Getting Ready for the Mobile Office

Are you ready for the mobile, virtual, flexible office of the future?

Don’t get left behind. Equip your staff with the tools they need to do the job, whether they work at home, during their commute, in the office or anywhere else. Today, every small business can become faster, more responsive and more productive by embracing mobile and flexible working.

The concept of the ‘workerless office’ has been moving into the mainstream for over a decade. But it’s only in the past few years that technological, social and economic forces have begun to converge to create what London Business School’s Lynda Gratton calls ‘a perfect storm’ of organisational upheaval.

“Executives around the world are now facing a substantial schism with the past, which is so great that organisational architecture, people practices and skills and organisational culture will change – possibly unrecognisably over the next two decades,”

she writes.

Technology is a major factor, with tablets and smartphones already overtaking PCs. Analysts at Gartner expect 70 million tablets to be sold this year and 108 million in 2012, compared with 17.6 million in 2010, according to CIO Zone.

Cloud computing is fast replacing office-based IT infrastructure, while the cost of broadband is dropping as speeds pick up – 4G is expected to be 230 percent more efficient than existing 3G technologies, according to UK regulator Ofcom.

Global connectivity and collaborative media encourage us to collaborate over distance, while the lines between consumer and workplace technology grow increasingly blurred. The ‘app culture’ is so widespread that 35 percent of US smartphone users log on before even getting out of bed, according to a survey by Ericsson.

In other words, we are already mobile. But the tipping point for the mobile office is more likely to come from employees than technology, according to ‘The future world of work’, a presentation by CBRE Richard Ellis’s Lenny Beaudoin and Benn Munn.

It’s a desire for greater flexibility that’s behind the mobile push, led not just by working mothers but ‘millenials – 20-somethings who expect flexibility and have been reared on digital technology. In Is the Office Really Necessary?, Cisco’s survey of 2,600 employees worldwide, 60 percent claimed they could be just as productive outside the office and 66 percent claimed they’d rather take a lower-paid, flexible job than a restrictive, higher-paid position.

Many work harder – ‘anytime, anywhere connectivity’ can add 11 hours to a mobile worker’s week, according to a Forrester report. It can do much to encourage employee loyalty and retention – UK-based design firm Plinkfizz uses flexible working as a differentiator, a way of attracting high-calibre talent. Then there are the more prosaic benefits of a workerless office: lower property costs, utility bills and carbon emissions.

IT firms and the large consultancies – PwC, KPMG, Accenture – are early adopters, but predictions are that it will become commonplace. So what are some of the issues companies need to consider when preparing for the mobile office?

The management mindset

The emergence of a mobile workforce changes the workplace hierarchy and the role of managers – some argue that automation of work processes makes their jobs redundant.

Managing mobile workers requires a different mindset, one where trust and outcome-driven measures determine success. This changes the way people are managed – and may mean reviewing performance criteria, possibly shifting to a more continuous feedback tool such as Rypple.

Results only work environments offer a good model for mobile office management, balancing a flexible approach to individual work with a more formalised communications structure. Employees work at their own pace (with a clear deadline), but have regular, scheduled progress checks and virtual meetings to keep everyone motivated and encourage team bonding. Ideally, location becomes immaterial, as at teleworking pioneer 37Signals.

Managers can also teach by doing, particularly when it comes to the etiquette of virtual meetings. Any company without a social media policy should draw up a guide on language, tone and disclosure rules, particularly for corporate Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts.

The ten myths of mobile working

Flexible working boosts motivation, makes your staff more productive – and you can try it without spending thousands. Sceptical? Read on as we demolish the top myths about working flexibly.

  • Myth #1: Flexible workers are less productive because they can get away with it.
    Research shows that working from home can boost productivity because it reduces the number of distractions and interruptions.

  • Myth #2: People can’t work effectively in a noisy environment like a cafe or bar.
    Sure, it’s not always appropriate. But a change of environment often helps people to think more creatively and look at problems in a different way.

  • Myth #3: It’s hard to work as a team when people are in different places.
    Not as long as you have the right tools. You can share ideas with collaboration software, communicate fast in teleconferences and answer questions via instant messaging.

