The real impact of mobilization – how will it affect the way we work?

by Frank 2. December 2011 13:00

I spoke about the move to mobilization in a previous Blog but didn’t reflect on the impact to our working and personal lives. I have since been contemplating this topic and am starting to believe that the changes brought about by mobilization will be significant; perhaps even more significant that the changes brought about by the advent of the PC in the early 1980’s.

I also believe that a key factor will be the type of work we do. In essence, do you work with physical or electronic assets?

People who work with physical assets like records managers, nurses and storemen and dock workers will find mobile devices making their job easier but they will still need to be onsite at the workplace. People working with electronic assets (let’s call them knowledge workers) like stock brokers, electronic document managers, investment analysts and insurance brokers will also find mobile devices making their job easier but they will no longer be tied to the workplace.

Another major change will be work hours. Once again, professionals like nurses will need to work regular shifts because patients require 24 hour attention. Similarly dock workers need to be at the dock when a ship is loading or unloading. Knowledge workers however will not have fixed working hours though most will still have to be ‘available’ (electronically that is) during core times like the stock market opening times. The real issue with electronic workers will be extended working hours because they will always be ‘online’. This will be particularly true in international businesses like banking and finance because the world is open 24 hours a day.

Many sales people for example already work extended hours because of their mobile devices and either the need or desire to be always available to their customers and prospective customers. I guess we have all seen a friend or colleague leave a restaurant to find a quiet corner for an important business call long after the formal working day is over.

Sales people I know call this the good and bad news. The good news is that their customers can now contact them anytime and the bad news is that their customers often do contact them at any time of the day or night. Is this really the life we all want; is this the future we want?

Some people are addicted to mobile devices, you just have to watch the scramble to turn phones on once a plane has landed or wonder at the manners of people who conduct loud conversations on their phones in elevators and public transport. But what happens when the novelty wears off and it becomes a requirement, a mandate and not a choice? Will the future knowledge worker be happy to be on-call 24 hours a day with no protected private time? How will an employer compensate a worker for ‘booking’ his private time? Will we need a new type of employment contract and new employment laws to protect knowledge workers?

What about offices? If more and more of the workforce mobilizes will we need much less formal office space? Why do you have to come to an old-fashioned office if you are already online and working and servicing your customers? Why do you have to be at the office between 9 and 5 if you are literally on-call 24 hours a day? Will we end up with cities full of empty office buildings?

More importantly, how do you reserve and protect your quiet, off-line time? Do we need new software that captures and queues calls and communications during specified quiet time hours like sleeping or a birthday party for the kids? It seems to me that just setting an ‘Out of office’ notice is not really enough or appropriate; we need something more dynamic and more appropriate to this new working paradigm, something that manages all of our mobile devices and tools, not just our emails.

We can already guess the tools we will be using; Smartphones and tablets would be my best guess. Hopefully, in the not too distant future we will have a single device to replace the two or three we now all carry (e.g., phone, tablet and notebook). But, what about the ability to communicate effectively and with enough bandwidth? There are only so many seats in a Starbucks and there is only so much coffee you can drink in a day. 3G isn’t fast enough, 4G is still rolling out and mobile broadband cards are still a bit clunky, non-integrated and expensive.

Personally I believe the way forward is Wi-Fi, not cabled networks (copper and fibre) but worry that governments will both complicate and add cost to the process because of the need to control and charge for spectrum. We need the politicians to ignore the vested interest lobbyists and literally get out of the way of progress. I have experience of 4G in the US and its works really well, up to ten times faster than 3G and I also believe much faster speeds are possible and probable in the near future (5G in 3 to 5 years?).

However, back to you and your near-future working paradigm. Will you negotiate a new contract with your employer to adequately address your extended availability? Note that I didn’t say extended working hours because extended availability doesn’t necessarily mean that you work more hours per day. In fact, you could well end up working less hours a day if the work allocation is better planned and managed by workflow.

By this I mean that your boss has to plan and manage your workday much better than he/she does now. Your ‘tasks’ should be planned at least a week ahead and you notified by workflow. When you complete your daily tasks your workday is over. It will be your choice as to whether you will work like hell and complete all your tasks in the shortest possible time (thus producing more ‘free’ time) or take a much more relaxed approach and ‘embed’ your work tasks into your life so completion takes place over the full day, intertwined with your personal life. The boss just wants to know that the work gets done, presumably by midnight each day unless some tasks are time critical but in that case you would be aware of it because of the workflow details.

My conclusion is that we can’t move on to the new mobile working paradigm without much more extensive use of workflow to allocate and manage our days’ workload. Workflow software and new generation mobile devices and high speed Wi-Fi will be the enabling tools. The social impact and the new working paradigm, the relationship between you and your employer, are yet to be finalized. I really do believe that the next few years will see a quantum change in the way we are employed and paid and the way we combine work and personal life. Goodbye nine to five and hello to “I’m available.”


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