Posted on

Corporate Business Trends


In the Corporate world the failure of a business entity does not necessarily equate to calamity. This may not yet be the culture in small island states like St. Vincent and the Grenadines where calculated risk may be frowned upon and, moreso because the economy may not be resilient enough to withstand the consequences of major failures. It does not, however, follow that all failures are inherently bad. There are circumstances in which a project failure can be o.k. As Charles Dickens wrote, “Every failure teaches a man something, if he will learn.” If avoiding failure means avoiding learning, then it is not the way to prosper in a knowledge economy.{{more}}

Some say the way to prosper is to fail fast, fail often, learn and move on. But not all projects follow this dictum. Some are known to conceal their failures, aggregating them up into a big disaster at the end. This sort of failure is not o.k. Innovation and exploration are processes of controlled failure as has been the experience with the UK’s North Sea oil explorations where only twelve percent of wells drilled, discovered economic deposits. Such activity is not deemed to be a failure. Success comes from avoiding unnecessary failure. It is the avoidable failures that organizations need to be concerned about; the ones where they make the same mistakes again. The unavoidable failures that come from taking calculated risks are the ones that should teach us valuable lessons.

In today’s business environment technology is playing an ever-increasing role in the work habits we adopt. The term “flexible working” applies to situations where some persons work from home and rely on e-mails and instant messaging to stay in touch with the company. People are, however, beginning to worry about how this affects their work-life balance and think the pendulum has swung too far towards technology. Flexible working can make you more productive but the downside is that you are working all the time, at evenings and at weekends too. It is a process you have to manage rather than let it manage you, and for those of us who are in the process of adopting flexible working habits it would be instructive to follow the best practices of those who have preceded us. Recently, I came across the case of a Managing Director of a medium sized firm in the U.S. On Fridays he spends the day working at home starting from 7 a.m. but calls a halt at 5 p.m. when his weekend starts. In the past he would have had to brave the traffic jam and be lucky to arrive home by 7 p.m. Today’s technology now has newly developed features such as ‘presence’ which tells whether an individual is contactable or not, and provides new tools with which the activities of employees can be monitored.

There are two principal issues at stake in analysing the impact of “Flexible Working”.

• Does the proliferation of portable networked devices intrude on the individuals’ work and life in a burdensome manner?

• What is the effect of these devices on traditional workplace relationships?

The evidence seems to suggest that when technologies such as e-mail and instant messaging are introduced, they produce measurable improvements in efficiency and job satisfaction. Many mobile professionals view the technology as assisting them to work more flexibly by balancing a hectic work environment with the demands of everyday life. In support of this viewpoint, one senior executive from a U.S. firm related that while standing in a long queue to get through passport control he was able to avoid the stress by going through all the e-mails received during the eleven-hour flight. But the novelty wears off. Individuals can suffer technology-related stress, not only as work intrudes into their free time, but also from the sheer complexity of the gadgets they are expected to master. Mobile phones for example are increasingly being subjected to “feature creep” as more and more capabilities are added by manufacturers seeking to persuade customers to upgrade more frequently. Today’s youngsters are constantly messaging each other about things that have happened during the day, and this augurs well for their grasp of the technology as they make the transition from the classroom to the workplace.

While technology is becoming an integral part of every workplace, the people who function in the environment often complain that they lack the necessary skills to operate the expensive IT systems in which their employers have invested. A recent survey in the U.K. reports that only 40 percent of computer users have received any IT training while 90 percent of all new jobs now require IT skills. Even here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, IT is becoming a key driver of productivity, which would require that more workers are exposed to training in order to perform their tasks more efficiently. Research analysts claim that every hour of professional IT training to which workers are exposed is worth at least five hours to the business. But companies should realize that the need for training is related to the level of complexity of IT so if people require more training for a specific function, it would be better to simplify the process to make it more manageable for them.

Our companies need to focus more on the basic understanding of technology tools; an issue that is as relevant to the senior professionals in the organization as it is to the generic workforce. In our communities there must to be a recognition that the system alone will not bring about increased productivity it has to be linked to a change in business processes. Indeed unless business practices change, many systems would not be seen to add value. It is often advanced that the older folk are the ones who need training, as the young are more in tune with the technology, but others are convinced that with the right training any member of staff would be able to use the tools at hand. What seems to be abundantly clear, however, is that business chiefs need to be aware that there is much more to investing in technology than the mere purchase of equipment.

Just 15 years ago the idea of working remotely, but using electronic communications to stay in contact with the office was still the stuff of research labs rather than a practical reality. Yet today in many parts of the world the idea of working from home scarcely raises a comment. The technology to do so is robust, increasingly easy to use and relatively inexpensive to set up and run. Companies which have installed communications systems to facilitate remote workers say the quality of work and quality of life improve. One company based in Richmond Virginia makes audio recordings for businesses to play while their customers are on hold. The company employs technicians, scriptwriters etc, several of whom work from home. “We have a studio here but we also have studios in people’s homes. It is important for creative people to be able to work at home,” remarked one business manager. Large companies as well as small, especially in North America, are seeing remote working as a way to reduce their premises costs. Yet there are still significant cultural and managerial barriers to widespread remote working. However, the ability to work independently is a skill, which not everyone possesses and companies need to bear this in mind when moving into this arena. The corporate trends taking place elsewhere in the world would not have escaped our attention but, of critical importance are the tremendous possibilities they offer to the more creative minds in our own communities. Furthermore, in a globalized world, we in St. Vincent and the Grenadines can position ourselves to work remotely and take advantage of the opportunities that exist elsewhere.