The Mobile Office

8 min read Networks & Network Services

In the modern era many employees no longer come into work every day to sit at the same desk as they may have twenty years ago. Mobile technology has enabled us to stay in contact from home, out on the road or even from the golf course! The government seem to be actively encouraging ‘flexible working’ and much of the work force seem to be mobilising themselves via BYOD. The Channel is in a unique position to serve businesses, particularly the SME, and the mobility trend is throwing up several opportunities to make money. Here we take a look at the mobile office, what it means for business and how the Channel can get involved.

Recent research from Ranstad Technologies highlights that 78 per cent of IT leaders have seen an increase in their organisation’s mobile/remote workforce, with a further 60 per cent planning to increase investments in mobile within the next 12 months, to support this growing demographic. Add to this the fact that the cost of office space is rocketing, this has meant many organisations have questioned whether it even makes sense for every employee to have a fixed desk, when many want to work from home, are based in different offices throughout the week or across the country.

Simon SkeldonDarren Standing, head of products and marketing, Solar Communications said “There’s no denying the shift towards mobility in today’s workforce and the drive towards the mobile office. Employees are demanding flexibility as part of their job and this can benefit both the business and the employee in equal measures. Employees can work from home, save money on commuting and become more productive as a result, while the business can save money on office space and travel expenses. However, many organisations still find that employee effectiveness when working on the move is limited by the need to manage multiple desk, mobile, and home numbers and the associated voicemail, contact lists and other applications.

Tools like videoconferencing, instant messaging and email can integrate with traditional telephony systems and employee mobile devices to ensure that workers are easily to reach at any time, through a single interface and number. The unified communications solutions now available to business make mobile working something any employee can participate in wherever there’s the internet.”

Fixed mobile convergence (FMC) isn’t a phrase we come across much these days with the advent of ‘mobility’ but many companies are still making use of the functionality to go about their daily business. Simon Woodhead, CEO of Simwood, comments on how people perceive the ‘mobile office’ today. “There are two ways people look at the mobile office. To the man in the street, he can divert his desk phone to his mobile so he has voice, he can look at emails on his phone and he may even have a VPN for access to Salesforce etc... to many people that is the mobile office. I can now take that a stage further with Simwood users for example. When a user turns on their smartphone with a Simwood SIM it registers to their PBX which means their desk phone and mobile will ring in unison or in a preconfigured way. They don’t need a VPN because the SIM will be natively connected to the office network, anytime he calls a customer from his mobile it will present the office number to give the right impression. They don’t need to forward phones or log into VPNs it’s just part of the office. That’s just the most basic things CPs can create with Simwood.”

The Downside

Perhaps you have got a great mobile strategy in place, everyone is enabled to work remotely or on the move... happy days right? Not necessarily, just because you enable your employees to work flexibly doesn’t mean it’s going to suit everyone.

CounterPath’s VP of Marketing & Products Todd Carothers commented “The inherent things you lose are the daily, unplanned interactions with your coworkers - the ‘water cooler’ discussions that can generate innovation, new ideas and ways to solve problems that typically happen in the spur of the moment, organically outside of meetings.”

Paul Burn, Head of Category Sales at Nimans added “The one downside of a mobile office is a lack of human interaction. That’s sometimes the bit that gets overlooked. There’s an element of any business that comes from team spirit, atmosphere and building a brand. You can’t have these to the same degree if people are dispersed and working independently. You can never replace personal interaction even if the technology to perform the same task is available.”

Anne Marie Ginn, Senior Category Manager at Logitech for Business agrees “Many people will miss the social interaction of working in an office. They lose the communication and context on important company topics and direction. This is where video can really step in and make the difference, so people still feel connected and can collaborate effectively. By being able to visually see your colleagues it can immediately boost your motivation and attentiveness. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence has found that, decisions are made 30% to 40% more often on a video call than on a voice call as people feel more comfortable when they can see their colleagues and can reach consensus faster.”

Todd Carothers continued “With a robust UC platform in place however, it is possible to enable these interactions across various mobile offices through the use of video, instant messaging and presence. One conversation can then quickly bloom into a full blown discussion or problem solving session. Through the use of UC, the mobile office isn’t penalised for being mobile anymore.”

Simon Skellon, VP Sales at Mitel commented “The foundations of the mobile office have long been established but there are still businesses that are reluctant to adopt this new way of working. With reports of productivity losses through failure to engage with mobile technology, it’s clear that businesses need to assess how practical the mobile office is for their business needs. For Mitel’s channel partners, this presents a prime opportunity to educate businesses on the benefits of the mobile office and capitalise on this trend.”simon-Woodhead

Michala Hart, Head of Channel Strategy at Exponential-e, warns that mobile/ UC integration is not always a smooth transition. She said “When organisations don’t understand how to seamlessly integrate UC and collaboration features within a private environment, they may lose out by having a mobile office. For a mobile office to function successfully ensuring that employees are equipped with the tools that offer high levels of quality, resiliency, security and privacy, is critical – but this is often lost in translation in the implementation.

