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What do you lose by having a ‘mobile office’ – and what could you actually gain?

Paul Fawcett, Mobility Product Manager, Maintel 

Flexible working and the mobile office has become something that is generally accepted as a positive thing, and a good modern alternative to the constraints of the office. So what do you stand to lose by having a mobile office?  And on the other hand - what do you potentially gain?

If a company decides to make a mobile office approach available to its employees, it must be done correctly.  At times people can opt for the convenience of home working, to the detriment of professionalism. How many times have you done a conference call with a person who has a dog barking in the background, or has to drop off because the postman rings the bell? Then there are the technical challenges – is the internet connection good enough? Do you have a strong mobile signal? Working on rural broadband is fine for emails and standard calls, but it will not withstand video conferencing.  

Similarly, people working from a coffee shop can come up against environmental issues such as loud background noise, technical issues in getting a connection or just practical issues such as being able to charge a device that is low on battery life, which can disrupt conference calls and the natural work flow of the day. There can be downsides to the mobile office, and employees should plan ahead to find an environment to work in that is quiet, with ample power supply, and a dedicated area for focus rather than settling for the first area with free Wi-Fi. Only then can you meet the professional standards that you would hope to portray.

Another important thing to consider is that when you are operating a mobile office, you are your own IT department. You and only you can make the technology work! That can be quite daunting for some people. It often means carrying around long cables, dongles and spare battery packs. The fact that Wi-Fi is free in public areas means it’s quite often free for a reason, because people aren’t willing to pay for it. When deciding to use public Wi-Fi, a level of confidence in the connection strength is crucial. This can sometimes mean tethering to a mobile device, as an alternative to Wi-Fi, which will incur further costs.

When remote working, there will always be one system or application that is inaccessible from any other location that isn’t the office for technical or security reasons – usually you find this out when you need it the most! Running alongside this, the overall security in place must reflect the same level of protection as if you were in the office. All devices used must clearly demonstrate secure connections to a public network and mustn’t be compromised in any way since the last time the individual was on a corporate network.

A safe and reliable mobile office is achievable, but make sure employees are ‘mobile working’ for the right reasons, with the correct tools and in the most professional manner, rather than just for the sake of convenience. 

Where do you see this market heading over the next twelve months?

I would hope that in 12 months we’ll see a consolidation of devices, and the days of heavy bags containing a combination of laptop, tablet, smart phone, battery packs, headset, multiple chargers and cables and maybe even a good old fashioned note book will be long gone. With the arrival of 2 in 1 hybrid laptops, the possibility of fewer devices and lighter work bags is close to achievable. However, the large scale introduction of convertible devices has been somewhat ignored by enterprises. Over the next 12 months, businesses should be considering the introduction of such technology to improve the experience of flexible working.

A less obvious disadvantage of the mobile office is being alone. Without much collaboration and contact with colleagues the natural progression of creativity in a team can be reduced. As the mobile office continues to grow in popularity businesses should try to encourage the use of video conferencing between teams in the office and individuals at home or elsewhere to maintain the flow of creativity.