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Mobile workers: Unleash the power of your workforce

The new world of work looks a lot less like the traditional corner office. Today, the idea of mobile workers is commonplace. But it hasn’t always been that way. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and see where the idea came from — and from there we’ll look at where it’s headed in the future.

The day before yesterday: the telecommuter

To ease the pain of physical commutes, some companies started letting employees work from home occasionally. A person who worked in this manner was referred to as a “telecommuter,” “teleworker” or sometimes a “home-sourced” or “work-at-home” employee. They could process check runs, code medical bills and do other computing chores from their kitchen tables; they could also access email and files and hop on conference calls when needed. Connecting remotely wasn’t always the smoothest thing in the world, but it worked well enough to be worthwhile.

Mobile workers are not only ubiquitous but expected: If your company doesn’t have or can’t accommodate them, you’re not really running with the pack.


Yesterday: the remote worker

Sales people were the first to embrace life on the road, so it was they who first explored advanced tools for working remotely: cell phones, pagers, laptops and battery-powered printers. Back then, configuring laptops to connect to corporate customer relationship management software or legacy accounting systems required significant IT resources.

And although a significant portion of their activity took place outside the company, remote workers were still anchored to their brick-and-mortar workflows. Indeed, they had a laptop and a desktop computer “back in the office,” where attending meetings in person was still expected. Hardcopy orders and leasing paperwork had to find their way to accounting for processing. Paper invoices might need to be hand delivered, and checks were mailed.

Again, this worked well enough. But there was a better way.

Today: mobile workers

Now the notion of performing general office tasks outside the office is nothing special. Mobile workers are not only ubiquitous but expected: If your company doesn’t have or can’t accommodate them, you’re not really running with the pack. The triple threat of personal technology (cell coverage and ubiquitous WiFi), cloud technology and efficient software applications aren’t destroying the office environment — on the contrary, they’re enabling decisions to be made in the field.

Our devices put us in touch with the entire business ecosystem. Quotes are emailed to customers, approved, returned and forwarded to accounting from our tablet, whether we’re in the conference room or at the beach. We can talk to clients and prospects from anywhere and we can get online — even from the Starbucks parking lot, if we want.

Backup and security

Your information is one of your most valuable assets. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to protect it.

“In person” is the exception

The biggest improvement for today’s mobile workers is the capability, from anywhere, to fully participate in organizational workflows. Instead of printing and handing in paperwork, the entire order process can be handled on the laptop.

This is key.

Today, there’s little to no reason for person-to-person contact. This isn’t to say it has no value — if anything, the ubiquity of mobile workers elevates personal contact into something special and valuable. In-person meetings are more significant and imbued with greater purpose and meaning.

Is there a downside to less face-to-face collaboration? How can we be creative when we’re hundreds of miles apart?

Plenty of ways, some of which we haven’t even imagined yet. The tools are in the palm of our hand. Just as workers before us transitioned from typewriters to PCs, so shall we transform our creative processes in the new world of work.

Tomorrow: the unleashed worker

As our physical limitations melt away, now we can ask ourselves a really big question: If I can process all this information and complete tasks for one company, why not many?

Imagine a world where the payroll expert processes invoices from her home — and also does so for six different companies. Think about multiple manufacturing companies working with a service that processes raw material orders, or a global team of engineers designing bridges in the U.S. Once the designs and job are approved, construction management could be achieved with both on-the-ground assets and remote, untethered project managers — managers who are watching multiple enterprises around the globe.

The most significant evolution is having access to capable applications and data, in real time, from any connected device, anywhere. Another evolution: the real-time collection, calculation and presentation of data models, from the cloud to our palm. In this exciting era of data crunching and information sharing, in can take workers mere seconds to make decisions and take actions that once took weeks. These are key components of information mobility, and by extension, your business’s strategy for success in the coming years.


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In summary

Mobile workers will completely reinvent our concept of the office. In the new world of work, we will have the choice to work anywhere, from a cubicle to the beach. Technology’s incessant march forward will open more and more opportunities to make contact and collaborate in creative ways. That’s good news — not just for mobile workers, but for businesses as well.
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