  • Myth #4: It will cost a lot to buy the equipment we need to work effectively.
    You might need to invest in some new technology, like notebook computers. But you can make big savings in other areas, like office space and travel costs. But sometimes it pays to invest in longer-lasting, reliable equipment. This is especially true of computers where a consumer PC might not be suitable for serious business use. See How to choose a reliable Notebook PC for more information.

  • Myth #5: Flexible workers mainly watch daytime TV and take boozy lunches.
    Have some faith. The responsibility of flexible working motivates many people. Your employees will respond well when you treat them like grown-ups.

  • Myth #6: Flexible working is a slippery slope leading to a ruined work-life balance.
    It doesn’t have to be that way. Be disciplined, set clear boundaries between work and personal time – and turn the technology off at the end of the day.

  • Myth #7: I need everyone in the office in case something goes wrong.
    It’s easy to make sure someone’s in your building at all times. In any case, flexible workers are a phone call away. If a problem’s really serious, it probably won’t matter where they are.

  • Myth #8: If I let the sales team work away from their desks, we’ll miss opportunities.
    Not if you use call-forwarding to pass enquiries to the right people, and have an online tool so employees can indicate when they’re unavailable.

  • Myth #9: Flexible working’s not right for our business.
    Most businesses can benefit from some kind of flexible working. For instance, employees may appreciate the chance to vary their hours, arriving late to avoid the rush hour.

  • Myth #10: It’ll be a big effort to start working flexibly.
    Most mobile phones can send email and access the internet. An ultraportable computer can be yours for under £300. So why not give it a go?

The way employees work

Perhaps it is indicative of where we are in Maslow’s needs triangle, but most employees want flexibility. Not everyone wants to work from home all the time, however, and some people will be more naturally self-sufficient than others.

Overall, though, it’s overwork that employees and managers need to watch out for when going mobile (it’s no coincidence that the nickname for a BlackBerry is CrackBerry).

Nearly half of Cisco’s survey respondents claim regularly to work an extra few hours a day and another recent poll of managers found nearly 60 percent of managers visited work-related websites out of hours, and nearly half check work emails before going to bed. With work “only a smartphone away,” as one UK director puts it, the toughest challenge is switching off.

The right tools for the job

Accessing a company’s network remotely is increasingly straightforward while VoIP, IM and virtual meeting tools such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting and cloud-based DimDim are just a few options for distributed workforces to stay in touch.

Mobile workers tend to be more adept at ‘pulling’ information, so intranets and wikis can replace town hall meetings or be used to share knowledge and self train. But HR should ensure any important company information is delivered directly to individuals rather than relying on them to find it.

Given the plethora of tools available, it can be tough to settle upon one communication method and stick to it. Experienced remote workers tend to favour videoconferences, where it’s possible to read body language and get a sense of the mood and tone of your co-workers.

Using computers with powerful Intel® Core™ processors helps with video conferencing and remote working by improving the performance of systems when multitasking (e.g. running a presentation and conferencing software simultaneously).

Establish clear support structures

Mobile offices rely heavily on technology, so mobile workers should know who and how to contact the company’s helpdesk for IT support. Likewise, managers and HR should ensure employees know to whom they can turn in an emergency, while ensuring they are compliant with data protection regulations.

Rewrite the IT policy

Security concerns remain an obstacle to getting workforces mobilised: in a survey of small and medium-sized enterprises by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, the vast majority (83 percent) claimed to have suffered a security breach in the past year. According to Cisco’s research, 66 percent of employees expected IT to allow them to use any device to access corporate networks – but nearly half of IT respondents felt the company wasn’t prepared to meet their expectations.

Yet many employees already sync their smartphones to workplace email – and Jonathan Reichental, CIO of O’Reilly Media, predicts BYOC – bring your own computer – will become increasingly common. “Today, we expect employees to provide and maintain their own cars, but we do provide mileage reimbursement when it’s used for business purposes. Could there be a similar model for employees who use their own computers?”
Whether BYOC or company-provided, devices and data need to be insured and secured by the company. Experienced mobile workers also advise peers to keep a spare laptop battery and USB backup drive handy.

