Mobile workforce - what's stopping us?
The future is mobile, no doubt. And in some countries, the adage: 'the future is now' rings true - however, in South Africa, our adoption to full-blown mobility is taking slightly longer, particularly on the work front.
Many organisations abroad have been quick to adopt the mobile workforce in order to leverage the associated benefits: increased productivity; business flexibility; and a general change in pace, as some tasks can be finished off at a home office or remotely instead of spending an unproductive hour in traffic.
Indeed, various analysts are forecasting the existence of up to 1.2 billion "mobile workers" by 2013.
Yet it would seem that South African businesses are taking cautious steps forward. While most acknowledge the abovementioned gains, they are hesitant to relinquish control, so to speak.
The reality is that there is good reason for such hesitancy - one can't rule out that while an employee might claim he or she has been spending hours at home working, this might not be the case.
We are faced with a control versus freedom scenario. And, like most things in life, establishing a balance of sorts will undoubtedly provide an answer.
Practically, organisations have to establish policies - developed to their own needs - that will enable them to relinquish some control without jeopardising the effective running of the company.
The reality is mobility is not going to disappear - if anything, it will become more and more pervasive as time goes by, to a point where not allowing your employees to work remotely could negatively impact your business. Many companies that have got the balance right, and have created an effective mobile workforce, are already benefiting greatly from the competitive advantage this has created for them.
This said, employees also have to establish balance that for one will ensure they do gain the most from working from home or remotely, proving to their employers that it is a viable decision; and secondly, not falling into a pattern where work completely consumes their lives - stepping away from work to enjoy some much needed downtime is crucial.
Another perceived barrier to local mobile workforce entry is connectivity. The validity of this argument is dwindling: while cost may still be a factor, connectivity is increasingly less of an issue. As more and more households adopt ADSL and 3G/HSDPA type options, and mobile operators invest in mobile broadband, connectivity issues are gradually diminishing. Uncapped solutions are also ensuring that transfer of data files, remote videoconferencing and company phone extensions mapped to 'soft phones' on laptop or desktop machines allow workers to operate from mobile locations as if they were in the office.
The evolution of smartphones and tablet PCs such as the iPad, has also given workers a further window into their workplace, whereby employees can connect to their corporate networks and messaging systems from almost anywhere.
Security may also be raised as a valid barrier to entry for mobile working. This area remains a concern, particularly if organisations allow private devices - that aren't necessarily up to corporate specifications - access to the internal network. Already we're seeing iPhones, Android and Windows-based devices exploited for malicious gain.
To counter this, organisations must ensure they have a strong and up-to-date security infrastructure in place, which can deal with a myriad of mobile devices accessing the network, as well as policies for how information should be handled on these devices.
Again, the industry is working hard at providing safer platforms for mobile devices to gain secure access to corporate information. In fact, it is estimated these solutions will become part of a $4 billion dollar business by 2013. Deutsche Telekom laboratories (T-Labs) focuses on mobile device security as one of its topics of investigation, and currently does work on limiting security damage if a mobile device is lost or compromised.
Overall, it would seem that the reality of the mobile workforce for local organisations is getting closer and closer - and embracing it with the necessary security precautions in place is the best step forward.