Mobile working has become a bit of a buzzword recently, suggested by some as a solution to our productivity problems, and by others as an out of reach utopia, difficult to monitor and implement.

However, the research shows broad support in principle. In fact, a recent report found that 45% of small business employers believe people are more creative when they are not tied to one location at work. Furthermore, over half say they don’t need people to turn up at nine and go home at five any more.

The government is also supportive of any move to introduce flexible working, especially if it supports childcare requirements. The trade unions are also putting the spotlight on overtime and the Working Time Directive. Mobile working is likely to remain a hot topic for some time.

Reality Check

But what is the real issue for small businesses? For many, it’s about punching above their weight, about using technology intelligently to offer levels of service and responsiveness that would not have been realistic previously without having a detrimental impact on staff welfare or productivity.

The essence of mobile working is to allow a growing business to act as it needs to. This means taking advantage of immediate opportunities and increasing the customers’ perception of innovation and customer care.

Mobile services help to deliver this by providing the flexibility of being able to choose when and where you work and therefore the agility to be more reactive to unexpected requests.

If used to their full potential, the only challenges a small business should have to address are the goals the founders have set for the business, not the obstacles that they need to overcome to get the most out of the technology investment.

Time Travel

Unfortunately, there is still a cultural gap that exists in many organisations. In Britain we still talk about ‘going to work’ and have a fixed idea of the workplace as a fixed location that we travel to. However, according to research from Barclays, the average British worker spends over six hours a week commuting to and from work, rising to over seven hours in London.

Furthermore, this doesn’t take into account the time spent getting to and from meetings or appointments as part of the working day. A survey by the Chartered Management Institute found that 79% of managers have missed vital meetings, 17% have lost business opportunities, 21% reported a decline in productivity and 35% told of increased levels of irritability at work, all down to transport problems.

Making it Work

These statistics alone offer a compelling business case for mobile working. After all, what would most of us prefer our staff to be doing, sitting in traffic or doing productive work remotely? The trick is to empower staff to make their own decisions in line with the needs of the business and to ensure that this cuts across all levels, avoiding the potential for an ‘us and them’ situation.

My own day-to-day working life takes me across the country, and as a result I tend to work where ever I can. Also, having young children, it’s important to me not to have to work through the evening. Therefore, I tend to take the train rather than drive, so that I can work on my laptop, answering emails and taking calls when I’m on the move.

This is also helpful in dealing with the ‘dead time’ between out-of-the-office meetings, since I can log on in moments and deal with urgent items as soon as they come up. I also encourage this in my team as well.

In fact many of them now choose to work from home and only come into the office when they need to, working from the ‘hot desks’ that we have available in all our premises.

The Options

The good news is that the technology is not an expensive luxury. As time goes on we will see more and more business applications, such as job scheduling, move onto mobile devices.

This stands to offer great benefits to those whose roles are concentrated out of the office – such as delivery drivers or field sales people – and will become even more of a reality as HSDPA, or 3G Broadband, becomes available.

Many laptops these days are purpose-built for working on the move, with in-built WLAN access cards, which allow users to log-on whenever you are in a ‘hot spot’, which can be found at many cafés, rail stations and airports.

A 3G data card allows you to go one step further and access the internet away from these hotspots wherever there is a mobile signal. A 3G data card therefore allows users to send and receive emails, text messages, use instant messaging services and receive, amend and send documents as if they were in the office. Furthermore, both 3G data cards and other mobile devices can also be used abroad once the roaming bars have been lifted.

It won’t belong before we see this kind of technology embedded within the laptop itself, much the same as Wi-Fi is today, which will eliminate the need to carry around separate equipment; it will simply be a case of turning on and selecting the best connection for the situation that you are in. Making Sense

In today’s society, in which we have realised the benefits of giving ourselves and our staff greater work/life balance, it would be foolish not to look at the benefits that mobile working technology offers.

In fact the chances are, especially if you already use a mobile and have a laptop computer, then you already have most of the tools and have committed most of the expense. All you need to do is to enable it.

The trick is making sure that the new flexible culture is respected by all those that benefit from it. Do that bit right and you’ll prosper.

© Crimson Business Ltd. 2006