Today we can see a radical change in the way people work. The concept of going
to a high-rise building, spending time there and then returning home no longer
works. It can be said that the age of 9 to 5 job is breathing its last. Globalization
coupled with explosive growth in the development and use of communication
devices accelerated the growth of a mobile workforce. The availability of new
devices and services are empowering employees to make the choice with respect
to location and time. Be it customer / partner sites, home office, coffee shops,
public Internet kiosk, airport lounges, or libraries the location is not an issue for
the new workforce. Though it is a matter of choice most enterprises and
organizations are taking the plunge because of its immense advantages.
As the name suggests, mobile workforce is a workforce that is on the move.
There is no fixed office or a desk that is used by the employee. Instead of sitting
at a desk and working on a desktop, the employee works from anywhere; from
home, hotels, trains, buses, parks, on his or her laptop or mobile device using
internet connectivity.
Author Erica Driver offers a definition of a mobile worker as anyone who spends
at least 10 hours per week away from his or her main workplace.
And the IDC categorizes these workers into three identifiable subgroups:
1. Office-based mobile worker: Someone who spends most of his or her time in a
company-provided office, but who also sometimes works at home or in a third
2. Non-office-based mobile worker: This worker is in the field, such as a
salesperson, or working between buildings on a corporate campus, such as an IT
professional. They are more often at someone else’s office than their own.
3. Home-based mobile worker: This employee spends most of the work week in a
home office, but comes into the corporate workplace for meetings or
collaborative work sessions.
Though mobility and connectivity are gaining importance
there are a few barriers that need to be considered –
1. Not all places have the same connectivity
2. Bandwidth and download speeds are still an issue in some countries.
3. Some applications used in-house by organizations may not be available
over the Internet and so may not be accessible from outside the office.
Though Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) may help to break this barrier, albeit
at a cost.
4. Team dynamics has changed and traditional management techniques do not
work with this kind of workforce.
The way organizations and people work needs to change.
There are advantages of this new way of working -
1. Communication with the team and related to work is possible from
As a result, the workers are available even after traditional office hours.
2. With video conferencing facilities, meetings can be held across continents
from the cozy confines of your home.
Long boring meetings can be done away with.
3. A paperless office is now almost a reality with everything, including
and endorsements happening through digital media.
4. For employees who need flexible hours or need to spend
more time at home, work from home helps them continue
work and contribute to the organization.
5. Balance between work and home is gaining more and
more importance in today’s world. Mobile working helps you achieve just
Companies who have accepted a “mobile” way of working have found
that they have a higher possibility of retaining talent.
On a lighter note, we do not have to bother about “what to wear” before we
head to work.
With the positives come the negatives.
1. With even hotels, airports and restaurants offering free Wi-Fi or internet
connectivity at nominal rates, there is no break from work. Work can be
carried everywhere including on holidays.
This can lead to an increase in stress levels.
2. There is no “Off” time as such and this can impact your exercise
time, family time and ultimately your health and personal relationships.
3. From a company’s perspective, there is an issue with security of data.
The more data travels the more it is prone to being hacked into and used
for malpractices. So, if employees work from anywhere, data travels
anywhere and this can be an issue.
4. The productivity of employees may be hit. Unlike in an office space, the
of distractions increases away from office, say at home
or in hotels or trains. So, though an employee may put in more hours,
work done may still be less. This is not a good situation where productivity
plays a key role.
How can companies reduce the risks associated with remote and mobile
employees and gain the most benefit.
 Companies must be focused in organizational purpose, mission, values and
strategies. They need to define, represent and symbolize a shared identity, and
they need to create a team culture.
 Companies need uniform protocols and standards to govern the storage and
exchange of information. They need to document a thorough communication
plan. They also need to provide an online presence for all key business
 Companies must develop, implement, upgrade, and regularly monitor security
policies and train users in proper security procedures for business information.
They must establish policies and accountabilities particularly related to signing
authority and financial matters.
 Companies need to establish rigorous performance standards and then
monitor those standards through customer and peer feedback. Employees
need to communicate their activities to their managers. Remember — if
management knows nothing of what you are doing, then management may
suspect that you are doing nothing.
 Companies must develop and test new systems with the end user. They must
share the benefits generated by mobility with all participants.
 Companies need to recognize that simple and instantaneous long-distance
communication can increase the potential for misunderstanding by making the
need for cultural adjustment less obvious. In a mobile work environment, it is
important to keep in mind the context of the recipients of the communication.
Understand global etiquette. Context can be built by using a face-to-face
meeting or using video and voice channels early in the relationship.
 Companies must establish communications agreements so everyone involved
knows when to expect messages and in what form.
 Companies and team members alike must verify that compatible technology
options are available to everyone and are operational. All participants should
be skilled and comfortable with the technology; with this in mind, training
should be mandatory, universal and continuous.
 Companies must communicate news across the organization promptly and
fully. Schedule company conference calls, meetings, and in-person gatherings
 Companies must celebrate successes and analyze failures, barriers and
challenges in meaningful ways. Check with team members regularly to monitor
engagement, activity, and satisfaction. Periodically do an organizational scan to
identify strong points and issues for improvement.
 Finally, companies must anticipate and plan well in advance for information
and resource needs. Establish a work buddy system so team members will not
feel isolated. Provide guidelines on how to set up a mobile office and manage
It looks like the shift to more mobility is inevitable. How can companies ensure success
as they steer this new course? The IDC identifies the following six steps to a
successful transition.
1. Make sure your physical facilities are ready. Remember that even with half your
workforce working out of a variety of sites, including home offices and third places, your
own offices still need to be fine-tuned to support collaboration, casual meetings, drop-in-
for-a-day workspaces as well as companywide or department meetings. In some ways,
your office facilities become more crucial, not less so, to the mobile part of your
workforce. Don’t wait too long before you begin to make the changes to accommodate
these new work styles.
2. Acknowledge that your mobile workers, as well as those still working in company
offices, need to find a work-life balance and respect that as one path to improved
3. Don't allow your managers to cling to outdated attitudes or methods of evaluating
employee performance. Everyone, including workers who rarely “come into the office,”
deserves a career path and the chance to succeed.
4. Be willing to embrace the increasing necessity of mobile work and acknowledge that
mobile employees are strategic to the success of your organization. Future success is
going to require these workers, so make them feel valued from the start.
5. Invest in training that helps all of your employees connect with each other and employ
the best technological tools you can afford to make those connections, whether they are
working from company facilities, home offices, or third places.
6. Develop human resources programs that reward both tethered and untethered workers
in ways that are fair and evenhanded.
Change always contains both difficulty and opportunity, and a change as large and far-
reaching as the new mobile work style could at first appear daunting. But companies that
prepare in advance, adjust policies and procedures in a timely manner, and understand
how important it is to provide supportive workplaces for these new work needs will reap a
full cargo of benefits from this coming wave of workplace change.