The drive towards digital business is making more and more enterprises mobile, enabling employees to work from anywhere, using almost any device and a multitude of media to communicate and collaborate. Here, we ask companies about their experience of the increasingly flexible world of mobile or remote working
Those of a certain generation may remember – or may not want to remember – the song, 9 to 5, sung by the incomparable Dolly Parton, in which she laments in her inimitable way about having to work the traditional seven- or eight-hour day. “What a way to make a living”, she cries, adding: “It’s enough to drive you crazy”. Quite.
But the culture of working 9 to 5 is ending, if it hasn’t already, with more and more companies and employees embracing the practice of mobile working, or teleworking, or remote working, or flexible working. Call it what you want but it means a system that does not necessarily have regular hours, starting at the same time as the rest of the country, thereby potentially ending the beloved tradition of rush hours. And by definition, flexible working means not even having a regular, physical location to do your work.
The increasing popularity of mobile working means that future generations may not know what the phrases “clocking in” and “clocking out” actually mean. Many might struggle to think what it means even now, not just because they’re of a younger generation, with access to new technologies, but because more and more companies are moving away from the old-style working rhythm.
All workers great and small
According to John Marlow, managing director EMEA SVP corporate development of RingCentral, mobile is not just for hopeful startups who have yet to even rent an office – it’s for big-league companies too.
“Mobile working is becoming relatively commonplace in many companies, both large and small, especially with the adoption of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device),” says Marlow.
“Even leaders with a more traditional view of operating a business are realising the morale benefits of allowing staff the flexibility to complete tasks and stay in touch when on the move or working from home.
“As the fear that staff won’t work as hard when not in an office subsides, the number of companies without an office will naturally increase.”
The concern that previously may have made C-level executives reluctant to allow mobile working – that employees would be lazy and do no work – is not really borne out by the research, which tends to find the opposite.
Research recently carried out by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation suggests that companies which have introduced flexible practices saw that their employees were working more, not less.
The report, entitled Working anywhere: A winning formula for good work?, was commissioned by Citrix, which has been heavily promoting its Mobile Workspaces for the new world of work.
Early adopters were already benefitting from the “work anywhere” culture, says the Work Foundation report. “Those changing towards a flexible working system are seeing the benefits for the organisation and the individual employees such as increased productivity for the business alongside improved health and wellbeing for employees.”
Falling into the category of “early adopters” the report refers to is software developer ROCO Partners.
“We’ve wholly embraced mobile working,” Matt Constable, CIO at ROCO Partners. “Seventy per cent of our team operates from our headquarters at London Bridge and the other 30 per cent work from Madrid, Stockholm and New York.
“Almost half our team was hired using Skype,” he adds.
Talking of hiring, recruitment company NSK Consultants says one in 10 of its workforce is mobile.
Georgette Stewart, operations director, of NSK Consultants, says: “While most of our staff are office based, we have two members of staff who are not based in the workplace. This accounts for about 10 per cent of our workforce.
“NSK’s graphic designer and web developer both work entirely from home. Though a fairly modern position we’ve found there has never been an issue with efficiency using this method. Often the constraints of working within an office setting can actually be detrimental to some employee’s productivity.”
From an old-school C-level executive’s point of view, a whole load of company employees out and about, running around wherever they want, is a recipe for chaos, not to mention insufferable levels of stress.
All that stressing out is probably unnecessary, if increased productivity levels are anything to go by. Moreover, advanced networking solutions are now available that make the remoteness or otherwise of workers’ locations somewhat redundant.
RingCentral’s Marlow says: “Much of the negativity associated with mobile working can be fixed with a decent internet connection and unified communications solution.
“If your entire workforce is using the same suite of tools to call, message and collaborate with one another, you will see efficiency benefits across your business, even when multiple members of the team are on the move.”
For ROCO, which has workers across the world and so wake up and start work at different times of their own day or night time, being able to go beyond the traditional “9 to 5” is imperative.
As Constable says: “From a C-Level perspective, it’s a tremendous advantage – we can operate a minimum of a 16-hour day across multiple time zones.
“I’m positive that the next decade will see a significant increase in mobile and remote working – employees will come to expect it so businesses must embrace it if they are to retain talent.”
NSK, meanwhile, being a people business, the main advantage of flexible working is the feelgood factor. As Stewart says: “The pros of having employees working remotely is staff morale, trusting in our staff to work efficiently on their own impacts positively on the staff.
“When our designer first went mobile, there were trust issues but these were quickly dissolved when the work level remained constant.”
Stewart adds that she sees her company and others becoming even more flexible in the future. “In the next decade I can see the majority of staff working remotely, with the office a hub used only when necessary.
“This will mean big changes to the way we pay for office spaces as we won’t need to rent spaces on such a large scale. In the future I predict that companies will be forced to look closely at the quality of work being produced, compared to the number of hours logged, of course the consequence of this could cause difficulties with HR and wages.”
The method in the madness
So which software solutions do companies use to enable their employees to have the physical freedom to work from anywhere and at any time? There are many well-known options, such as Skype, which has been around for more than a decade and had achieved more than 100 million downloads several years ago, mainly by consumer users. But since its 2012 takeover by Microsoft in an $8.5 billion deal, it is increasingly seen as a business tool.
“We make heavy use of Skype,” says ROCO’s Constable . “We leave a group chat open for each project we’re working on and all members can contribute and stay up to date across time-zones.”
NSK is also a fan of Skype, but it also uses the other well-known platform provided by Google.
Stewart says: “Issues regarding software in relation to staff working remotely have been relatively easy to overcome as technology now allows instant communication with any staff who aren’t office based.
“NSK use the free Google Drive for file sharing allowing multiple users to access files instantly. Skype chat as a simple solution to staff working remotely; often the simplest ideas work the best. Communication is paramount to ensure trust and positive relationships. Skype allows face to face meetings with staff in multiple destinations.”
As well as using Google Drive and Skype, Stewart says NSK also uses a specialised tool from a company called Wrike.
“The Wrike project management tool has been extremely useful for working with remote staff, as tasks are allocated with due dates set, this allows contributions to be tracked and viewed easily,” says Stewart.
When it comes to specialised project management tools, RingCentral has been gaining a reputation in the market. The company recently launched a WebRTC-based API and a developer kit. The company says it is on course for 25 million API requests in the first quarter of 2016. And of course the company uses its own cloud-based VoIP and other communications technologies in its own operations.
Marlow says: “We use our own technology to communicate, as we are the only business communications provider that has seamlessly converged telephony, audio and video conference, and collaboration into one, simple to use suite of tools.
“We have created each of our products to make life easier for businesses. From device and software compatibility to service provider migration management, RingCentral Office takes the difficulty out of business communications.”
No more incommunicado
Work might no longer be the drudgery of the 9 to 5 that Dolly Parton wailed about, but that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games now. The downside to all this always-on internet connectivity and superfast communications is that there is no hiding place for the slacker. The employee who wants to go for too many cigarette breaks may be able to do so in his own space and at any time he or she likes, but they’ll always be contactable by the boss.
It’s just lucky that the old-school boss is having to change his or her way of thinking and modify their demands. The strict culture of clocking in and clocking out seems to have ended a long time ago for most people in today’s economy.