Down with the Desk: How Enterprise Mobility is Reshaping the Office

If you had asked most people at the turn of the millennium what the next 20 years would bring as technology evolved, most assumed that we would be zipping around in flying cars by 2017. They envisioned that we would float to our offices in human-size vacuum transit tubes—like checks entering a bank—unlock our offices with a retina scan, and get to work at our massive digital switchboard of holographic computers.

However, the reality of the last 20 years has seen a push toward the elimination of the office altogether, and perhaps with it the disappearance of the conference room culture and desk-bound workers. Employees value the freedom that the advancements in mobile technology have afforded them, and the emerging companies responsible for bringing these solutions to market first are rocketing ahead of their legacy-burdened competition. The formula is simple: if you allow your workforce to serve your customers and product more efficiently—and on a flexible schedule—they repay the company with higher productivity and higher earnings.

In next decade, we can expect to see a further explosion in mobile-first enterprise management environments, and the reasons make a lot of financial and HR sense—it allows you to eliminate the overhead of the traditional office, it gives your employees greater freedom and job satisfaction which leads to greater productivity, and it allows you to find the very best people to do the job, no matter where they’re located in the world.  So how could it benefit your company, and what are the greatest hurdles to overcome when implementing these systems? Here are a few elements of the process to consider.

Mobility and the Mythical Millennial Worker

The first swing for many industries’ at attracting millennial workers was remaking offices from cube farms into, well, cube farms with shorter walls and more bean bag chairs. The idea was that younger generations are looking for better accessibility to their co-workers, faster and easier collaboration, and a much more casual approach to business culture.

Most were half-right, but they were about 10 years ahead of what modern workers increasingly want—the freedom to do their jobs where the best work happens, and instant access to their co-workers when necessary. It’s not just limited to millennial workers either—mobility-ready enterprise solutions benefit everyone in the office hierarchy, from freedom-seeking younger generations, to busy parents, sales professionals, or anyone who wants to stay connected while on vacation to prevent backlog.

Last year, 43 percent of employees surveyed said they work outside of the office at least part-time, and enterprises saw a jump in the number of managed devices as these employees make their office exit. Increasingly, employees want to work where they’re allowed the freedom to work where their best work happens, but with same ease-of-use as walking over to a co-worker’s desk when they need to collaborate. Now it’s possible, and mobile readiness is dividing the business world between enterprises that are adapting to the change with mobile-first solutions and those chasing diminishing profits as mobile-ready outfits dominate the market.

Baby Steps Toward Mobile Maturity 

The number-one hurdle facing CIOs and IT teams is having to work with some kind of legacy industry system that cannot be changed. The necessity for keeping these systems in place can hamper your options when choosing to move your team to a cloud-based office management system. But even the smallest first step in the process — implementing the basics PIM tools like calendar sharing and remote email access — can boost productivity as much as seven percent. Moving along the “timeline” of mobile preparedness and maturity boosts productivity every time your company moves forward in the lifecycle toward total mobile capabilities.

But most companies still lag far behind the industry standard for mobile preparedness, and are getting quickly eclipsed by companies offering diverse mobile experiences for both customers and employees. That means that as customers get access to cheaper and easier to use consumer-focused mobile products, they have begun to bring those devices into their workflow. The average employee uses multiple devices to accomplish work tasks, and iOS has become the dominant mobile platform as Apple consumer products have taken over the market.

Both customers and employees demand a more intuitive user experience and enterprises are looking to catch up to that demand, the iOS platform is a great place to start. It is the mobile leader across all vertical industries, and chances are, most of your future employees already have at least one iOS device they use daily. Integrating with a system that most of your workforce is already comfortable with will save you time as they adjust to using the mobile system.

Security & Troubleshooting 

When it’s time to arm your workforce with corporate-issued mobile devices, nothing will be more important to secure than the protection of data being exchanged between your employees. The most common means to accomplish this is to deploy password enforcement, as most corporations do when issuing devices. Almost all devices coming to market have the capacity for a robust password system, so it’s a fairly straightforward process to enforce the use of passwords with the help of your provider.

As your mobile enterprise system becomes more robust and requires more layers of security, you should anticipate more time lost as your users troubleshoot the new system. However, that rule mostly only applies to mid- and late-stage implementation of mature mobile security needs. Nonetheless, time spent on the phone with IT is part of the adaptation process, and should be considered especially in highly mobile-diverse markets like Europe and the Middle East, where there is the greatest diversity of corporate-issued devices.

