“Mobile technology and mobile working are now an everyday part of business life, that it’s easy to forget its many advantages”
Says Business Environment’s Managing Director David Saul.
Go into any coffee shop, bar or office today, and you’ll probably hear conversations about iPhones, smartphones and Blackberries: comparing the apps, battery life, camera’s pixels and screen size. A few years ago, you’d assume it was an IT team, but now it’s more likely to be friends or colleagues comparing notes or discussing the latest app.
That these conversations are now commonplace shows just how much mobile technology has changed our working lives. Initially, mobile workers were mainly in sales and service: “road warriors” whose cars and vans were offices on wheels. But over the past five to ten years, the reliability, popularity and greater availability of mobile technology has made it viable for almost everyone. Research company Forrester estimates that this year, 73% of enterprise employees will be mobile, compared with 44% in 2009.
Broadband, laptops, tablets, smartphones and WiFi have enabled employees to work anywhere, rather than having to travel to an office to access information and resources.
As a result, organisations can now operate in many different ways: often using a smaller centrally based team to support employees who work flexibly, remotely or virtually, depending on their job functions, hours and responsibilities.
After the initial capital costs of the technology, mobile working can significantly reduce office overheads, lower travel costs and increasingly important, lower carbon footprint. Retail giant, Tesco saved over £14 million in 12 months by using BT conferencing technologies as part of its mobile working strategy. As well as the more obvious savings, companies often see greater productivity, happier employees and less staff turn-over as a result of flexible working patterns supported by mobile technology.
With employees increasingly rating flexibility and work/life balance as more important than a large salary, mobile technology has facilitated new working patterns as viable alternatives to commuting and the conventional 9 to 5 working day. In a recent survey by mobility services provider, iPass, 64% of employees said that mobile technology had helped them get a better work/life balance and 51% said they were more relaxed as a result.
Perhaps then, it’s not surprising that many employees no longer see a distinction between work and home technology – they use one phone or laptop whether working or not and whatever their location. Whilst it makes sense for the employee, it can have serious security implications for the organisation.
Apart from greater potential to lose a laptop or phone, using a single device to upload and download data can expose an organisation’s network to fraud, data loss or problems with viruses and malware. It’s also changed the role of IT departments too: increasingly they’re being asked to balance the needs of mobile workers who want access to company data regardless of device and location, with the organisation’s need to protect its commercially sensitive data.
For small businesses and start-ups, mobile technology can provide a virtual infrastructure which allows them to offer their products and services in new ways and compete more effectively with larger organisations. Using mobile devices running applications such as Skype and Paypal, a range of cloud based services and video conferencing, SMEs can operate at a fraction of the cost of a traditional bricks and mortar office.
Whilst mobile working can be very effective, small businesses often don’t know how use it effectively; Sage UK recently reported that 44% of SMEs felt they lacked the understanding to take full advantage of mobile technology’s benefits. Whilst 78% said that customers expected faster response times as a result, only 42% had taken significant steps to implement it.
The Sage report highlights the difficulty that many SMEs face, there is plenty of information about getting the most from mobile working. The Internet is a great place to start, as well as mobile services companies and the mobile network operators, all of whom have specialist business teams to help SMEs. Mobile technology has also allowed serviced office providers to expand and broaden their services to provide very flexible workspaces far beyond the traditional serviced office.
Companies such as Serviced Office operator Business Environment can now offer completely virtual offices which are particularly effective for SMEs and start-ups who may not have the resources – or desire – to invest in a traditional office infrastructure. Combining cloud services, virtual desktops, BE’s virtual clients can now access their own desktop from almost anywhere: home, client sites, coffee shop, hotel, on the move or another location. Whilst the service is provided regardless of location, clients have the added benefit of hotdesking and meeting at any of BE’s centres across London and the south east – just in case they need to meet in person!
In 2010, around half of university graduates expected flexible working outside office hours and premises to be a standard part of their working lives. According to Ofcom, 47% of UK teenagers between 12 and 15 now owns a smartphone. Within five to ten years, both these groups will join the UK’s workforce and the idea of fixed technologies which restrict their work (and lives) is completely alien. Mobile working is part of business today: within a generation it will probably be impossible to work – and live – without it.
David Saul is Managing Director of Business Environment