17 Nov 2015

Staying Mobile

Mobility drives productivity, but executives need to be onboard.

It’s fair to say the benefits of a mobile workforce for organisations of all sizes are well known. Enabling staff to work at full functionality from anywhere in the world relieves them of the constant expectation to be at their office desks, enabling them to be more productive, and challenging the idea of a standard 9-to-5 working day. A better work-life balance encourages better morale, and being able to work anywhere facilitates more customer-facing meetings with clients, more work in transit, and greater innovation as teams are able to collaborate more regularly.

Within our own organisation, we have enabled a fully mobile workforce, and this has delivered back to the business. We were able to halve floor space in the office, which has returned a significant cost saving; and not being burdened by having to be in the office has meant in the event of an emergency or outage we are able to respond more quickly and efficiently without downtime.

However, we’re also seeing a fundamental misunderstanding about what mobility truly means in the organisation, and this confusion is often being driven at the executive level. Too often, executives see mobility as a simple matter of devices—they provide the staff with laptops, smartphones, and tablet devices and then expect that investment to be enough to enable remote working. Alternatively, executives might see mobility as an expensive software project requiring major investment in security upgrades and custom developed apps to ensure that sensitive data remains protected.

We enabled a mobile workforce using off-the-shelf technologies. But enabling an actual nimble workforce ultimately requires investments in neither devices nor software, because almost every organisation is already set up to have each worker fully mobile. The challenge is in understanding how to capitalise on the technology that a business has already invested in, and from there the executives need to be hands-on in leading a cultural shift so that all workers are making the most of the technology.

The two most common productivity app suites that modern businesses use are Microsoft Office or Google Apps. Both software suites include robust collaboration tools within the software that allow a team to share a document in real time, work on it simultaneously, track changes to any edits made, and leave one another comments. With a simple desktop video solution, or even a webcam, a team would be able to hold an impromptu meeting and work on a single document together simultaneously at any time, regardless of where each participant was located.

This scenario speaks to the true purpose of mobility: to enable seamless collaboration between individuals within the workplace. If you have an enterprise licensing arrangement with either Microsoft or Google, you already have access to these features. They require no further investment by the IT team. The features are device agnostic, and already as secure as anything else that you’d be doing with Office or Google Apps.

Getting the business onboard:

The other challenge that many organisations face is in getting people within the business to use the functionality of these tools rather than rely on the old and inefficient ways of working. For example, if your organisation uses Office and has people emailing spreadsheets and documents as attachments to one another, they are not taking advantage of the collaboration tools on offer. If they’re not using OneDrive to store documents for offline viewing when they’re on planes or otherwise unable to access the internet, then they are again missing out on the functionality that their organisation has already paid for.

Technology does have a way of ‘obsoleting’ old ways of doing work, and those who are slow to adapt often find it a struggle to keep up. For example, once people would print off emails that were sent to them for reading. That became an antiquated way of working, but for many years the ‘old guard’ within an organisation would continue to do just that. Similarly, we are seeing a resistance to mobility tools—not from the technology not existing within the organisation, but rather due to an unwillingness to change established methods of working.

Many executives remain unconvinced about the productivity gains that can be realised by the adoption of mobile technology. The concept that teams should be in the same place in order to collaborate remains a popular one, and the perception is there that technology cannot replace that experience. Other executives remain concerned about personal productivity, and the idea that an individual allowed to work from home might disappear off to the cricket, without necessarily understanding that collaboration tools have presence built in, so a team will be able to tell when their colleague is available.

The reality is that mobile solutions have been proven to improve productivity. Last year, a mobile and productivity survey in the UK found that 93 per cent of organisations have seen an increase in productivity from staff using just mobile phones away from the office, and 47 per cent claimed to see a substantial boost in productivity. That was just from mobile phones. In the same survey, 71 per cent believed that there were further productivity gains that could be had from mobility solutions.

To see these kinds of productivity gains, however, change needs to be driven down into the organisation from the executives at the top, and it’s not a project the CEO can simply hand over to the CTO. In understanding how these tools can benefit the organisation, the executive team should be working together on a comprehensive change-management program.

Most importantly, a company’s executives need to understand how employees will benefit from modern mobile working practices. There are programs that the C-suite can participate in, where they can experience a working day from the perspective of a receptionist, a sales lead, someone on the marketing team, and so on, and how such positions could make use of mobility tools to enhance their working productivity.

The challenge that businesses face with mobility is neither hardware nor software, as they already have access to what they need on both counts. It’s a challenge of user enablement and policy that most businesses now face in improving the productivity of their workers. For organisations that wish to take advantage of the benefits that mobility brings to the business, that user enablement needs to begin with the executives.

As published on page 100 of The CEO Magazine, November 2015 Issue.