Gareth Williams: technology helps with personal productivity but there's no effect on working hours
Much is made in the media of the UK being a place of long working hours and stress. Best-practice working and time efficiency is high on the agenda of all organisations, yet the UK bosses are still working longer than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, according to a survey by Interoute of 1,050 C-level executives across seven European countries.
Communication technologies across the world have brought tremendous efficiencies to business. With a firm eye on cost control, companies have been quick to embrace new technologies, reaping the financial and personal productivity benefits that they bring.
The rate of adoption of technology over the last decade has been prolific. Our survey into communications technology usage in Europe found that Instant Messenger is used by 56% of respondents, the mobile phone is close to saturation, telephone and voice conferencing are day-to-day tools for more than 37% of business and voice over IP penetration is around a third.
Between 2006 and 2007 Interoute itself cut travel by 35% despite growing its headcount by more than 100 people, thanks to the roll-out of video conferencing. Moves such as this are leading to a truly borderless European society, where communications knows no boundaries and enhancing the clout of European businesses in the global market place.
But while businesses have been quick to benefit, individuals are not yet feeling the impact on their working week — at least in terms of working hours. This is in spite of technologies that are designed to help with personal productivity.
According to the Interoute study, 34% of professionals work more than 60 hours a week, with more than 55% saying that working hours had increased rather than decreased since 2000.
Business culture and trust still has some way to go to catch up with the pace of technology over the last decade. It's now possible to eliminate what would otherwise be dead time at airports on trains, and in hotels.
Breaking down boundaries
Virtual private networks extend the reach of a local area network over the internet so that a user is able to access the same applications and services as if they were in an office. Voice over IP releases a phone from the desktop and calls can be routed to a soft phone on a PC, a mobile or a home phone.
And technologies such as instant messaging that enable real time conversations online and video or web conferencing help cut down on meetings and the need to travel to different territories.
The Interoute study found that more than 70% of respondents believed that adopting modern business communication tools had reduced the amount of time they spend liaising in person with colleagues, partners and customers.
That is not to say that technology could ever eliminate the need for direct contact. Sales, new introductions and line management are among some of the relationship-based meetings that need to be done face-to-face. Likewise any situation where there is a need to address conflict or a sensitive issue.
There are plenty of superb examples of best practice. Forward looking organisations have used communications technology to embrace flexible working, removing boundaries and enabling employees to split their time between working from home, on the road or in an office, eliminating travel time and removing many of the day-to-day distractions of an office.
Security and environmental benefits
But there are other often unforeseen benefits. Technology to support flexible working provides an excellent defence against unforeseen events and can go some way to reducing business's carbon footprint and money spent on travel.
Recent strikes in Paris and delays to renewal works at Liverpool Street station, the key entry point to London had a massive impact on the productivity of both cities. But employees who were set up for remote working were able to continue at home unaffected.
Reducing travel has further benefits. The survey found that video conferencing and instant messaging have helped reduce carbon footprints. It's good for the environment: 65% of respondents to the study from across Europe indicated that technology had helped them reduce their carbon footprint and video conferencing usage has increased 17% in seven years, with nations such as the UK and Germany embracing it the most.
Communication technology has delivered firmly in terms of financial benefit, flexibility and personal productivity.. But to realise the maximum potential of such innovative business tools, speed and reliability is of the essence.
Business leaders need to have faith in the tools at their disposal and this is why more and more organisations demand pan-European IP coverage. GTB
Gareth Williams is CEO of Interoute