Not everyone should be a mobile worker

19 Jul 2007

Stress, isolation, an aversion to micro-management? If you can’t hack any of these then you’re not cut out to be a mobile worker, according to new research from Cisco which claims 30pc of Ireland’s current working population are mobile workers.

Cisco warns that many businesses are in danger of missing out on the benefits of mobile workers through the recruitment of inappropriate personalities, poor management and failure to provide adequate communications resources.

Mismanagement in particular can have serious implications on the success of a mobile worker – with under and over communication both having a negative impact.

A lack of regular communication can lead to increased levels of stress and feelings of isolation, whereas micromanagement can undermine trust. This is important considering mobile workers will account for one quarter of the world’s working population by 2009, according to IDC.

A Cisco study ‘Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce’ by occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola, finds that workers who flourish within mobile roles are typically self-motivated, resilient, extrovert and independent.

When recruiting mobile workers, businesses are urged to test for these attributes. Personality profiles that match the mobile worker genre well include the “stimulation seeker” who is extroverted and motivated by contact with other people, the “tough survivors” who are emotionally stable and open to new experiences and the “curious explorers” who are creative, open to ideas and enjoy varied experiences.

Other traits include “independent decision makers” who maintain independent mindsets and can work with out supervision and “disciplined achievers” who are conscientious and self-motivated.

Karl McDermott, systems engineering manager at Cisco Ireland says that a successful manager of mobile teams need to trust their teams and enable them to manage their own workload, and emphasise deliverables rather than activities.

He adds that it is imperative that managers give mobile works the same access to communications resources as office-based workers. To avoid isolation and de-motivation, managers need to also promote visibility of mobile workers within their organisation.

Useful tools for increasing a mobile worker’s sense of inclusion include instant messaging while video facilities can reduce feelings of separation.

The report found a significant difference in adoption of mobile working across Western Europe, especially between North and South. For example, mobile working adoption stood at 46pc in The Netherlands and 45pc in Finland compared with 17pc in Spain and 8pc in Portugal. Reasons cited for this gulf include network-readiness of the countries and cultural differnces.

The study found that 30pc of workers in Ireland can be classed as mobile workers in their working habits, compared with 32.8pc in the UK.

“A good mobile worker is someone capable of not panickin, they can remain calm when things go wrong,” says McDermott. “A mobile worker would also need to have a good level of tech-savviness.”

But what defines a mobile worker in the Irish economy? “Someone who works away from their office for at least 10pc of their time and need various technologies from mobile to Wi-Fi to continue working. It is estimated that 70pc of the workforce in the US will be mobile workers by 2009.”

McDermott said that business managers who are open to this way of working will need to understand a few basic rules. “People tend to adopt standard management techniques such as making sure the person is permanently available or online. What they really should be doing is looking to build trust and understand some of the difficulties the worker may face.

“The workers should be independent and not be micro-managed. The business manager would need to have a results oriented way of measuring people, not measuring what they’re doing at one time but what they can achieve. At the same time they should make sure that they are a part of the team and can access information as if they’re back in the office,” McDermott said.

By John Kennedy