Summary: Mobility is on top of the agenda of a lot of (if not all) companies – no matter if they have ever had their hand on a laptop or not 😉 Tablets and smartphones seem to have added new spice to the subject. Now it’s so spicy that mobility seems to be a whole new thing despite the fact that it’s nothing but a “situation” that a user is in. Triggered by a friend’s comment on my 2013 predictions I want to emphasise on a couple of angles on the mobility subject.
- “Mobile” is just a situation. Address it beyond enabling e-mail!
- Mobile employees require a different kind of leadership.
- The downsides of mobile work: friction, sloppiness & lack of balance.
- The upsides of mobile work: integration, flexibility & more balance.
- The future of mobile work.
1. “Mobile” is just a situation. Address it beyond enabling e-mail!
Let’s be frank: if an information worker is stationary at her/his desk then she/he’s mobile whenever the 23″ screen is not in sight. It’s that simple. Tablets and smartphones have not introduced mobility to information work. They might have made it easier to be mobile or to consume/contribute while not being at the desk. The concept, however, exists at least since the laptop was introduced as the information worker device.
With Blackberry mobile e-mail turned into a status symbol. I still remember the time where furiously typing people could be considered to be VP or higher in rank. Over time and with the introduction of iPhone, Android etc. mobile email has become a commodity – and to some extend what too many consider to be “mobile work”.
But mobile work – or better: working while not being chained to a desk – is more than that. It requires a new way of presenting information for quick consumption and prioritisation. It requires easy interaction with complex systems or even a “phased” interaction scope depending on the use of a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop. It requires the balance between web based applications and native apps that focus on particular interactions. To address that is the new challenge for IT departments and vendors and taps deeply into the concept of commercialised business IT because it has to put the user in the centre of all (conceptual) thinking.
2. Mobile employees require a different kind of leadership.
To cut a long story short: if presence does not equal productivity then an lot of managers have to change their thinking. Objective based management of people is the only way to create a foundation for a mobilised work force. They have to decide where and when they pave the way to the final delivery – individually and collaboratively. Managing people based on objectives is more leadership than management because only people that understand and believe in the objective will be able to deliver on it. In particular if there is no “watch dog” patrolling the home office…
3. The downsides of mobile work: friction, sloppiness & lack of balance.
Friction: not many people are capable of writing communications. That’s why only a small fraction of our society wins awards for copy writing, masters PR or publishes successful novels. Most of the information workers have a lot to learn when it comes to
- specifying requirements, questions or tasks
- giving written feedback in an understandable, constructive way
- not choosing the wrong tone – in particular in another language
I am not implying that each information worker has to be fully trained but there are some simple rules that I would suggest everyone to learn and master:
- Recipients cannot see your face – they might miss out on your sarcasm, winking or elvish smile
- One word answers are efficient but rude if there isn’t an established relationship in place
- Answering in novel length is rude – it’s unlikely that your colleagues are seeking stuff to read because they are bored
- Think twice before hitting “reply to all”
- If you have nothing substantial to contribute: don’t contribute!
Sloppiness: my personal impression is that mobile e-mail has substantially impacted the quality of people’s contribution to a “conversation”. Sometimes the speed of an answer seems to be in favour of its quality…or maybe it’s the mindset of “if I’ve answered it it will become someone else’s problem”. This might be caused by the fact that digital communications has led to a total information overkill and that too many people actually consider a response time >3hrs to be an insult. However, we would all benefit from an increase in reading/understanding time and a decrease in answering speed. Oh, and I would like to add: not all conversations are meant to be digitalised. Your smartphone still has a phone in there…even though you’ve never used it.
To my friends point: I actually think that smartphone displays are not meant to support substantial information work even though some furious typer might think that. They can support alerting, prioritisation, staying in touch and “light enriching”. Real (= substantial) contribution and value creation will happen on tablets and laptops.
Lack of balance: I dislike people that keep “raising their hand” (here, here, here…I am still important) when they are on holiday. There is nothing to say against checking e-mail on the beach once a day in order to avoid the bomb to explode when you walk through the door on day 1 after the holiday is over (yes, I actually think that’s ok!). However, please keep your fingers out of things that can be solved by others. You are NOT irreplaceable. Yes, sad but true: even YOU! That managers expect their subordinates to be available 24/7 is ridiculous and should be banned. The Sunday e-mail “I need this by Monday 9.30am” should lead to disciplinary actions (yes, I actually think that!). Simply because too many employees have difficulties in responding to that request on Monday at 9.45am with “Oh – Just seen your e-mail. Will deliver this asap.”
4. The upsides of mobile work: integration, flexibility & more balance.
Let’s create a framing:
- individuals and teams are managed by objectives
- individuals and teams have the appropriate (not prestigious) infrastructure available
- teams have learned how to collaboratively achieve results without sharing a physical room
What would prevent them from working when and wherever they want and merge private and work life in a way that all parties benefit the most?
5. The future of mobile work
All bullets of the framing in #4 PLUS
- essential information can be accessed/manipulated from anywhere
- the intranet has become a digital workspace in which work is done and not just “stuff” distributed
- social business mechanics have visualised professional networks and teams without impacting the quality of relationships
- the special requirements of mobile work towards user centric service and application design has been accepted by IT departments and vendors – and they have been provided with the budget and the freedom to deliver on it
Sounds like a dream? Give it approx. 2 to 5 years depending on the size of a coloration and you will be asking yourself: how did we ever work differently??