Mobile Workforce on the Rise

By Stephanie Blanchard, Assistant Editor — May 03, 2013

In 2009, Mobile Work Exchange held a TeleWork Day. The single-day event attracted 5, 000 pledges. “At the time, we thought it was tremendous to have that many pledges,” said Cindy Auten, General Manager, Mobile Work Exchange, in an interview with Mobile Enterprise. “Now, look at the growth. And how much potential there is.”

This year, TeleWork Week, which encourages agencies, businesses and individuals to become mobile, had more than 136,000 pledges, an amount that surpassed the organization’s goal of 100K. Held in partnership with Cisco and Citrix, the third-annual Telework Week was Monday, March 4 to Friday, March 8.

“Technology is making it happen. We wouldn’t have been able to do this 20 years ago, clearly,” Auten said. Indeed, the growth in pledges is comparable to the growth in global iPhone sales their first two years of production (2008-2010).

The average participant used a laptop, phone, email and Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect. While 28% of participants used a smartphone, surprisingly, only 6% used a tablet. However, with tablets now making a case in the enterprise, there will likely be future  growth correlation, as the form factor becomes not only more popular, but used more effectively in business.

Mandatory Move to Mobile
Three years ago, in what some term “Snowmageddon,” business operations were crippled by unexpected weather-related events. Government offices in Washington, D.C. were closed for days at a time.  

As a result, a series of initiatives and drivers were created to push mobile adoption forward, to ensure business continuity and the availability of public services. (Incidentally, four out of five pledges in locations affected by snowstorm Saturn this spring were prepared to telework when the snowstorm hit.)

When the Telework Enhancement Act went into law in late 2010, it set the groundwork for Federal agencies to implement mobility policies. This was followed by the Digital Government Strategy established in May 2012 to ensure that Federal agencies are mobile, that services to citizens are more mobile friendly, and that employees have mobile technology readily available. “New expectations require the Federal Government to be ready to deliver and receive digital information and services anytime, anywhere and on any device,” reads the introduction.

Today, Federal agencies are implementing these changes along with mobile technology in general. The ATF, for example, has a lot of officers in the field, Auten said, but they are not considered teleworkers. Still, the ATF, like other agencies, will examine technology that will better serve its employees’ workflow. Some will ask, “Why am I carrying a laptop when a tablet will do even better? It’s portable and lighter,” she said. And most importantly, tablets provide the process through apps now available on the form factor.

Pledge to Participate
This year’s TeleWork participants were predominantly from the Federal sector, accounting for 82%.

While that sector was heavily represented, manufacturing and retail currently were not. “Telework is not a fit for every job or occupation,” Auten explained. “Certain parts of any organization may have a telework model, but frequency is the big question.”

“You really have to look at the work being done. Is it one, possible, and two, is it promoting productivity? A nurse might need one day a month to focus on mandatory reports, for example, so telecommuting in that case is appropriate. A security guard by definition would not be able to ‘do it from home.’”

Significant Stats
This year’s Telework Week saved pledges a total of more than 15 million miles and $12 million on commutes. If all participants teleworked for one year, they would collectively save $614,196,865 or $4,513 individually.

For companies that are considering mobility, a common concern is productivity. In other words, “If I can’t see them, how do I know they are working?”

“Well, if you see them on site, how do you know they are working now?” Auten said. Employees can effectively hide behind desks and play solitaire when managers are in meetings. According to management feedback however, organizations found employees to be equally as productive (48%) or more productive (52%) during Telework Week. Not one organization found employees to be less productive.

Auten believes that video collaboration and other tools will play a critical role going forward, taking phone conversations and emails to another level, and addressing perceived problems with productivity.

Looking Ahead to 2014
Mobile Work Exchange has not yet determined its goals for next year’s event. “Close to half of the Federal population (2.1 million) can telework, so we still have a ways to go,” Auten said.

It’s not a question of marketing or awareness either. Agencies already understand “why” there is a need for mobility, Auten said. “It’s building the strong foundation to get programs up and running, along with the mobile technology that is the focus. And those models take time in this vertical, not something to be adopted overnight.”


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