A new term I have been hearing more frequently lately is the Untethered Enterprise. Like many new terms, definitions vary, but for me at least, it conjures up images of cutting the cords and wires that tether the enterprise to a specific physical location, and tether the business activities of its employees to specific time frames during specific days of the week.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the hard-wired phone lines for desk phones and the Ethernet cables for desktop PCs used by employees between the hours of 9AM and 5PM on Monday through Friday within the office spaces of the organization was how, when, and where the vast majority of the business activities of the enterprise were conducted.
Then came the first generation of mobile phones — the ones that only made phone calls. And laptop computers, which initially supplemented desktop PCs, but typically only for those employees with a job requiring them to regularly work outside the office, such as traveling salespeople. Eventually, laptops became the primary work computer with docking stations allowing them to connect to keyboards and monitors while working in the office, and providing most employees with the option of taking their work home with them. Then the next generations of mobile phones brought text messaging, e-mail, and as Wi-Fi networks became more prevalent, full Internet access, which completed the education of the mobile phone, graduating it to a smartphone.
These smartphones are now supplemented by either a laptop or a tablet, or sometimes both. These devices are either provided by the enterprise, or with the burgeoning Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, employees are allowed to use their personal smartphones, laptops, and tablets for business purposes. Either way, enabled by the growing availability of cloud-based services, many employees of most organizations are now capable of conducting business anywhere at anytime. And beyond a capability, some enterprises foster the expectation that their employees demonstrate a willingness to conduct business anywhere at anytime.
I acknowledge its potential for increasing productivity and better supporting the demands of today’s fast-paced business world, but I can’t help but wonder if the enterprise and its employees will feel more tethered by the untethered enterprise because, when we can no longer unplug since there’s nothing left to unplug, then our always precarious work-life balance seems to surrender to the pervasive work-is-life feeling enabled by the untethered enterprise.