, especially if we don’t really understand why we were given them in the first place.
What the whitepaper does is illustrate the three pillars that need to be considered within organisations in order to achieve tangible positive outcomes from their investments in improvement. It’s not about taking the old stuff and giving it a different point of view, it’s about getting deep inside the organisation and creating an approach which will ensure technology becomes part of on overall solution.
IN:SIGHT: Technology is one pillar, if you like, what are the other two?
Stuart Kirkby: The three pillars are people, workplace and technology. The research we’ve been working on, that’s been published in the Business without Borders whitepaper, is all about how these three pillars might interact more cohesively so that businesses can respond to some of the very large-scale trends which are looming across the economy, at the same time as delivering tangible improvements to their business.
IN:SIGHT: Can you give us an example of how these pillars are supposed to work together?
Stuart Kirkby: Sure. Workplaces are quite hierarchical, you know, the CEO’s office is on the top floor, the office space is organised into different divisions, there is a desk set aside for every person, even if they only spend 50 or 60 percent of their time there.
Suppose you introduce just a facelift and a bit of hot desking into this environment? All you’re going to do is annoy people because they haven’t got a stable place to work, but they’re still going to sit near their managers, and they are still going to come in every day.
Or suppose you introduce a unified communications system, but you don’t retrain your managers to encourage people to work remotely, so now you’ve got a failed IT implementation, failed activity-based workplace and a bunch of annoyed staff that don’t want to do what you tell them to.
This is where things all go wrong. The three pillars technology, people and workplace have to all form a part of any productivity initiative if it’s going to deliver real productivity outcomes.
IN:SIGHT: OK, so can you give me an example of what happens when it all goes right?
Stuart Kirkby: Rather than a siloed workplace you create an activity-based work environment, where you might have areas for group working, quiet areas where people can focus in on what they’re doing, areas for phone calls, brainstorming – basically design the space around the activity. At the same time, really make it possible for staff to work remotely, and tracking what they do using goal-based management not desk based management.
The technology becomes the glue that binds it altogether. It enables people to engage more consistently and collaborate with people from across the company. The organisation operates with smaller offices, more flexibility, more highly engaged and happier staff because they’re spending less time travelling and more time actually achieving outcomes.
IN:SIGHT: Less time wasted in traffic?
Stuart Kirkby: Not only wasting less time in traffic, but there are numerous studies pointing to the fact that employees are happier in more flexible working arrangements, and happier staff are more productive staff. They enjoy their job, they’re more likely to stay. But also your offices are smaller, and your costs are reduced. The gains you can make by adopting a comprehensive approach to this are significant. But you need to invest in all three pillars, you can’t just focus on one or two and forget the third.
IN:SIGHT: OK, but why should leaders be thinking about this now, the technology has been there for a while, the idea of flexible working has been around for a while, what’s the imperative?
Stuart Kirkby: We’re now looking at flexible workplaces and productivity gains that make a significant impact on your costs, and on your capacity to attract the best staff. If you’re not reducing your costs, and if you’re not getting the best employees and keeping them engaged, your competitors are, or they will be soon. Smaller offices, targeted technology, less requirement to be in the office, more autonomy, goal-based management, – the combined benefits are irrefutable, and the whitepaper basically covers how to get there.
IN:SIGHT: Stuart, thanks for joining us on IN:SIGHT.
Stuart Kirkby: Thank you.