Brave New Mobile World, Part II

Jeff Dettloff, Providence’s President and Chief Problem Solver, also serves as the 2011-2012 President for the Capital Area IT Council (CAITC). Jeff recently moderated a CAITC panel discussion on mobility and the connected workforce at this fall’s Greater Lansing Business Showcase. For the next few weeks we will be sharing the knowledge we gained from attending this panel.

How does the new mobility affect your business? Are you in the fast lane? Please share your insights and experiences.

In our last post we discussed how the mobile industry is changing the way consumers find and interact with businesses. Today we’ll look at how the new mobility is beginning to affect businesses themselves.

Best estimates say that between 60 and 80 percent of today’s work force is mobile, which means they don’t need to be in their office to do work. This trend got rolling in the 90’s as laptop computers became more and more affordable, and really took off with the advent of handheld Personal Digital Assistants or PDA’s (remember those?). Blackberries became the standard in the 2000’s, but the 2007 introduction of the iPhone was a game-changer.

The iPhone was so influential that it essentially spawned a new industry. Every mobile phone manufacturer and service provider now seems to have a smartphone at the center of their business plan. Tablet devices like the iPad, Xoom, and Kindle are taking off and seem to be the next step in the evolution. Traditional desktop and laptop computers are getting less and less use.

What this means to business is that workers are now empowered to do more, do it more efficiently, and can work from wherever they happen to be. They’re no longer tethered to a desk. But as with any technological advancement, there are positives and negatives to be aware of as we move further into the age of the mobile worker.

On the positive side, remember that the point of all these gadgets is to get people to talk to one another, to communicate and share information. At the end of the day, despite the potential distractions, your workforce is better connected than they could have possibly been even five years ago. Correctly managed, this should lead to higher productivity.

Look for ways that mobile technology can help you cut costs. But be aware that you may have to give up some of the “old ways” of doing things. For instance, instead of forcing the entirety of a geographically diverse workforce to travel to a single location for a meeting, you can save on airfare, mileage, and employee time by using Skype conferencing or another videoconferencing tool.

Cloud-based technologies can do wonders for communication and collaboration. Applications like Google Docs and Microsoft Sharepoint provide a convenient repository for documents that are being worked on by a team. Documents can be configured to be editable by many workers or just one or two, and they can be accessed at any time, from anywhere, provided you have an internet connection. An added bonus to using such systems is that any knowledge shared is knowledge retained; you may have workers moving in and out of a project, and even in and out of your company. Centralizing information in shared document storage can help make sure that your project keeps moving forward even if a key person leaves.

With workers now connected around the clock to their business email and data, the line between personal time and business time is getting very blurry. It is now common for workers to answer email and perform work tasks from home on their own time. While employers may see this as a great deal for them, they also should be aware that it can lead to employee burn-out. It is important to make sure that employees are using their vacation time to truly rest and relax, instead of taking along their laptop to get work done from the beach.

Our mobile devices, tablets, and cloud-based tools can allow us to still have personalized connections even as we become more independent in our work. But always remember that it is important not to lose that human touch. Make sure to personally engage your co-workers and get people to talk to each other. Sometimes it is easier (and quicker) to walk down the hall instead of sending that email.

Jeff Dettloff is President and Chief Problem Solver at Providence, a Lansing IT Consulting firm.

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