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Mobile worker strategies

Mobile workers often need solutions beyond technological ones -- maintaining a positive working relationship with remote workers can be simple when following some basic policies.

Many years ago, when I was part of the team working on the first laptop computer at GRiD Systems Corp., we used (very early) floppy drives manufactured by Tandon Corp. Jugi Tandon, the company's founder and CEO, paid us a visit one day, and I remember his offering what he called the secret of his success: "Learn to operate distributed," he said. Of course, he was referring to having global operations, and he was way ahead of his time here. This was, after all, 1982.

But such is the norm today. We -- anyone in any business -- need to go where the action is: to customers, suppliers, new opportunities -- anywhere, anytime. That's what mobility is all about. And we need to take our IT arsenal with us, wherever we go, because we can't really be productive when we're away from the computational, informational and personal resources on the 'net and in our own shops. And, as we've seen so far, there's a lot to consider in making all of this work.

As I've discussed, an understanding of goals, objectives, schedules, budgets and methodologies must be in place before any other steps are taken to implement a mobile user management strategy. This is what management by commitment (MBC) is all about -- everyone involved must agree on the elements above with respect to every deliverable and objective. Trust is essential, as is the right personal psychology to make highly distributed operations work.

But communication is essential too. It is important that folks in the field and on the road feel that they are not on their own and that they remain part of a team. Regular status meetings -- even if by phone or a shared, Web-based conferencing service (document conferencing is now a must) -- need to serve at least in part to reinforce this message. There are so many mobile tools available today that I could fill several columns with listings, commentary and reviews. I tend personally to favor open source products today, but whatever your choice, keep the toolset simple, functional, reliable and available. And, finally, look into mobile device management tools to make sure that network access and related polices are enforced.

A final cautionary note: We are still in the early days of mobile tools. Many assume that a wireless connection and the familiar basic desktop productivity suite are enough. As I've stressed above, communications, trust, reliance on a team whose members may not see one another more than once a quarter (and do invite everyone in for lunch at least this often, as I noted last time), shared access to schedules, marketing materials and a responsive help desk function are also critical. But I'd be remiss here if I didn't point out the possibility that wireless access and mobile computing can also be a form of tyranny. Many mobile staff members that I have spoken with have complained about issues with "work/life balance," which is simply not knowing when the workday ends. Mobility has redefined the very nature of work, and this problem is real for many (and even sometimes for workaholics like me!). It seems we have pushed productivity to the limit; stories about sleep deprivation and working vacations are common, and I fear too much mobile IT may be driving us crazy, or at least to illness. Wireless and mobile technologies are supposed to make us more productive, not necessarily to make us more productive more often. As I often remind clients, every mobile device has an off button, though not necessarily in an obvious spot, and it is always a good idea to learn how to use it.

No matter what, though, distributed operations and mobility are becoming the norm. Successful enterprises in the future will, in fact, derive a greater part of their success from the effective application of the tools, technologies and management strategies that I have discussed in these columns. One other point -- you have probably noticed that I did not mention mobile information security in this series of columns. That's because this topic is so important it deserves its own collection of articles, and we will start in on mobile security policies next time.

Craig Mathias
About the author: Craig Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass., specializing in wireless networking and mobile computing. The firm works with manufacturers, enterprises, carriers, government, and the financial community on all aspects of wireless and mobile. He can be reached at craig@farpointgroup.com.
This was last published in April 2008

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