Business on the move

Love it or hate it, modern mobile technology means we're always on demand. Sometimes you have to know when to switch off.

Recent news states that some airlines are making preparations to allow the use of mobile phones in flight, signaling the end of being "uncontactable." Now no one can leave their work at the office.

Of course, being able to work at will, almost anywhere and anytime, has radically changed the way we do business. But it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, mobile communications means workers have more flexibility and can be more productive. On the other, it has impacted on work-life balance to the point where workers are finding it increasingly difficult to switch off.

Whatever your perspective, the undeniable fact is that mobile working is here to stay, and on the rise. A recent Vodafone survey found that over 80 percent of business professionals are now equipped with mobile working, with 42 percent using mobile data technologies such as Blackberrys and data cards.

Separate research by Microsoft also revealed that 73 percent of people consider the ability to work flexibly a deciding factor when choosing a new job, and 52 percent believe they would enjoy a less stressful working life as a benefit of working remotely.

Customers also benefit, according to a mobile working report by Vodafone and the Institute of Directors. "Although technology has helped to increase productivity and efficiency, companies still suffer pressures from competition, regulation and, critically, time," said Vodafone UK CEO Bill Borrow.

"Customers expect services to be available 24/7 or simply to be more 'available' during working hours. Mobile technology can help satisfy this requirement by improving communication with customers, colleagues, and suppliers. This need not be expensive or complex; it can be as simple as texting a colleague out of the office or responding to a customer inquiry out of traditional working hours."

Down time

But has mobile working made some employees too accessible? Possibly; but it's how you deal with the demands that matter. "Today's mobile manager is never away from his desk and whether it's an evening, a weekend, or even a holiday abroad with the family, he or she is expected to be on call to deal with any eventuality," says Professor Graham Jones, research and diagnostics director at performance development consultancy Lane4 Management Group, which has worked with several major blue chips.

"Mobile managers must learn to switch off – in all ways. It's vital to call time on the working day and to switch off your mobile, your laptop and anything else that connects you to the office, even if it's just at weekends and holidays."

Jones says managers should set an example by leaving the office on time and taking holidays, as well as creating effective hand-over notes for colleagues. Giving staff responsibility and not checking up on them every five minutes fosters trust and, ultimately, better performance.

"In a world of mobile work, a leader that is successful in generating teamwork and motivation is vital. Regardless of status or position within a company, everyone is entitled to draw a line between their work lives and their home and social lives," he added. "This is obviously more difficult to achieve if the place where you live is also the place where you work. But time and again, it's proven that creating this boundary is fundamental to maintaining a level of enthusiasm, morale and productivity."

Trust works both ways, of course. Evident in the Microsoft findings was the fact that the workers who have been brought up to embrace mobile technology, namely workers in the 16-24 age bracket, would like to work remotely but one in four felt they were not trusted to work productively away from the office.

"The younger generation are used to forming relationships using a variety of technologies including text messaging, Skype, instant messaging, mobile communications, etc. - they then come to work and want to know why they can't do their work in a similar fashion," said Peter Thomson, director of the Future Work Forum at Henley Management College.

A mobile future

There are other issues around mobile working, such as lax security and the fact that 36 percent of workers still believe a lack of proper equipment is critically impeding the ability to work remotely. But better technology is making it easier for firms to switch on to remote working. For example, laptops, handhelds, and smartphones are constantly improving in terms of capability and efficiency, as well as dropping in price, improving accessibility for companies of all sizes.

Put simply, the way we work is changing, making mobile working a smarter choice. It can make it easier to grant employees the right to request flexible working and free up staff who could do a better job away from the office, such as sales reps and managers with responsibility for global operations, for instance.

"In today's business environment, there are few excuses for a slow response to inquiries, neglected opportunities, or missed deadlines," said Morrow. "Customers and suppliers expect businesses to work smartly and have the basic measures in place to deliver good customer service – whatever the size of the company. The consequences of not achieving this will negatively affect company reputation and, ultimately, give competitors the upper hand."

He also believes the expansion of mobile capabilities beyond its initial function of voice communication will start to encroach on an even wider range of business applications. Morrow adds: "In the same way that technology, such as the Internet and e-mail, plays an ubiquitous role in our daily work routine, mobile technology is becoming a natural part of how we do business."

This article originally appeared on our sister site,, written by Louise Druce

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