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The cloud and the incredible shrinking office

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Those in the know say that cloud computing will fundamentally change the way we office creatures work.

“I am slightly too young to remember the workplace before the arrival of the PC,” says Jacqui Thomas, director of Comms at the UK and Ireland chapter of the Cloud Security Alliance. “But cloud is the same kind of game changer.”

Adrian Steel, head of infrastructure at the Royal Mail, also sees big changes ahead, especially once cloud matures.

Stripped for action

Data will be stored off-site and applications will be run on demand, allowing workstations to be stripped back to the bare minimum. If staff are accessing data remotely, they need not be in the office, so flexibility in the form of hot-desking, mobile working and working from home will be made much easier.

Offices will become smaller as companies no longer have to accommodate so many servers or people at a time.

Steel says flexibility is a good thing: commuters save on fuel bills and train tickets, and companies save on square footage and boost their green credentials.

Turning up for a new job without your own hardware would be considered unprofessional

He even goes so far as to predict a technology allowance, similar to a car allowance, in a future where turning up for a new job without your own hardware would be considered unprofessional.

What impact does this level of accessibility have on the individual? How can employers make sure staff are not overwhelmed by this pervasive, sometimes invasive, always-on technology?

Alan Lee-Bourke, chief information officer of not-for-profit organisation Wise Group, has recently taken his systems, including communications, into the cloud with Dynamics CRM and Link, and a beta test version of Office365.

Rules and regulations

He says the deployment has allowed the Wise Group to make many of the changes outlined above, and that rather than making work more intrusive, it can help safeguard personal space.

“I know I sound like I’ve been drinking the Microsoft Kool Aid,” he says. “But you can determine how available you want to be.

“The way it works is that you have one phone number and it diverts to reach you wherever you are – on your computer, your personal mobile, your desk, wherever.

"You don’t have to give colleagues your personal number, so when you are not working, you can just set your status to unavailable and the phone won’t ring.”

So technology can help, but the HR department still needs to be on the ball. Home workers must have their work environments certified as compliant with Heath and Safety Executive regulations.

And that is not the only red tape: staff might also need to let their home insurance know if they are using their house as a work place, for example.

Vicky Campbell, a human resources consultant with a background in local government, adds that for all its advantages, working at home is not always possible or desirable.

Only the lonely

“Not every job can be done from home, and even when it can, it won’t be right for everyone,” she says.

“You need to have good management practices in place to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to, and you also need to be aware of potential isolation. The social aspect of work is very important.”

Campbell thinks the ideal is to combine home working with time in the office. That way people have a chance to be part of the company’s social structure and consolidate work done at home – perhaps getting input that would be difficult to organise with everyone off-site.

If that isn’t possible, management needs to look at other solutions.

“One thing that can work is to organise regional meetings for home workers,” Campbell notes.

Alan Lee-Bourke argues that flexibility, and even hot-desking, doesn’t have to conjure up some dystopian vision of interchangeable staff deprived of personal space.

“We have a common area in the middle of our office which is open plan," he says. "So we have hot-desking, but we can have meetings in the communal space, bring our laptops with us and still plug in to our data.”

We’ll leave the final thought to Steel. “I’d love to see a big employer doing this,” he says.

“HSBC recently said up to 40 per cent of its staff could be home based, and there’s a push in London to get people to work from home during the Olympics.

"It will be interesting to see how that plays out.” ®

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