Keep Moving: The Rise of the Mobile Worker

This time last year I was getting geared up to do a TedX talk on the Future of Work. Now I am gearing up to do a Corenet talk on Keep Moving: The Rise of the Mobile Worker. As last year I'm wondering why what seemed a good idea at the time now seems like a big challenge. The good thing is that I'm not presenting alone so there are two of us working on the presentation. I'm presenting the overview sections, and John Risteter from Huntington Bank is presenting his case study. We're being guided in how we set about developing the presentation by Nancy Duarte's excellent book – Resonate on how to develop presentations – it's become my bedtime reading companion(!) She also gave a compelling webinar, Mastering Remote Presentations: A Guide to Persuasive Conversations which I got tips from that helped me develop the webinar I gave last week Collaboration, conversation or chat, knowing the difference, which discusses mobility from the angle of collaboration. It's now freely available to listen to here.

What Duarte says is that successful presentations first establish 'the big idea' and then structure around that. So, what can we draw on to develop our big idea around mobility? Well I'm a fully mobile worker, and I've done a lot of work on workplace mobility programs. Currently I have the intriguing role of remotely co-ordinating an internal mobility program that we've established back in the corporate office. I wrote about the first week of it in a previous blog and we're about to start week four. John (my co-presenter) is Manager of Strategic Space Planning and comes at mobility from the corporate real estate perspective. We spent a morning together the other week collecting up first thoughts (and having a laugh doing so). The big idea however did not emerge clear cut in this initial meeting on the topic. But looking over our notes and then having a couple of follow up phone calls it has taken shape. Our big idea is that managing the rise in mobility means managing a multitude of competing and interwoven tensions.

Like it or not, worker mobility is growing. This rise is valiantly tracked, in the US, by Global Workplace Analytics who point out that getting to accurate numbers is complex as the term 'mobile worker' (or teleworker) covers hosts of work styles and locations, including road warriors, service engineers like plumbers and electricians, people who work from home, people who work in an office but have unassigned seating and thus are internally mobile, and so on. In John's case they are grappling with all these different types of mobility.

The various shapes and forms of mobility create a number of organizational tensions and in the course of our discussions we've identified three that we have both found hard going and worth talking about:

  • Spatial tensions
  • Cultural and social tensions
  • Informational/technological tensions

Within each of these categories there are dozens of tensions so identifying which we think our participants would find the most interesting and we can provide insights to is our immediate next step and we're getting closer on this. Meanwhile the more obvious (and not new) insight is that managing the rise of worker mobility effectively is not just a single function role it requires support and co-operation from finance, IT, HR, business leaders and others: the tensions inherent in getting to this are well known. Bob Fox of Fox Architects talks about this in his blog. So leaving aside this rather well-worn theme still leaves us with plenty.

Spatial tensions
Take a look at the ways UK Vodafone's, Guy Laurence, has redesigned his workplace.
'One of the more radical features of Vodafone UK's workplace is a distinct lack of 'office ownership'. Executives don't have an office. They, CEOs included, sit in the same open-plan space as every other employee, regardless of role or job title. Any belongings that are left on the desk after 10pm – paper, personal possessions or otherwise – are incinerated that night. They have reduced formal meeting space by 30% and minutes are taken electronically, which has reduced paper usage by 78%. In order to make better use of available space, only meetings of 6 people or more are permitted in a meeting room – all others (unless they are of a private nature) must take place in the cafe. However, it's more than just a coffee shop. It's a central hub that's spacious, with a constant buzz and an open layout that encourages collaboration and connection through chance encounters.'

Then hear him talk about what this radical change has meant to staff who have had to come to terms with it (or leave the company). It's a fascinating example of the 'growth without growth' tension that John will be exploring from his Huntington Bank experience.

Cultural and social tensions
Recall the bally-hoo the recent Yahoo example of withdrawing employees' ability to work off site triggered. Marissa Mayer's statement to employees makes clear her view of the value of face time on an office site 'To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.'

A new report from Catalyst The Great Debate: Flexibility v Face Time, addresses the question: In this increasingly globalized, technology-charged world, where it's now possible to work from virtually anywhere at any time, day or night, how important is face time vs. work output? Mayer's requirement contrasted with the Catalyst finding that there is increasing demand for flexible working arrangements (including telecommuting aka mobility) highlights a second tension we will be exploring around 'work is what you do not where you are'.

Informational/technological tensions
In a recent whitepaper 'The New Collaborative Workspace', Cisco notes that:

The rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets in the consumer market has profoundly affected the introduction of these new technologies into the enterprise. As consumers have made these devices the center of their personal lives, they are increasingly bringing these devices into the workplace. Unlike traditional cutting-edge technology products that might be of interest to only a limited number of "techies", these smartphones are as popular in the executive suite as they are with the "net-savvy" college student. …
As the awareness of employees about what these smartphones can do has increased, their demands that employers support and enable their use has risen as well. In many companies, the historical model of the IT department providing a closed list of supported phones has been replaced by IT rushing to meet the demands of employees to support a broad range of smartphone and tablet devices that employees are bringing into the workplace.

This 'rush to meet the demands of employees' is a third tension we will explore – the ability to do something different with IT versus the requirement to do something different with IT.

We're expecting that everyone present at the event will have experienced some of the tensions we'll be talking about (the three I've mentioned above are part of our first list), but we'll also be pointing out that for each organization managing the rise of mobility means managing their own tensions. What are some that you're experiencing? Let me know.