Some of us may not have realised it at the time, but those new age gurus who went on about how we can all transcend our physical bodies and become floating blobs of consciousness or something like that may have actually been more sensible they sounded
Digital business. It’s a term that business gurus have been evangelising about for a while. But some people may not have previously understood or appreciated its meaning. Now, with growing numbers of people working from home or from other locations outside their employers’ offices, at least one facet of the phrase is becoming clear.
Flexible working, mobile working or remote working. These words and others are used to describe a phenomenon that may have sounded a little unsettling to business managers just a few years ago.
But more and more companies are incorporating flexible working practices into their business processes, so there must be good reasons.
In this article, we speak to three businesses which have a large proportion of their employees working on the move or on locations away from their office desk, if they even have one.
Happiness is metaphysical
Who does not appreciate being able to work at their computers as soon as they wake up in the morning? No need to rush around juggling a multitude of things like breakfast, clothes, or travel – just switch on the computer, go online, and you’re as good as there, at work, in the office.
Also, even if you do actually travel to the office, you don’t have to be at your desk all the time. The ability to check your emails and multi-task while on the move has freed many people to become more productive and enjoy their jobs a whole lot more.
“The pros of mobile working vastly outweigh the cons,” says Maria Grant, product director at Intercity Technology, information technology specialist. “Mobile working can offer employees a better work-life balance, improving employee happiness and staff retention.
“Giving staff the freedom to achieve work objectives when and where they want can be a truly empowering notion and encourages better performance rather than presence.
“In terms of business benefits, you can’t argue with the fact that the happier an employee, the more productive they are, and therefore the more they contribute to the bottom line growth of the business.”
So, remote working leads to shiny happy people at work, all making more money than they would otherwise if stuck at their desks all day. This may be music to the ears of most business managers and employees alike, but for some there’s still that nagging doubt that something isn’t right. That little voice in your head may be telling you that the Ferrari you’ve got your eye on for the future may not happen unless everyone’s in the office where you can see them, and check on them to make sure they’re working.
It might be a voice and attitude that’s gradually fading away, and may even disappear altogether in time, but for some people, it may still feel like a reassuring sound when they hear it.
“Around 60 per cent of Sennheiser UK employees work remotely or from home,” says Charlotte Waterworth, marketing manager, Sennheiser Telecommunications, the maker of broadcast industry standard headphones and other equipment. “While the finance, order management and service teams are office based, the majority of sales and marketing teams work remotely from homes or their cars as they travel to and from customer sites and offices.
“Sales and marketing employees find mobile working extremely beneficial – it allows them to remain in contact with the rest of the team while on the move and crucially helps to build better relationships with customers. This is a key part of their role and one that is best managed face to face.”
For Waterworth, another one of the main benefits of being unchained from a desk is the freedom from the many distractions in an office. “From a business manager’s point of view, the main advantage is that you can get your work done and can concentrate on high level tasks while in an environment with fewer interruptions.”
The main disadvantage, as Waterworth sees it, is that a manager can become more detached from a team, take longer to communicate key information, have less control. “It’s an important balance to manage,” she says.
She adds other pros which include savings on office space and furniture. “You can take your office with you.”
If you were to ask anyone, “What type of workers would benefit from mobile technology?”, then travelling salesmen or women would be an obvious choice. But then there’s the more mysterious world of the software developer, stereotypically thought to inhabit darkened rooms while staring at computer screens and typing what to most people would look like gibberish. While that may be true to some extent for individual coders, collectively speaking, they’re all over the place, which makes it difficult to get them all in one office at one time. Besides, programmers need sales people too.
“BroadSoft is a highly distributed organisation, with remote workers stationed across 26 countries and offices in 22 of those countries,” says Taher Behbehani, chief digital and marketing officer. “Added to this, we do business in 90+ countries with a large and distributed mobile sales, sales engineering and professional services support teams.”
“All of our sales managing directors, across EMEA, NA and EM [eastern Mediterranean] regions work remotely. As an organisation, we’ve fully embraced remote workers who have the key skills and experience for our roles, regardless of their location.”
Do you know where you’re going to?
Business is going digital. Many have already gone that way and are benefiting from it. For C-level executives who have accepted and work within the new hybrid reality of enterprise management, there are arguments for and against the digitisation of the office, according to the managers we spoke to. However, not all of them think offices will totally leave the physical world behind.
