By Gregory Pings

“I created a report on a work station at my desk. Saved it to a floppy disk. Carried the disk down the hall to the laser printer, and inserted the disk into the workstation. Boot up the printer, then print.”

Keith Kmetz

“Managing a team of people who work in multiple locations requires a level of trust. Regular engagement is required” – Keith Kmetz, Vice President, Imaging, Printing and Document Solutions, IDC

That was one element the modern workplace in the 1980s, as described by Keith Kmetz, now vice president of Imaging, Printing and Document Solutions for market intelligence provider IDC. If you think the process to print a document was overly laborious, Kmetz was only talking about to the first draft.

“From the printer, the document went into an interoffice envelope and sent to an editor. We’d meet in-person, he’d redline the copy and we’d talk over the edits,” Kmetz recalled.

Then it was back to step one, and the process could repeat several times. The so-called “office of the future” was only beginning to taking shape.

“It was sadly hilarious,” he said, “But that’s how it was done — in an office, working 9 to 5, and you’d better be at your desk because working any place else wasn’t possible.”

Technology changes everything

Connectivity, regular engagement with his team and clients, and the proximity to charging stations define Kmetz’ workday. That’s because his job is no longer 9 to 5. He works in multiple office locations like his IDC office, his home office and off-site in a hotel room — that’s because he’s enabled to work from where ever he happens to be.

“Technology is a blessing and a curse,” Kmetz explained. “I can work from home. I can be productive while I’m travelling on business. I’m flexible, and I don’t have to commute. But as much as technology enables this flexibility, it can also overwhelm us. We’re bombarded by messages. I can’t possibly respond to everything as timely as I would always like, but I must be accessible.”

Don’t mistake this reality check for winsome wistfulness for the 1980’s. “I’m hugely more productive today than I was 35 years ago,” he emphasized.

Technology allows knowledge workers to be much more engaged with their clients. It has also changed the type of work that gets done.

“No one asks us about manufacturer’s specifications anymore, because that information is easily available on the internet,” Kmetz pointed out. “Today, IDC is much more sharply focused on being a trusted advisor that helps clients understand technology, how it’s used, where it’s going, its limits and possibilities.”

Technology, pages and the new rules for work

In the Xerox view, the metaphoric “page” is any container that holds data, such as a sheet of paper, an email, a database or a billboard — the list goes as far as your imagination and technology allow.

How do you set the page free?

Tweet us using #SetThePageFree, or share your thoughts in the comments below.

Some of these containers are physical; others are digital. Technology provides the bridge between these realms, which gives us the freedom to create, access and share information at any time regardless of where we (or the recipient) happen to be. However, the page does not get set free overnight, as Kmetz’ 35-plus years of experience shows. It takes as much time for technology to catch up with human behaviors and expectations, as it takes for humans to catch up with technology’s capabilities and promises – hence technology’s blessing/curse dichotomy.

Nevertheless, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to go back to “the old days.”

“Technology enables flexibility, which defines the ideal work environment,” Kmetz said. His managers are able to trust that his work gets done, and Kmetz passes that trust to his decentralized team.

“Even though we’re no longer in a 9 to 5 box or even in the same building, this trust is enabled by parameters that allow us to do our jobs and give us the flexibility to take a break when we need it.”

(The Modern Workplace summer series will be published each Friday on Xerox Connect. Subscribe to this blog so you won’t miss a thing, or retrieve your favorite Modern Workplace articles here.)