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Working From Where? – Making mobility real

IN MUCH LESS than a lifetime, work has become something we do, rather than a place we go, and more than 35% of the UK workforce now operate in a mobile mode. Only 30 years ago, people were tied to a desk and a place. Work and play were distinct and separate. Today, the practice of sitting at a PC at a specific desk in a designated office is rapidly coming to an end for the innovators. Even those dealing with support challenges of society and industry enjoy the advantage of mobile technology as they move from place to place.

I see all this every day because I am a part of it, and I wonder at the continued debate and discussion about it being good or bad. The reality is that people empowered by technology use the freedom to be more efficient and effective – while Yahoo might disagree as it is banning working from home, and for good reason: it faces its own fundamental problems.

But this option allows those with children at home to work whenever they can find the time, while those trying to juggle earning hours with family time can complete that contract document while crossing the Atlantic instead of having to go to the office. And those deemed to be past it can have a new lease of earning life beyond the age of 64. All so simple and beneficial.

But another wave of change has been building for more than five years. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement is now finding corporate traction. Directors are demanding that their iPhone and tablet be given access to the corporate network, despite all the security worries. And the young folks are just connecting. The enlightened companies are paying their people to provide and use their own choice of phone, laptop and tablet. The outsourcing of all IT services including network and cloud provision is also on the rise and will soon become the norm.

Just three years ago, I advised on a company’s migration into a new building without any offices, desks, wired telephones or internet connections. This wireless environment had tables and chairs, and staff had sanctioned BYOD access only, with a company private branch exchange client on every device. So no matter where they went in the world, they were only ever a ‘PBX’ call away. The building also had a 60% occupancy provision as a lot of the workforce operated mobile or from home.

Did this work? Costs came down and productivity went up, with groups forming around project-centric tables. Upon completion, groups disband and reshape ‘jellyfish fashion’. And this was one of the biggest online security companies on the planet. Only one area was isolated, and that was for specialised servers and computers running protected code.

What is the biggest deal here? People need freedom of access, movement, and the conditions for decision-making necessary to complete work that is largely incomprehensible to the management chain. But managers suffer from control-freakism. Conductors of an orchestra might be able to play a few of the instruments, but they shouldn’t try. That is the job of the instrumentalists. The conductor’s job is to organise and synchronise, to ensure the players can excel – and the same is true of companies.

No two organisations are the same. This may or may not be appropriate for your operation, but it ought not be dismissed. Chances are some of what is outlined here can offer some advantage.

As you might expect, the leading companies have been BYOD for more than ten years and do not have IT or security departments. Some are globally virtualised, without employment contracts or payrolls. They are experiments, pushing the envelope of what is possible.

You don’t have to push so far so fast, but you do have to push. If you do not, your business will stagnate. You don’t have to make any giant leaps – just explore and see what works. Don’t sit still, and don’t become a target.

Peter Cochrane is an IT consultant and former chief technologist at BT

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