In my Cloud-based, multiple device world of work, skipping freely from one software as a service to another, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that most people’s working life simply isn’t like this. In the past seven days I’ve had conversations with people from two organisations where the default position for access to online services (including social networks) is that they are turned off. In both cases, in one way or another, the organisations in question were looking to improve collaborative working. In both cases it felt like challenge the “firewall says no” culture was attempting to slay sacred cows, and that the inconsistency between current policies and desires for better working wasn’t seen.
Generally issues of “compliance” are used to justify such draconian positions. Whether public or private sector, regulated industries or not, there are a list of reasons from SOX to Data Protection to Safe Harbor to Financial Conduct regulations can be thrown up as reasons why staff need to be protected from themselves.
But in reality, blocking services within organisations these days is not only futile (one of the ones I spoke to talked about how staff spent all day looking at personal mobile phones to keep up to date with social network activity), but also sends one of two clear messages to staff – either that they are untrustworthy (they will wilfully use online services to damage the organization) or stupid (they’ll inadvertently do so). Or possibly both.
Assuming untrustworthiness or stupidity is a fairly good way to drive untrustworthy or stupid behaviours. But organisations are waking up to this…
I heard of a fabulous example from the most unlikely of sources a few weeks ago when chatting with Tim, the Head of Mobile for a construction company based in the South East. The company’s lorries will be familiar to many in the UK as they are contracted by a number of utility companies to repair water mains and the like under the roads of Britain. The company’s mobile technology policies used to be driven by assumptions about their work crews: work allocation was done using expensive, ruggedized Panasonic Toughbook laptops, and appropriately ponderous application software.
Work crews are incentivised to get jobs done quickly, and as a result they tend to have a low regard for anything that gets in the way. The technology was getting in the way – something that became all to evident when one morning one of the Toughbooks was found nail-gunned to the gatepost outside Head Office.
The reaction from the company has been to take a completely new approach. Rather than assuming clumsy oaf-ness in their crews, they’ve realised that most these days are carrying their own smartphones around with them at work. As a result, they’ve now issued crews with relatively high-spec Android devices, ruggedized with nothing more than a protective case, with a handful of corporate apps to manage work allocation and, crucially, no locking down.
Staff are free to install apps. There have been a few issues, but the interesting thing has been that by giving the staff freedom, they’ve become much more protective of the tools that they have been issued. As Tim put it to me, whilst they might not care one way or another about company property during the day, they certainly don’t want to get home and for their kids be unable to play games on the phone in the evening.
This breaks just about every rule of traditional corporate technology governance. And yet is reaping results for the company both in terms of more effective working practices, and a more engaged workforce who are feeling valued. If it can happen in the rough-and-ready world of roadworks crews, surely it can happen anywhere?