Apparently we’re better connected. It’s certainly true of business. And with the increased in flexible and home working in recent years, technology is working hard to keep pace
‘Mobile working’ is a term that’s so commonplace these days that it has almost been reduced to a buzzword or a cliché. But, as with most trends, there’s a reason why it’s become a nigh-on omnipresent part of the business lexicon.
The trend towards increasingly dispersed workforces means that people are engaging with so-called mobile working more than ever before. According to a recent survey by Virgin Media Business, 70% of people in the UK will have a smart device reliant on mobile connectivity by the end of 2012. Linda Summers, director of product marketing at video-calling giant Skype, says this is behind the shift toward mobile working. “As technology has increased so has the predisposition for employees to work remotely,” she says. For her, the real litmus test for this was the Olympics. “According to Transport for London, about a third of regular transport users changed their usual journeys to avoid travel hotspots during the Games, highlighting a clear adjustment within attitudes towards flexible working.”
Duane Jackson, founder and CEO of KashFlow, the provider of online accountancy solutions, agrees that there’s been a shift in usage: “With each account, we’re seeing log-ins from many more locations than we normally would,” he says. It seems that a single account is increasingly likely to be accessed from a wide variety of IP addresses, which demonstrates a much greater variance in when and where people are accessing their data. “Rather than someone accessing it from the same place all the time, they’re accessing from multiple places.”
Reasons to become a part of the mobile revolution abound. Aside from the obvious benefits to employees’ well-being, flexible working can mean huge reductions to overheads – for a start-up, not carrying the obligation of premium office space can mean the difference between realising your goals and your business remaining a pipe dream. As Jackson explains: “You can get rid of the expense of that physical space and everything that comes with it – rates, desks, chairs.”
Summers also points to subtler benefits. She cites the US President’s Council of Economic Advisors 2010 report Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility. “It claimed that flexible working arrangements can reduce absences and staff turnover,” she explains. It sounds like a bold claim but there seems to be some anecdotal evidence to support it – she points to the case of a large utility company that adopted a flexible working schedule in one of its divisions. “In the year after the programme was adopted, the division with a flexible schedule reported a more than 20% reduction in absences,” she says.
What’s more, you can’t always guarantee that the best talent available to your business will be just down the street. Sometimes compromises need to be made; building the right team will sometimes need to be at the expense of geographical convenience. In particular, tech-orientated projects are far more likely to rely on talent pools spread across the country – or even the globe. And this will mean a reliance on collaboration software, as well as video-conferencing technologies. Summers remarks: “Skype itself is testament to how video conferencing can help companies to work more effectively internationally.” A significant proportion of the company’s projects involve tasks shared among international offices. “This means that our teams are spending an awful lot of time working collaboratively and using Skype to share their progress,” observes Summers.
Unfortunately that’s not to say mobile working doesn’t have its downsides. “What we’ve also seen this month is lots of foreign addresses connecting to UK accounts, so what that implies to us is that people are checking their accounts when they’re on holiday,” comments Jackson. It seems the increased access afforded to most workers is a double-edged sword; while it may afford more time away from the office, knowing that your work is only a click away can prove far too tempting for a lot of people. “With the ability now to access your software from everywhere, you need some discipline to switch off when you’re not meant to be working,” Jackson concludes.
Summers believes this is an area that is still being worked out, with differing opinions between employers and employees around flexible working policy. But change may be afoot. “They are both united by the common goal – how they might create an environment that allows them to do their jobs more effectively,” she says. “The future is likely to see employees owning more control over their work/life balance without having a negative impact on the business.”
Additionally, security can be a concern for the uninitiated. How do you ensure your company data is secure when it is being accessed from multiple locations, for example? But Jackson explains that those concerns are dwindling more and more as firms tackle security head on. “When we first started years ago that security question would come up on a daily basis,” he says. “Now not even monthly do we get that question.” Given the amount of security most cloud software companies employ, your data is actually far safer with them than on your hard-drive. “When you look at the difference between how secure your PC is compared to an app on our servers with £10,000-worth of firewall equipment around it and biometric scans to get physical access to it, you’re considerably more secure on the cloud than you are on your desktop.”
Jackson also feels businesses must put more work into team building. “The whole team bonding culture – you need to make a concerted effort to be getting together regularly,” he says. This can be aided by the social side of cloud software; tools such as Skype make a more fluid integration of the desktop and actually help to break down the boundaries between staff, not reinforce them. As Summers comments: “With employees online via Skype they can work more flexibly with each other via instant messaging, screen sharing and file share at the click of a button.”