The Payoff

 Benefits of investing in mobilityThe lack of industries actively investing in moving toward a robust mobile enterprise is surprising, given the amount of research that states that the modern office is actively disrupting productivity and profitability. While the open office plan was intended to create greater collaboration, the interruptions to workflow caused by answering questions from colleagues can crush an otherwise productive day.

The new definition of “productivity” is one where employees have the freedom to find the spaces where they work most efficiently. Writers can find their quiet spaces to write, managers can stay in the loop even when they’re on vacation, and sales professionals can meet clients when and where it’s convenient for the client—fostering a stronger relationship and ease of buy for the customer. All of the bottlenecks related to gathering certain people in certain places disappears, from office space rent to flight and hotel expenses.

Mobile-ready enterprise solutions will be the deciding factor in the survival of many businesses in a post-digital world, and freeing your workforce from the outdated style of cube farms and conference rooms will likely propel your company to a new level of competition.

Photo Credit: luciouslyon0101 Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on FOW Media. 

Is Your Company Ready For Email Collaboration?

Are mobile and email holding us back? I’m beginning to think so. In the department of What Happens Next In The World of Work, they’re what has to happen: We need to have seriously better ways of communicating both via mobile and via email. Both need to catch up to the way we want to work, which is more collaborative, interactive, agile, and fast.

Yes: mobile is a great big shiny new awesomeness. But it’s shiny and fast like a speedboat: not much room inside that racing machine. And no matter what we may have speculated, email is simply not going away. But mobile needs to be bigger, and email needs to be smarter. And they need to play better with each other too.

We’re Stalled In Mobile

In terms of mobile, we’re in a holding pattern. A Pew survey revealed that a third of mobile owners access the Internet mainly from the phone, and more than half of all emails are first opened via mobile. But then what? The functionality of mobile is nowhere near what we need it to be in terms of the tasks involved in conducting business. How about managing and sending large documents? And just try finding that one text in a long string that includes the actual details of a meeting (was it the longish balloon with the nine thumbs up emojis?). Or try rallying your team to craft a strategic, timely response to a breaking business development. You see it happening right before your eyes, but can you actually do anything about it? Tap swish tap, curse.

It’s been called the productivity gap, and that’s a good term for it. It’s the gap between all the content and information we can access on mobile, and the limits to what we can do with it. We can use mobile for consuming lots of content, but we can’t yet create much content on it.

So we detour. We hop from mobile to desktop, desktop to mobile to desktop again. We Facebook message that we are emailing a document we created on our laptop. And every time we detour, we lose out in productivity. Stepping from one platform to the other takes time. The advent of mobile (and social) means everything happens fast, but we don’t yet have the mobile tools to keep up.

Seems Like Old Times

What about email? We’ve certainly gotten way past those robo announcements of the 1990s. The emergence of the Cloud is taking care of those baffling log jams that plagued many an inter-office network — though I just got a phone call recently asking me to confirm that I’d gotten an email since the in-house email system tends to stall if nearing capacity. But size isn’t the only issue here: it’s how email can be processed, sorted, organized, read, responded to.

Apparently we waste a heap of time dealing with emails: managing email today consumes an estimated 28 percent of the average knowledge worker’s week. (In case that seems like a downswing, consider that a 2012 McKinsey Global survey found that workers spend more than a quarter of the day reading and answering emails.) Is it that workers are spending all this time on purpose? Probably not. I’d blame the messenger here.

We still have to manage emails one message at a time, most commonly according to the hierarchy of time, conversation, then people. Yes, time matters, but more in terms of here’s the latest. Yes, we need to have conversations, but it’s hard to bring more than one other person into the mix. And at least in the workplace, people are more often than not acting as part of a team. And partially because chronology is so critical, the etiquette of email hasn’t changed: we expect each other to answer each and every email as it comes in, or we get lost in the thread.

What we need is an email system that can allow us to collaborate not just mano a mano but as a team; a collaborative, a collection, a culture. In the future we will see more email systems with customized analytics: designed to ask the right questions in order to learn our habits. This will allow users to narrow the pipeline so we get the emails we need when we need them, and the ones we don’t need we can access later. A more fluid and agile reliance on the Cloud would help.

Innovations are coming our way, and they just may be able to transform the world of work in the coming year. No matter how brilliant our metrics or global our network, no matter how quick or adaptable our business strategies, if we can’t have equally agile conversations, we can’t hit our marks. So let’s see what happens. Hashtag cautious, but — optimistic.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.