IT policies will need updating to ensure clarity around issues such as who owns data on personal devices, and what happens when that employee leaves; whether – and what – employees are allowed to download onto portable devices, terms regarding who pays for broadband or smartphone tariffs, etc.

Office space

If the office is no longer what Richard Ellis’s Beaudoin calls a “people warehouse,” it can become more of an idea factory or a space for teams to hold meetings, socialise and exchange ideas. Think club, conference centre or library rather than cubicle city. Indeed, smaller companies could do without an office altogether, instead using serviced offices or the growing number of shared offices that have sprung up in major cities to cater for nomadic workers.

Improving teamwork with technology

For decentralised teams working in a fast-paced, idea-driven economy, calling a weekly meeting isn’t good enough. By leveraging IT, modern workplaces are staying competitive by re-imagining teamwork as a process of constant communication and collaboration.

  1. Microsoft SkyDrive. Windows Live SkyDrive offers 25GB of free online storage, so you can backup your files and share documents with employees and colleagues.

  2. Wikispaces. Wikipedia has created a new standard for collaborative editing, and you can follow suit with Wikispaces. Wikis are especially popular for creating documentation on large projects.

  3. Office Web Apps. Did you know that you can get Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote with nothing more than a web browser and an internet connection? Microsoft Office Web Apps are free and offer basic Microsoft Office functionality online, with the ability to transfer files seamlessly back and forth from the full desktop versions.

  4. Microsoft Office 365. With Microsoft’s online services you get web-enabled tools that let you access your email, documents, contacts, and calendars from virtually anywhere, on almost any device..

  5. Virtual Rooms. HP Virtual Rooms creates an online space for you to meet colleagues and clients, chat with them and share your desktop, your presentations and any applications you want to run. It’s real time and it’s easy to use.

  6. Skype. Placing a call or sending an email is fine for a simple exchange of information, but nothing beats face time for creating rapport and Skype makes that possible, even if your client is halfway around the world.

How to put your office in your backpack

Once you have the office and the software sorted out, the next step is to get the right kit for yourself. You might not be a digital nomad, working full-time from cafes, airports and bars. However, packing a few key bits of kit will ensure you’re ready to work in new places. There’s some basic gear no mobile worker should be without:

  • A small, light computer like the HP Mini. Its energy efficient Intel processor means it’ll last hours on a single charge. If you need more power, get a full-size notebook instead or a high-powered but ultra-portable HP EliteBook with 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i5 or Intel® Core™ i7 processor.
  • A smartphone. Trade your five-year-old brick for a smartphone that lets you check email, view websites and even read and edit documents.
  • Power essentials. Although clever power management in the latest Intel® processors can reduce consumption and extend battery life, it’s wise to take your charger, plus a socket doubler to avoid plug-jostling. Taking an extra battery or choosing a long-life battery for your notebook can keep you going all day.

To access the internet, you’ll either need a wireless network or – to get connected from nearly anywhere – a mobile broadband connection. Some HP Notebooks have a slot for a SIM card so you can connect to mobile broadband without any extra equipment or you can buy a plug 3G modem.
Carefully chosen accessories will add minimal weight to your bag and can make you more productive:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones. Loud cafe? Busy train? A good pair of headphones can give you peace and quiet. If you take lots of phone calls, consider a Bluetooth headset too.
  • A mouse and wrist rest. Working on a laptop can be an ergonomic nightmare. Carry a portable mouse and – depending on your laptop – a wrist rest to stave off aches and pains.
  • The right low tech. It’s not all about electronics. Stick a decent notepad and a few pens into your bag. If you tend to scribble notes on scraps of paper, organise them in a zip-up folder.

Mobile working poses some security risks. To stop people seeing what you’re working on in public, consider using a privacy filter to block their view. And to avoid drawing attention to your kit when you’re in the street, don’t use an obvious laptop bag. Instead, use a padded laptop sleeve inside a nondescript bag. You can buy computer accessories from the main HP website.

This business advice article published in association with HP. Find out more about HP Laptops, Tablets, Desktops, Printers & Servers

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