MOOFing – how mobile working will affect small businesses

Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny helped to eliminate slavery and kick-start the Industrial Revolution. Henry Ford revolutionised global manufacturing by achieving yield/high quality output while providing decent working conditions.

As workplace innovations go, these were pretty significant. A clear technological advancement and a major shift in working practices, both requiring commitment and determination to implement.

It may be a slight stretch to say that adopting mobile technologies and working practices will have the same effects on global business as the examples above, but taking a more macro view of the issues facing British employers and employees, it’s not hard to argue the case for introducing mobility into the workplace through new technologies and changes to existing working practices.

The business case for a more mobile work-force is pretty clear. UK workers put in some of the longest hours out of the G7 countries yet are some of the least productive. Our dogged adherence to a 9-to-5 culture is no longer paying dividends.

Then there are the needs of employees. A balance between work and social life is a key demand of the new generation of workers that have grown up in an age of increased social communication and interaction. Indeed, recent Microsoft sponsored research of 1000 British workers shows that 73% are looking for some form of flexible working in their next career move.

It’s worth stressing now that mobile or flexible working does NOT mean working from home, it means working from the best location for the task that needs to be completed. Of course, being in the office is often an absolute necessity and does have legitimate advantages some of the time, but there are times when being with a customer, in a seminar or indeed at home with some peace and quiet are what’s required.

So, how can companies, especially SMBs, look at introducing mobility into the workplace? What are the challenges that need to be overcome in order for the benefits to be realised?

Firstly, no company should introduce change for change’s sake. There are plenty of examples of technologies and processes being introduced without being thought through with disappointing to disastrous results (video calling on mobile phones and the Poll Tax being two examples that readily spring to mind)

Employers need to take a 360 degree view of their business and look at current working practices alongside the availability of new mobile technologies to see if efficiencies can be made or the working environment improved.

For example, how much benefit would be gained from offering remote access to email and servers to employees who need to interact with colleagues and customers in different time zones? For field agents, time and money could be saved (and errors reduced) by providing the tools to update records, place orders, check stock, remedy issues on site rather than transfer paper records to PCs back at base?

Then there are the potential benefits to be gained from giving staff greater freedom in how they fulfill their roles. I’d hope that most employers are savvy enough to countenance a request to work flexibly if someone has a large report to complete or similarly time-intensive task that needs total concentration? But if that employee isn’t aware of a formal process for working remotely, the chances are they won’t make the request. How many extra hours are spent on tasks due to the daily disturbances of a busy office?

Equally, how much more committed would employees be if they could cut out the daily rush-hour commute by working remotely and then join the office when they are really needed? Where is the sense in demanding that staff be at their desks if the only reason for them being there is to have visual proof of them working?

Of course, as with any change to accepted practices, there will be challenges. Companies need to ensure employees remain accountable for any policies and technologies that are introduced. In my mind, this is easily solved, you measure output NOT input. The hours spent on a task are of little concern if the end result is poor. Let the quality of work be the measure of success rather than the time spent doing it.

And this is where MOOF comes in, or to give it its full title Mobile Out of OFfice. This is the term coined by Microsoft – and endorsed by a number of leading UK business organisations including Business Link, The Chartered Management Institute and The Work Foundation – to represent a new way of working. Some companies are already championing the MOOF movement. Others, understandably, are reluctant to relinquish what they see as control. Many companies, especially SMBs, are struggling to understand how they can introduce mobility in a cost-effective manner while others want to see proof of how MOOF-ing can have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Mobile working is a rolling snowball and businesses can not afford to ignore its impact. The best talent will move to companies that recognise the demands of new workers, while the productivity gap will continue to widen if current practices exist. It’s time to MOOF with the times.

For more information on how Business Link can help you get to grips with mobile working please visit www.businesslink.gov.uk or call 0845 600 9 006 to get in touch with your local office.

People Moving Business Awards

To help British companies understand the benefits of introducing mobility into the workplace, Microsoft along with its partners Business Link, the Chartered Management Institute and Management Today, have launched the People Moving Business Awards to celebrate best practice in mobile working by companies, organisations and individuals.

Free to enter, the awards will highlight great examples of how business and personal achievements have been made possible through adopting a mobile mindset.

Submissions for the awards close on June 25th and a special awards ceremony will be held in Central London in September. For more information and to enter the awards, visit www.managementtoday.co.uk and click on the PMB Awards banner on the right hand side of the page.

This article was penned by James McCarthy, mobile working expert at Microsoft

Bytestart Limited info@ByteStart.co.uk

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