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The Boomer Bulletin - 2012
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What the Shift to Consumer IT Means for Firm Culture

Posted By Eric Benson, Tuesday, January 10, 2012
There are many issues that should be addressed regarding personal devices on a 
firm network.  Many firms consider these to be only security related – what happens if an employee leaves the firm with email on their personal device, for example?  In talking with firms who have moved to accepting personal devices for work purposes, however, the security objections often mask a larger firm culture objection.  

This objection also comes up in other areas of change, but is most apparent in technology where the ramifications of change can be mysterious.  A characteristic of this reaction to technology change is the discomfort level and the number of objections that bring up current practices (personal, preferred or in place and working).  Another characteristic is that the change often comes through unconventional channels – like young workers, pressure from media, or partners on the quest for new ideas.  Personal devices, moving applications or entire server rooms to the "cloud” and more fit in this category right now; they are in the painful process of acceptance in most firms. 

Understanding how firm culture relates to technology change can help you become more effective as an employee, team member and leader in your firm.  This article looks at four different mindsets that people have when defining "work”.  Each has a very valid function when used to assess how technology change is viewed in the firm.

Mindset 1 – Office Mindset

The Office Mindset revolves around the notion that you have to go to work to do work.  This model has a good reason for existence; in the past, you couldn’t work from home because the option just wasn’t available.  The Office Mindset values visual accountability very highly.  After all, if your supervisor can’t see you working away, how is he/she supposed to know you are doing your job?  

In addition, an office mindset can drive a "one office” mentality, which is a good thing.  Everyone has the same experience in the morning – they come to the same place, use the same restrooms, sit in similarly decked offices or cubicles.  There is bonding that comes from uniformity.

Accountability and a one office mentality are both extremely important in business.  However, withholding access to work if not in the office may reduce the potential of your firm to do work effectively.  

Mindset 2 – Departmental/Position Mindset

The Departmental/Position Mindset is grounded in the fact that your position determines your privileges.  This is not necessarily a seniority status (which is covered in the next section); rather it’s based on what department you work in.  Accounting firms have very specific internal verticals in technical production.  Audit teams routinely go off site for jobs, but tax doesn’t.  When you get to the middle of the firm, there are also differences based on position.  Administrative staff needs to be in the office to answer the phone or be available for projects.  IT may be required to have access after-hours, especially during tax season.

Who you are or who you manage (or think you manage) can drastically alter where work can take place.  Would you consider an office receptionist a position that can work from home?  How about a tax professional?  

There are obvious choices in terms of who can work where with a departmental/position based mindset, and with good reason.  However, this may lump together individuals (or teams within a department) that are not like others and can have more flexible work arrangements.  Oftentimes you may lose out on productive time by treating everyone by position instead of by responsibility.

Mindset 3 – Seniority Mindset

Seniority is something that is being challenged in the workplace.  Actually, has it ever not been challenged?  New employees often have drive, ideas and enthusiasm that can bring out the "iron hand” of seniority and reduce privileges for those who haven’t been around as long.  Of course, it is also a very valid and useful tool; those who’ve worked at a location the longest have knowledge and invested effort in the firm they’ve worked for.  

Experience does have immense value, and in an accounting firm, experience often drives an ownership stake.  Having a solid understanding of the balance between privilege (seniority mindset) and work style (technology mindset) can drive the value even higher by introducing mentoring and teams where that experience is a resource and not a constraint.

Mindset 4 – Location Aware Mindset

With technology comes change, and this particular mindset has evolved rapidly over the past 20 years.  A location aware mindset asks the question "What can I do here?” instead of waiting to get to the office.  In many ways, the consumer technology trends have changed this mindset from one of convenience to necessity.  New employees are used to being productive wherever they are.  If restrictions are placed on work style and location, a young new employee might actually feel like a right has been revoked.

This might bring a location aware mindset into a young generation discussion; much like a seniority mindset might also be generational.  This is not so.  In many instances, the technology to perform a task is utilized by everyone in the firm to enable a location aware mindset.  The key impediments are issues with mindset – why can’t it work instead of how can it work.  Again, there is a balance here.  Having a full three monitor tax workflow on a tablet is possible, but not very efficient.  However, viewing key work papers on a tablet is possible and can be very effective in client interactions.

Bringing the models to personal devices

Did any of the models above ring true for your firm?  I imagine so.  Understanding your work culture is a key component to adapting to technology change, because at the moment much of that change is pulling the control of the hardware away from the firm and placing it in the hands of others.  Personal devices run right against both the idea of the people/data having to be in the office to work (Office Mindset) as well as having the right to access their work from anywhere (both Position and Seniority Mindsets).  The Location Aware Mindset also runs into issues with firm culture because even though someone may ask for a personal device to have access to work information, there may be legal/HR issues with granting access.

Summary

The key take home from these mindsets is that all can provide value if used to enable productivity and improve efficiency in the workplace.  If any one of them is used to prevent either, it should be challenged, and the resulting issue evaluated against all four mindsets.  

The past few years have been blazing advertisements for all of the gadgets that promote work anywhere, but this can only happen in contexts that work with a firm’s culture.  Understanding more of your firm’s culture regarding work and access to work can help see where there are next steps that don’t have high friction for change, or places where the need is outweighing the risk.  One constant with technology is that is does continually change, and when it does it challenges the status quo.  Evaluating your culture to adapt will help improve adoption and use of technology in your firm.

Look at these as opportunities for positive change, and if the fit isn’t correct, figure out what mindset fits.  It’s an exercise that can bring new life, productivity and innovation to your firm.

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