So, just a few weeks ago you were seeing evidence that your customers wanted to contact you in new ways, your staff wanted more flexible access to their work, and your finance team wanted you to reduce operating overheads. Now, it’s not a case of nice to have, it’s must have.
In our new normal, businesses that can respond to challenges in agile and innovative ways through intelligent technical solutions are successful. Key to this agility is satisfying the urgency for mobile, flexible workplaces - but what does that actually mean, and what are the steps necessary to deliver it in your organisation?
Here I'm going to try to distil the meaning of the mobile workplace/ smart working/ flexible working, the many terms you'll have heard - what's it for, what it looks like, and the technologies it relies on.
The Move to Mobile
Most organisations have been forced to accelerate the rollout of flexible and / or remote working by recent events. But these new ways of working, supported by the mobile workplace, have considerable benefits for the long term. If you can sustain the move away from doing business in a fixed time and location and towards mobile staff, working on mobile devices at times which suit them and your business, you’ll really start to reap the benefits:
- Reduction in overheads. A mobile workforce with access to online collaboration tools has less need for conventional office space and equipment. Mobile working can be the enabler in significant cost reductions, allowing rationalisation and restructuring of office space and services.
- Flexibility and productivity. Flexible working is a crucial tool in attracting, retaining and fulfilling the potential of the most talented employees. Moreover, , there's a direct link between greater flexibility and enhanced productivity and innovation, with employees estimating they gain an average five productive hours each week through flexible practices.
- Creativity and innovation. Where employees can escape the static environment of the desk, they're better able to collaborate on projects and informally exchange ideas. With the right systems and apps in place they can capture and share those ideas as they happen.
- Reflect cultural changes. People increasingly use mobile-enabled apps and channels to communicate, not necessarily within traditional business hours. Staff and customers alike expect the organisations they deal with to do likewise.
The Mobile Workplace
What does the mobile workplace actually look and feel like? Ideally, it's an environment where staff can access all of the usual voice, apps and data systems they need to do their work securely, remotely, and from a device that's suited to the context. Moving between locations should be seamless and communications and collaboration should be effortless.
Delivering this has three key pre-requisites:
- Voice and data. The mobile workplace could be anywhere: homes, workspaces, coffee shops, public transport or public places. Staff need access to data from anywhere, which means they'll be using broadband or mobile connections which the business can't control (this will be propelled with the introduction of 5G, which you can read about here). Your staff need to be accessible, too - by voice, and via email, messaging or other systems.
- Devices. The workplace extends onto computers and mobile devices provided by the business, but also onto family computers, tablets and smartphones over which you have little control. Business apps need to be optimised for the full range of targets.
- Security. Extending the workplace opens up greater risks, so the mobile workplace must have rule and role-based access control, which verifies and considers the identity, location and needs of users and their device.
Under the Hood
What factors underpin this kind of environment? Many are common enough to be self-evident: fast and highly available WiFi or mobile data coverage, for example. Others vary with the scope of your own requirements, but they might include the following.
Security and authentication
- Identity management. It's critical that only authorised people access your business systems, and that their access is appropriate. A security management platform automates and enforces context-aware security access to network resources, and safeguards access with technologies such as multi-factor authentication (MFA).
- Device security. It’s equally important that only authorised devices can gain access. Mobile device management (MDM) simplifies the setup and administration of smartphones, tablets and other mobile computing platforms.
- Data security. The security and integrity of mobile devices and their access to the workspace can be controlled through a secure mobility client. This helps facilitate device and user authentication, manage access to apps and data, and deliver secured endpoint access.
Applications and systems
Applications need to support a range of operating systems and environments. Apps may be native to each OS, browser-based, or they may even be provided through a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Systems can be made available to mobile staff in several ways:
- Through a VPN allowing remote access to existing apps.
- Via a web interface.
- Through a virtual-desktop container.
Each offers its own risks and advantages, but security needs to be a primary consideration. It's unlikely that you can rely solely on the native security of the device, whether that means you encrypt data at the app level, device level, or the container.
Communications and user training
- Unified Communications. Key to the viability of a mobile workspace is easy and reliable communication between staff, customers and other stakeholders - via voice, messaging or video channels - regardless of location and platform. Together with additional services such as presence, instant messaging, desktop sharing or conferencing, these fall under the umbrella of unified communications (UC).
- User training and culture. In many organisations, mobile, flexible working will require a cultural shift. Staff may need support and training to ensure they understand the new systems and share in the benefits.
For most IT professionals your priorities are focused on expanding your infrastructure to accommodate the strange situation we're all in, but you should also be considering how you can adopt these strategies for the longer-term.
Header image ©2015 Sarah Ketelaars