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The mobile working experience

Mon 30 November 2009

, Eric Lesser, IBM

Technological advances and the needs to improve employee retention, reduce costs and respond more rapidly to customers, have created a new generation of mobile workers in Europe. They demand an outcome-based performance measurement system and a visible corporate support for mobile working, a study by the IBM Institute for Business Value and the Economist Intelligence Unit shows.

To better understand the work experience of this new generation of mobile workers, the IBM Institute for Business Value, in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit, surveyed 351 remote workers from 29 European countries.
• Rise in the number of individuals who have recently begun working in a mobile
• Difficulties that mobile workers face in communicating and collaborating with colleagues.
• Dangers associated with becoming disconnected from the informal networks that are used to share knowledge and identify opportunities within the organisation.
• Challenges mobile workers face in balancing the demands of work and home life.
• Importance of having a reliable, easy-to-use technological infrastructure.

Perhaps more surprising than the sheer number of employees working remotely is the speed with which the trend is accelerating: 48 percent have been working remotely only since early 2002 and 15 percent started in the past year. As the number of mobile workers increases, so does the number of problems associated with bringing people together” and enabling them to work as team members.


Outcome-based performance
Based on the results of this study, the IBM Institute for Business Value has identified four areas where companies can improve the productivity and working experience of mobile employees.
Firstly, companies should develop an outcome-based performance measurement system that levels the playing field between remote and office-based workers. By developing goals that are results-driven, companies are more likely to accurately evaluate the performance of all staff, regardless of location. With clearer measurements in place, remote workers can focus on achieving outcomes, rather than managing perceptions with coworkers and managers.

Improve technology
Improve the reliability and functionality of remote working technology. An overwhelming number of respondents identified the need for a more reliable infrastructure. Remote workers are looking for collaborative tools that allow them to work more effectively with their colleagues. In addition, high-speed connections make a tangible difference to those who work remotely.

Get the right skills
Make sure that employees (and their managers) have the appropriate skills and
capabilities. Given the potential for distractions in the home environment, and the
difficulty in getting quick answers to potential work impediments, structure and
discipline are prerequisites for working outside of the office. Formal education on
time management, collaborating in a virtual environment, setting goals, technical
skills, “managing upwards” and even avoiding burnout can benefit mobile workers
and their managers.

Corporate support
Provide visible corporate and managerial support for mobile working. Perhaps the
biggest challenge facing mobile workers is one of acceptance, both among
one’s colleagues and the organisation as a whole. Otherwise, mobile workers can
become further alienated, potentially leading to disengagement and turnover.

Trust and connection
The European mobile working survey findings reflect an overarching theme that is consistent across countries, industries and company of different sizes: the importance of simultaneously considering the social and technological challenges of mobile work. By openly supporting the working arrangements of mobile workers, companies can develop a critical sense of trust and connection among colleagues throughout the organization. Executives should consider several potential areas of improvement: fostering communication and collaboration; eliminating corporate invisibility; balancing work/life; and implementing mobile working technology that is simple, reliable and well-supported.