Chas Moloney: 'Think outside the urban-shaped box and unshackle our road-raged workforce'
The younger generations are going to laugh at us.
We bolt out the door each morning to join thousands of others in crawling queues of traffic in order to get to a few square inches of desk in an office block. Eight hours later, we re-join the masses and try not to think about how many hours we waste commuting to and from a piece of wood.
And, there’s an added sting for those living amidst the chaos of the housing crisis gripping Ireland’s cities. Residents are paying sky-high rents just so they can spend that quality time in the car, bus or train 10 times each week. Alternatively, they settle outside the city and face the prospect of even longer journey times.
That puts pressure on city-based firms, too. They want to attract the best talent, but low housing supply and poor public transport links trump even the most attractive employee packages.
The housing crisis won’t be fixed overnight, but businesses can impact how it affects their workforce and even how their business might be contributing to the crisis.
The world is changing and most employees know it – but why don’t their bosses? Many still seem married to the idea that bums on seats equals a productive workforce. The fact is we no longer need fixed buildings that house every single employee from nine to five, five days a week. We especially don’t need them given the current housing situation. What the city needs is businesses that encourage flexible working from remote locations and that optimise the office space they already have before looking to expand their footprint in the city.
There are now four generations in the workforce to cater for and business leaders need to embrace this by allowing employees the agility to work in the way that best suits them and invigorates their productivity. Whether at home or in the office, in Dingle or in Dublin, technology today supports flexible working and can boost productivity.
Ricoh’s recent Economy of People research showed that 83pc of Irish workers believe they could be more efficient given the right technology to enable mobile workstyles. This, of course, is good news for businesses, too. Increased employee output means better business performance, enhanced customer service and ultimately, a bigger bottom line.
When employees are in the office, it needs to be worthwhile. That means creating a highly productive environment that supports collaboration in both its layout and the tools made available to staff. It’s a format that is often favoured by entrepreneurs and our study found that more than two thirds of Irish businesses that have invested in the workplace have achieved better returns as a result. If every company did this, the impact to the Irish economy would be colossal. Our research showed that optimised offices could unlock €3.4bn – 1pc of GDP – for the country’s balance sheets.
With a collective effort to enable mobile workstyles and only use the space that is required, businesses could reduce demand for large office space on land that could instead be earmarked for housing. The optimal office, in turn, would allow Dublin and other Irish cities to become optimal environments for both its residents and businesses.
Making it happen
As a board director in Ricoh UK and Ireland, I have seen first-hand how successful this approach has been in the UK. I was part of the decision-making process that saw us move out of our London offices in favour of a more compact and collaborative space. As part of this move, we encouraged many of our 3,000 UK-based employees to work in their local regional office as much as possible, as well as from home, providing them with the necessary technology and tools to do so.
I work from my local office – 150km outside of London – or on the move most of the time and am more productive than I ever would be commuting into the Capital. We are now implementing similar strategies for our Irish team because it has had such a positive impact on our people and we are helping other companies achieve the same.
Whether it’s digitising documentation or enabling remote working, businesses need to review how their work environment is impacting the workforce. Crucially, this involves speaking to individual team members about how, where and when they would like to work. Often, the feedback will vary from person to person and department to department. The key then is implementing a strategy that caters to these needs and is flexible enough to move with the times.
This kind of thinking won’t just benefit Ireland’s cities. Towns and communities across the country could be revitalised as more people move back to their hometowns, or start to consider extra-city living as a real, workable option.
The message to Irish-based businesses is simple: it’s time to think outside of the urban-shaped box and unshackle our road-raged workforce from their desks.
Chas Moloney is director at Ricoh UK and Ireland. Ricoh provides document services, consulting, software and hardware to businesses around the world.