Skip to main content

AUSTIN, TX, USA – SXSW is all about getting together and discussing the topics of the day. Like the city itself, the talks are as eclectic as the people who attend them and as varied as the weather here (we’ve gone from monsoon-like rain yesterday to sparkling sunshine today). With that in mind, myself and my cohort Mr Cooper set off today to see what all the fuss was about. And in the spirit of adventure, our first stop was “The Making of the modern office”. 

It’s about 20 years since I first stepped into the workplace. Back then people were allowed to smoke at their desks, nobody had mobile phones and timekeeping was something to respect. Bring a dog to the office? You’ve got to be kidding. Free fruit or food? Buy your own. Tell your boss what you really think of them? See. You. Later. 

How the world has changed. Over the last 12 months there’s been a seismic shift in the culture inside Nokia. Stephen Elop has introduced the concept of accountability to everyone in the business and getting products and innovation to market quickly and brilliantly is the new guidebook by which everyone operates (Nokia Lumia 900 or Nokia 808 Pureview, anyone?). 

Shifting sands

How he’s managed to change the outlook of so many people, in such a short space of time is actually quite mind-boggling. But much of it is simply about having the right culture.

This morning’s session was chaired by Dan Patterson, a former ABC journalist who last year left the comfort of a large corporation to strike out on his own and create something new. He was joined by three nice ladies from different start-ups across the United States (Dee Anna McPherson from Yammer, Emily Peters from Practice Fusion and Jennifer Crystal from Opower). 

Between them the offerings given to them and their start-up colleagues were as varied and eclectic as the people and weather of Austin. Free fruit, bring your dog to work (one company has as many as 20 dogs in the office) and free iPads for beating the stretched targets. All are a far cry from my experience of being told I spent too long on the phone 20 years ago.

Beyond the fruity frivolities though was common ground and that word, “culture”. All of this morning’s talk was about creating the right culture. It’s that, and not the pay or frivolities which the panelists defined as being the embrace of the very modern workplace.

It’s a mobile world

Mobility has changed how we work immeasurably. I can do a very large part of my everyday work through my Nokia Lumia 800. Like many others, my phone is my lifeline offering me access to the most important aspects of my work communication and melding them seamlessly with the most important aspects of my personal communication. 

On my phone, I’m as active in mail as I am on Facebook (less so on Twitter) and reading and editing documents is as much a part of my mobile day as taking and sharing photos.

The very notion of mobility spreads as deep as it does wide across the modern work day. Over the last 20 years it has transformed how millions, or actually billions, of people work. Whether you’re a farmer in asia or a trader in New York, the very notion of mobility has enabled a very different approach to work.

And so it’s my argument that the modern day office, whilst defined by the culture in which individual companies and people work, has actually been most influenced by the very notion of mobility. It’s this which has enabled ourselves to be unshackled from our desks, work remotely, communicate on the go, travel the world and ultimately, do better business.

We’re in a very different place to where we were 12 months ago and that in itself is vastly different from 12 or 20 years ago. Working cultures across the world have transformed beyond all recognition. Is it more than a coincidence that at the same time, the world has also become mobile beyond all recognition? Discuss.