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Mobile working: Taking the workplace with you

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The growing range of devices that allow users to access information on the move is opening the flood gates for business to work just about anywhere. Increasingly staff can choose where they work, when they work and how they work.


However, for many companies, the vast options available can be a daunting prospect. Often the result is that these organisations ignore the potential benefits that increased mobility can offer their businesses.

This is clearly a mistake. Many companies find themselves getting too wrapped up in the technology and confusing terminology, rather than actually focussing on the benefits that mobile working technology can bring to the business.

These benefits have been widely documented; from increased productivity, faster response times to flexible working and new business enquiries. What do these benefits actually mean to a business and how are they achieved?

Increased productivity
By providing staff with mobile working solutions, they gain greater control over their time, and such technology can significantly reduce paperwork as data can be entered and processed electronically. There is no longer the need to take notes at meetings and then enter them onto a company’s system on returning to the office – this can be done at the time of the meeting, freeing up time in the workplace to focus on other more important tasks.

Faster response times
Mobile working enables staff to make more effective use of their ‘dead time’ – time spent waiting for transport or meetings to begin, for example. By connecting to the internet, email and intranet using a data card or a BlackBerry, staff can continue to work on documents or check email as is convenient. Being able to do this on the move is proving invaluable for companies; by offering the opportunity to respond to new business, check the latest information before an important business arrangement, or deal with existing customer enquiries – and do so more rapidly than organisations without these solutions. A rapid response to enquiries from potential or existing customers suggests an organisation is on the ball and able to deal with all eventualities.

Greater flexibility
By enabling workers to access information regardless of location, staff can work as suits them. Being able to complete tasks without needing to return to the office, the balance between work and life is potentially improved.

Flexibility in the workplace will become increasingly important, especially when the EU directive on working hours is established. By letting staff work where they work best, companies can benefit from a happier, more motivated workforce. This in turn can lead to further increases in productivity.

Choosing the right options for your business
So it’s clear to see what benefits mobile working can offer to your business. Now comes the tricky part – what devices do you opt for? More importantly, how much should you pay for using these devices?

Too often companies offering mobility solutions have been guilty of offering business customers the most expensive option and inappropriate devices, simply because they are the latest product on the market. Mobile working solutions for businesses should very much be about ‘smart simplicity’ – offering the right device at the right price for each business.

It may be more appropriate to provide workers with a BlackBerry if they spend a lot of time out of the office in meetings and only wish to respond to emails, rather than supplying them with an expensive laptop that has Wi-Fi connectivity. A laptop will be suitable for someone that spends a lot of time travelling and needs to be able to work on a large number of documents at any given time. The use of a data card combined with wireless connectivity now enables the laptop to become an extension of the office, as the user can connect remotely to an organisation’s intranet, email and applications wherever they are.

For field service personnel, a PDA could be the best option as it allows staff to keep in contact with the office so that they can see where the next job is located. It also permits them to capture signatures from customers using the device’s stylus and touch screen. This reduces paperwork as there is only one set of info to be inputted on the PDA. The information can then be emailed directly to the office, ensuring that field employees do not need to return to the workplace unnecessarily.

There are a great deal more options available to businesses, and the right choice will very much depend on their circumstances and area of expertise.

The right device at the right price
Once a company has determined which devices are most useful, they must then ensure they get the right tariff to support them. Depending on which tariff is selected, the devices themselves can cost little or nothing; but in order to maximise value for money, companies should ensure each system is suitable for each worker. Organisations should discuss their needs with providers of mobile working solutions to develop a tailored, simple pricing structure that effectively suits their needs.

Summary
Today’s increasingly competitive marketplace demands that businesses should seriously consider the role that mobile technology can play within their organisation.

Once a company takes onboard this technology, it is closer to a more productive, flexible and reactive future for both staff and organisation.

A guide to mobile working terminology:

  • GPRS (General Packet Radio Services also known as 2G) – This was the first mobile network standard which transmits data in packets, and thus achieves greater speeds. It is an evolution from GSM (our current main mobile standard). It provides an ‘always-on’ rather than dial-up data connection at speeds up to 56Kbps. It is particularly suited for email and internet browsing.

  • 3G (also known as UMTS) – This is the third generation of cellular technology. It allows much faster data transfer, up to 384Kbps, similar to domestic broadband.

  • Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) – Wireless internet access. Various public access points (known as HotSpots) enable users to enjoy high-speed wireless connections to the internet at broadband speeds to a mobile device – laptop, PDA etc. Speeds typically around 1Mbps.

  • HSDPA (High-speed Downlink Packet Access or 3.5G) – Provides greater speeds with all mobile applications, to access information such as emails or high-volume downloads from the internet or intranet. All this is made possible by the HSDPA transmission technology. Delivers faster download speeds – up to a theoretical maximum of 1.8 Mbps in the first phase.

  • BlackBerry – A device that sends and receives email, provides internet access and also incorporates personal management tools such as a diary and contacts book. A growing number of third-party business applications are also available for BlackBerry.

  • Bluetooth – A wireless technology that enables mobile phones, PDAs, laptops and other devices within a 10m radius to connect with each other. Wireless headsets are the most commonly used of Bluetooth devices.

  • Roaming – Allows you to move between international mobile networks without any interruption in services or loss of connection, i.e. when making calls while travelling abroad.

  • Tri-band – Phones that cover three frequencies. Phones with this capability can be used in most countries in Europe, Australia, Asia and most of North America. Quad-band phones cover one additional frequency, which is typically used in parts of North America as well as South America and the Caribbean.

  • WiMax – An emerging standard complimentary to Wi-Fi but with much higher speed and range.

Simon Ainslie is Director of Sales UK, T-Mobile


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