“We aren’t likely to see remote working completely replacing the office environment any time soon,” says Intercity’s Grant. “More than anything an office gives an organisation a physical identity and a sense of being ‘real’.
“What we will see though is mobile working becoming the norm for many companies and businesses needing less space to operate out of.
“For example, our office in Holland has more employees than there are desks, to encourage our ‘work from anywhere’ policies. Consumers already access more data than ever before on-the-go, and enterprise applications are on the rise. But it is important that businesses balance the need for user familiarity with their business needs.”
Sennheiser’s Waterworth agrees. “It’s unlikely that we’ll see companies having no offices at all, at least outside the small business sector,” she says.
“Many will keep offices to enable face to face collaboration and to invite customers to demos and events. Without a fixed location companies may lose some of their brand identity or the ability to bring remote teams together easily. ”
Many small businesses, as Waterworth observes, don’t have offices. However, while previously one could have safely assumed that office-less companies mostly fit in the small business category, that’s not always going to be the case. Times are changing.
“The workplace has changed faster than we could ever have imagined in the last decade, and with millennials now the majority of the workforce, user expectations regarding communication and mobility have changed too,” says BroadSoft’s Behbehani.
“Small businesses today are already working without offices. In Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and most recently with Vodafone’s new cloud-based mobile-first unified communications [technologies], many small business have cut the cord and are operating with 100 per cent soft clients and mobile phones instead of expensive desk phones.”
It’s a live thing
While “digital business” is a phrase that’s coming into its own, “real-time communications” may have lost its novelty some time ago. Nowadays, everything’s live chat this and live video that. The world is alive with real-time communications technologies, making the term itself about as novel as “telephone”.
Skype is probably one of the first mass-market video conferencing applications, and was initially mainly used by people who wanted to talk to friends and family around the world. It was ground-breaking, free-to-download software – an “over the top” service – that eliminated the need for traditional telephone lines to make international calls. Now, Skype is an important part of many businesses’ operations.
“Sennheiser uses Skype for Business with a headset suited to the role,” says Waterworth, who then goes on to describe some of the products her company has for different types of users, such as those who are desk-bound – “DW wireless series”, and those who are on the move – “MB Pro”; and others, such as “Presence”, which has “superb noise filtering and call clarity for busy environments”.
If you, say, walk into any office today, chances are you’ll find at least one or two people, working at their computers while wearing headphones, perhaps playing music to themselves. You might be one of those people. But if you’re in an office, sooner or later you end up having to take off your headphones for some reason or other. Hence, possibly, the popularity of mobile devices and metaphysical employees.
Alongside Skype, there are many solutions available for a digital business with a mobile workforce. And they vary in price, mainly depending on the functionality the software company has built in.
“Many of these offer solutions specifically designed for work, providing secure document sharing through the likes of Watchdox and encrypted voice calls through programs like Movirtu and Secusmart, for example,” explains Intercity’s Grant.
“Any good service provider should also offer control of these investments by delivering software-as-a-service so that all devices can run the same business-critical software, as well as providing appropriate managed services.”
Grant adds, however, that for some businesses simply taking ‘off-the-shelf’ mobile working solutions won’t deliver the right results. “Sometimes, bespoke communications solutions are required,” she says. “A strategy needs to be designed with users in mind at a budget a company is comfortable with.”
Simplicity. That’s a word that hasn’t faded in value. It’s what most people want in a lot of things in life, most of all in their technology, probably. It’s a jungle out there, full of clicks and drags and apps that you’ve never seen before. All you want is to do is communicate with your employees no matter where you or they are – not spend ages learning how to use this device or that software. And simplicity is the name of the game for most businesses offering solutions, no matter how complex.
“Cloud-based enterprise telephony, unified communications, high definition voice and video conferencing, web collaboration, desktop sharing, instant messaging and presence, and cloud-based storage and business applications available to desktop PCs, tablets and smartphones are just a few examples,” says BroadSoft’s Behbehani of the solutions his company uses and offers.
“Our applications and tools are all supported by robust remote access and advanced security measures,” he adds.
Security. That’s the name of the game. And simplicity. That’s two names. But both are important. Security probably more so. It’s beyond the scope of this article, but worth mentioning.
You’re always on my line
While business itself seems to have escaped the physical world and gone digital to a great extent, employees and managers are having to manage the intensity of being always on call. Digital business may have left building, but it’s still alive, and it’s everywhere you go.