Goodbye, cubicle! Thanks to the digital revolution, working doesn’t have to mean clocking in from 9am-5pm, commuting to an office space or working under fluorescent light bulbs stationed at a desk. Since technology allows many jobs to be completed away from a central office if you have a mobile device and an internet connection, employees are demanding and employers are contemplating and authorizing the expansion of mobile working as an option for their organizations. As with any initiative, there are challenges and benefits to having digital nomads who aren’t tethered to the same office space. In order to assess if mobile working is right for your organization, consider these top 10 challenges and benefits of mobile working.
Challenges of mobile working
1- At the mercy of technology
Although it is technology that enables employees to access files and shared tools and systems if those systems fail the productivity of mobile workers diminishes greatly. In-office employees will also struggle when technology fails, but since they are in the same place they can use any outages to build camaraderie among the team or take care of other duties that don’t require technology.
2- Security challenges with a mobile workforce
One of the biggest challenges with a dispersed workforce is ensuring the security of the network, especially if employees are using their own devices rather than those provided by employers. It’s the diversity of an IT system that supports individuals no matter where they are located that can create crevices where breaches or malware can infiltrate. Additionally, it can result in a more complex system for IT to troubleshoot when issues arise.
3- Corporate culture impacts
In many organizations, those who work in the same building develop friendships that extend beyond the workday. Whether they go out to lunch or happy hour or attend networking or other personal development classes together, it’s common for a connection to form between those who work together in the same place. Mobile workers might feel isolated seeing their comrades at a central office experiencing company-sponsored functions they can’t attend. In situations where the isolation of some employees isn’t proactively addressed, an “us” versus “them” mentality can negatively impact the organization. Some mobile workers aren’t bothered by feelings of isolation, but for those who are, the quality of work being done can be affected.
4- Motivation and time management
Not all workers have the skills to be self-motivated and to stay on track outside a typical office environment. Mobile workers often have to contend with more distractions, no matter if they work from a home office, a coffee shop at the corner or the local library. Flexibility is inherent in mobile working and individuals are often able to do their work whenever it best suits them—early in the morning, late at night or overnight. However, that same flexibility can also cause issues for individuals if they aren’t equally disciplined with their time. A lunch-hour walk might turn into two hours of unproductive time or household chores might beckon when a remote worker is dealing with procrastination on a project. Some personalities are better suited to a remote working situation than others. Management of remote employees is also different to those you can access in person during the day, with the option of a quick walk by their desks. There’s no easy way for check-ins with staff when they aren’t within your line of sight. Also, without the added influence of body language in regular interactions, miscommunications can occur more regularly.
5- Home versus work
A mobile employee might have a difficult time shutting off work when it’s quitting time because there is no hard delineation between home and workspace. Even though technology enables a mobile workforce, it can also make employees feel tethered to their job at all times, and employers may expect that they should receive immediate responses to messages and issues even when the traditional workday is done. It’s important that employees and employers set and respect boundaries and expectations when it comes to working hours, for mobile working to be effective.
Benefits of mobile working
The flexibility to determine working hours is very appealing to many mobile workers. How many extracurricular activities start well before the typical workday is done? Mobile working allows employees to work around the schedules of their families. Additionally, when work can be done in pockets of time that might normally be wasted—waiting for an appointment, in an airport, for example—people can be productive thanks to mobile connectivity when in the past they couldn’t get work done.
2- Cut down commute time and costs
Many of us have spent hours on a commute either due to weather or traffic delays and imagined what could be accomplished if, instead of having to trek into work, we were at our home office working away. Since time equals money, cutting a commute is another benefit of mobile working. Employees get to cut down their commuting expenses—including gas, car maintenance or public transportation tickets—as well.
3- Reduce central office costs
When an organization chooses to have a larger remote workforce, it can rent or purchase smaller office spaces and will pay less for utilities. There are other auxiliary costs that can also be reduced when more employees work from home.
4- Allows personalized working conditions
When it’s not mandatory to report to an office at a certain time, individuals can determine a work schedule that optimizes their own productivity. Every individual has a different working rhythm and working remotely allows people to tap into what works best for them. As one example, someone who is revitalized by a 20-minute siesta after lunch can take advantage of that when they work from home: that’s mostly not feasible in an office setting.
5- Emergency preparedness
In order to enable mobile working, an organization already has the technical infrastructure in the cloud required to safeguard it from emergency scenarios that would prevent operations from continuing if a central office space is compromised. Typically, this relates to a catastrophic weather event, but terrorism or other emergency scenarios could cause an organization to grind to a halt. The more mobile access is available and the larger remote workforce, the less downtime and damage emergencies would cause.
Mobile working certainly isn’t for every organization or every individual. However, it certainly works for a lot of companies. Those companies that are successful with a mobile workforce are ones who consider how to set up processes and strategies to deal with the challenges of a mobile workforce so that they can benefit from the positive aspects.
Is your organization considering adding mobile working capabilities or do you already have it set up? What have you found are the biggest challenges and benefits of mobile working?
Download our “Guide to Cybersecurity in the smart office” to find out more about how to be prepared for the impact of mobility in the workplace.