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 & see where the idea came from — & 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, & do other computing chores from their kitchen tables; they could also access email & files & 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.
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 & 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-&-mortar workflows. Indeed, they had a laptop AND a desktop computer “back in the office,” where attending meetings in person was still expected. Hard-copy orders & leasing paperwork had to find their way to accounting for processing. Paper invoices might need to be hand delivered, & 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 & ubiquitous Wi-Fi), cloud technology & 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 & forwarded to accounting from our tablet, whether we’re in the conference room or at the beach. We can talk to clients & prospects from anywhere & we can get online — from the Starbucks parking lot, if we want.
“In Person” Is the Exception
The biggest improvement for today’s mobile workers is the capability, from anywhere, to fully participate in organisational workflow. Instead of printing & 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 & valuable. In-person meetings are more significant & imbued with greater purpose & 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 & complete tasks for one company, why not many?
Imagine a world where the payroll expert processes invoices from her home — & 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 & job are approved, construction management could be achieved with both on-the-ground assets & remote, untethered project managers — managers who are watching multiple enterprises around the globe.
The most significant evolution is having access to capable applications & data, in real time, from any connected device, anywhere. Another evolution: the real-time collection, calculation & presentation of data models, from the cloud to our palm. In this exciting era of data crunching & information sharing, it can take workers mere seconds to make decisions & take actions that once took weeks. These are key components of information mobility, & by extension, your business’s strategy for success in the coming years.
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 & more opportunities to make contact & collaborate in creative ways. That’s good news — not just for mobile workers, but for businesses as well.
Don’t get left behind. Learn how to get started on the path to a mobile workforce.