Apprentice star and British businessman Lord Sugar was slammed on social media recently for tweeting, "To be honest before Covid we never had people working from home unless they were sick or snowed in. Call me old fashioned but I don't agree with it. I think people need to get out of bed in the morning and go to a place of work and turn up on time."
The sometime technology entrepreneur, who launched an ‘emailer' landline phone shortly before the iPhone's debut, was criticised for having an outdated view of the modern workplace and management methods.
A degree of agile working has been with us since the dawn of the digital age - and certainly since desktop computers became a fixture in the home. As laptops crept into people's bags, as broadband connections and WiFi spread, and as smartphones and tablets became universal, more and more of us have opted to use technology to blend our office and private lives and work more flexibly and remotely.
Yet, arguably, it has been the emergence of cloud platforms on which we can communicate, share data, create dedicated spaces, and collaborate on documents of every kind, that has had the most significant impact on workplace transformation - a change that has been dramatically accelerated by the coronavirus.
The focus of agile working has generally been on achieving a better work/life balance for employees. However, 2010 research by the Tavistock Institute indicated that some teleworkers often work longer hours. Others work fewer - a fear among some business leaders - but in a smarter and more intensive way, with fewer distractions.
Avoiding a long, tiring, and stressful daily commute has obvious benefits too - for the environment, for quality of life, for families, and more. The end result: often a harder-working, happier, and more motivated workforce. Some studies suggest agile workers are up to 20 percent more productive in terms of the work they carry out.
But not everyone thrives in such an environment. The Tavistock research acknowledged the existence of contrary evidence showing that those who work remotely with reduced hours sometimes have lower organisational commitment.
The productivity conundrum
However, one mystery of the business world is that UK productivity overall has been flatlining since the 2008-09 recession, despite the availability of new technologies and working practices.
One answer is that national (rather than personal) productivity standards don't measure the number of tasks that are carried out per worker, but rather the gross profit margin of all companies divided by the number of hours worked by a representative panel of employees.
This method is arguably flawed in a low-growth, low-inflation economy where the network effect forces prices down, not up.
This is because while technology is depressing those prices - which makes it harder to make money unless costs are forced down even more - the same technology allows for workers to operate outside of the standard 9 to 5 regime. This increases the number of declared hours, paradoxically making it appear as though they are doing less.
But whatever business leaders' views on remote and agile working might be, everyone knows that the coronavirus pandemic has forced a change in workflows and culture on nearly every kind of business, with notable exceptions such as transport, healthcare, energy, utilities, and manufacturing. However, even within these types of organisation, most non-frontline employees have been working from home.
The challenge for business leaders is that many of these changes are likely to become permanent - for some workers at least. As the longstanding adoption of more flexible, remote working has spread to millions of employees who have never been given the opportunity before, the personal productivity, workflow, health, and economic advantages of collaborating via cloud platforms now look increasingly attractive.
The IT managers' challenge
However, the ‘anywhere I lay my phone is my office' culture of the modern workforce is making our IT estates increasingly varied, complex, and remote, which is a challenge for IT leaders who have to support and enable this transformation, and both manage and authenticate a myriad of different devices.
Can they be more productive too? The answer is that cloud platforms that enable them to manage employee devices can be at the centre of this workplace transformation, and so the same personal productivity benefits should apply.
Computing Research spoke to 150 IT leaders in medium to large organisations to find out how they are using cloud device management platforms. The survey found that 94 percent are either already using cloud device management platforms, are actively implementing them, or plan to do so.
A recent Forrester Consulting study, commissioned by chip vendor Intel, found 28,160 hours saved in improved employee efficiency by using the Intel vPro platform, resulting in claimed savings of $1.3 million over three years.
The context for these choices is simple: IT workloads are increasing, device management costs are rising, and technology professionals believe that remote working is deepening the management challenge. As a result, they turn to the cloud.
Asked to rate the efficiency of their PC/client estate management processes on a scale from ‘1' (extremely inefficient) to ‘10' (extremely efficient), two-thirds of respondents chose between ‘7' and ‘10', suggesting that cloud platforms are succeeding in helping them meet these challenges.