Unfortunately features specifically geared around productivity that are catered to in the physical office are also often neglected. Our recent survey has found that respondents named desktop sharing (35 per cent), instant messaging (32 per cent), video conferencing (17 per cent) and conferencing facilities (16 per cent) as tools that would support their efficiency. By failing to meet user expectations, employees are often driven to adopt alternative and sometimes insecure makeshift applications such as Skype and Dropbox, to meet their needs instead.”

Integrating Mobile

As Michala Hart points out, the implementation of mobile/UC into businesses wanting to mobilise their workforce can go awry. Integrating with the current setup or opting for a UC product are two ways of going about it.

Woodhead stated “The problem with the mobile office is that as soon as you give someone a mobile and send them out into the wild you have no control over who rings that employee or what content they look at. We are all about bringing mobile from this completely wild, renegade and separate entity and integrating into businesses to give that control. Simwood mobile can make sure mobile users are adhering to the corporate policy exactly the same way they can with a desktop computer or a desk phone. To get true convergence you need to integrate systems with mobile and not just have it tacked on the side and operating as a separate entity.”

The end user doesn’t know what is possible, they don’t know that they can get their mobile as an extension on the office PBX, if they do know then some quasi technical bloke down the pub will just tell them it’s just forwarding to your mobile number and they don’t truly understand the depth to which it can be integrated. There’s a bit of a sales job here for the Channel which I don’t think has been done yet and to do that you need to undo the snake oil that has gone before. Resellers need to understand the technology themselves and what is actually possible from an integration point of view.”

Dan Lane, COO of Simwood, added “Customers can buy a service today which is a mobile office telephony system from one of the big operators but then have to adjust their business to the way they do things. That’s not convergence, that’s just buying a new product. Convergence to me is taking what you already have in the office and making it mobile. If you already have a phone system in the office how do you bolt mobile onto that? The current solutions aren’t great for value added resellers who are selling phone systems into offices, they can’t do much with it. At Simwood we are enabling resellers to retain the thing they are already expert in, i.e. selling phone systems, and then bolt mobile onto that without having to attain lots of skills and experience. “

A Winning Strategy

For those companies that want to create a mobile workforce there is a tricky balance to be struck. If you opt for a strategy which includes all the bells and whistles you may end up with an expensive solution you don’t need or make use of. However, if you go the other way and don’t provide something with enough functionality you will quickly find your employees using their own tools and apps to do the job which are out of your control.

Anne Marie Ginn commented “The latest emerging technology trend is Bring You Own Application (BYOA). Employers are increasingly finding that their workforce, in particular millennials, are often self-organising, using applications that will give them the productivity boost that they require. This mobile app market, and increased connectivity are now allowing employees to work on the move. What is important to consider is deploying quality UC devices which are certified to compliment those applications, whether it’s a headset, webcam or conference camera for small group collaboration. If remote workers are having IT problems, when things go wrong, it’s much more challenging to fix than when workers are out of the office. Having certified devices offers that assurance to business and addresses a major pain point if things do go wrong.”

Patrick Lincoln, Managing Director of Solution IP, added “Other practical considerations come with enabling a Mobility strategy in your company. BYOD and Mobility are very topical at the moment- companies experimenting with these styles of working are finding there can be pitfalls to untethering your employees from their desks. Security and compliance are also still major practical sticking-points, although more in relation to BYOD- the majority of consumer mobiles not being quite ready for enterprise use. Fears can be easily assuaged by having a strong Mobility strategy or plan in place beforehand. Having a clearly defined process that considers your goals, as well as defining any training that is needed, security measures not yet in place and any data demands that need to be fulfilled, is vital. Doing this will help you form a robust mobile strategy that keeps staff on track and ensures that you make the most of mobility.Todd carothers

So in theory, mobility works, and now, increasingly in practice, it is beginning to have a real impact on the way people do business, especially now that the importance of planning and strategizing is widely accepted. Mobility is so well established now that the bigger, more traditional players like Avaya and Mitel have also both released their own mobility offerings, indicating a seriousness around the mobile office that did not exist 5 years ago.”

Skellon added “Most businesses will see the practical benefit of giving employees mobile devices and solutions to enable them to spend more (valuable) face-to-face time with clients and customers. Furthermore, it offers the flexibility for all staff to work as their lifestyle suits, rather than have to conform to the commuting model – an imperative for the modern family and with those who work remotely, as many Millennials will demand; after all, you want the best talent out there, not necessarily only the talent near your physical office.”

Ed Says…

There are a number of reasons why your customers want to become more mobile, don’t let them think that chucking a smartphone at an employee and letting them get on with it is good enough! Educate your customers in the benefits of a well thought out mobile strategy and how they should be integrating that into their business to not only make them more productive but also fully enjoy the benefits of mobile working.