The mobility debate - the power to work any time from anywhere, or for consumers only?
By Frank Reinelt, senior director for Northern Europe and Emerging Markets at Mindjet.
Consumers are not just using their phones to take photographs and share them on Facebook; rather, workers are increasingly bringing their mobile devices to work and using them for their jobs long after they have left the office. The workforce is going mobile, but some organisations are not fully prepared to serve their mobile employees.
To reap the full advantages of a mobile workforce, organisations and employees alike must have a full understanding of the benefits and implications of mobility. Mobility helps employees be more productive and accessible, but employers must take care that the ability to work any time, from anywhere, doesn't turn into the obligation to work all the time, from everywhere, says Frank Reinelt, senior director for Northern Europe and Emerging Markets at Mindjet.
As the workplace evolves, new approaches are needed to manage employees as well as to provide the tools that enable collaboration and effective remote working. Teams are working across a broader range of devices than ever before and need a consistent, first-rate experience in terms of the content they can access and the ways they can collaborate. We are going to see even more objects - not just phones, tablets or computers - connected to the Internet, providing even more touch points for data and information exchange. The umbrella term, Internet of Things (IoT), will not only cause a widespread demand for better ways to obtain data, but also highlights the importance of getting it to the right people in the right forms.
Home working is not for everyone in all situations, but like all approaches, it is about striking the right balance. Richard Branson, head of Virgin Group, believes that "If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality."
The rise of remote working
While most companies are still in the very early stages of aligning with this trend, it is predicted that this year will see a leap in remote working. In fact, a study by Forrester Research and Zebra Technologies (Building Value from Visibility), revealed that 53% of companies were planning to implement IoT-related technologies over the next 24 months. General benefits include the tracking and managing of physical assets (the condition or location of products, for example), managing customer relationships and improving the customer experience.
Forrester further reveals that 29% of the global workforce are now "any time, anywhere" information workers, who use three or more devices, work from multiple locations and use many apps (2013 Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends, Forrester, February 2013).
Matt Brown, vice-president and practice leader at Forrester Research, believes mobile and cloud collaboration services are quickly supporting this new workplace experience. Enterprise investment in these technologies continues to outpace the overall IT market. Why? One reason: thanks to a broad array of technology suppliers, virtually every company in the world can now access them.
Evidence suggests small companies can put cloud collaboration technologies to use faster than their larger counterparts. Basic business collaboration services can now cost less than a daily cup of coffee to run for employees when provisioned via the cloud.
In addition, individual employees are able to put the latest mobile devices and apps to productive business use faster than their employers can. Forrester data suggests the most highly mobile employee segments already embrace these tools to make themselves more productive from work, from home and from the road.
Worker attitudes towards mobility
It will hardly come as a surprise that workers increasingly prefer to be able to work from home - or anywhere else. Based on research and data from IDC's Worldwide Mobile Worker Population 2009-2013 Forecast, Cisco's International Workplace Study and the Telework Research Network, here is how today's workers feel about mobility at the workplace, based on a survey of 2 600 workers and IT professionals in 13 countries:
* 66% want greater flexibility and said they would take a job with less pay and more flexibility in device usage, access to social media and mobility, than a higher-paying job without such flexibility;
* 60% believe they do not need to be in the office to be productive;
* 66% want device freedom; and
* 45% of those who are able to work outside of the office admitted to working between two and three extra hours per day.
The daily commute, the office cubicle, the conference room - could these things, once staples of our work lives, go the way of the rotary phone? Not for employees of Yahoo.
Companies around the world are embracing technology and information systems that can take advantage of advances in wireless and mobile technologies to make any time/anywhere productivity possible; and understanding how it enables, complements and enhances our very nature as human beings. Yet Yahoo is bucking this trend.
A widely leaked internal memo from Yahoo has led to a renewed debate about the value of home working and the benefits it offers to businesses and their employees. Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer has made the decision that, from this June, staff will have to be "physically" together. In other words, all employees must come to the office every day; home working is being banned. They must now waste productive time commuting and the company must pay even more for real estate. Mayer argues that the real benefit to the firm is that people in close physical proximity to one another will interact more; however, there is no guarantee that such interaction may improve productivity. Communication of almost any form, after all, can yield such a benefit.
The memo, attributed to Yahoo human resources head Jacqueline Reses, says: "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."
But haven't we been working so hard all these years to minimise the behavioural and performance difference between wired and wireless communications, between mobile and desktop computers, and between handsets and tablets and more traditional computing and information devices, so that we don't have to all be seated in the same physical location to be productive? Are contemporary collaborative IT solutions still falling so short as to be abandoned wholesale? Have those of us in the mobility business failed so miserably? The explosion of growth of this sector says otherwise.
The real irony here is that Yahoo is in the midst of trying to capitalise on, and take advantage of, mobility, as handsets and tablets are the most popular subscriber units today. Does this mean mobility is for consumers only and "real work" can only happen in offices? Again, the trends would refute that.
As flexible work styles rise and technology gives employers and employees the power to decide where they work, people become more dispersed. Yahoo's decision signals a move towards centralisation. With a move to a culture of centralisation, other areas of its operations are likely to be impacted.
Branson, writing on a blog on the Virgin Web site, said: "This seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever."
Many companies assert that people are their greatest asset - and no doubt Yahoo has made a comment similar to this in the past. Understanding people's needs and preferences helps to ensure they are as productive for the business as possible. Yahoo may believe its people are its greatest asset, but by taking this step, it is covering its ears to employees as other companies open theirs and listen.