Skip to main content
February 23, 2010

What’s been the real enabler in our mobility?

Remote-workingGLOBAL – There’s a couple of us on Conversations who are, in office parlance “remote workers”. We live in an utterly mobile world, whether it be writing stories during presentations in the middle of Nokia House or working from free-WiFi toting coffee shops. Thanks to mobile broadband, we’ve occasionally approved comments or tweaked stories sitting on the train. We’re mobile workers, able to work from literally anywhere. That’s thanks in most part to the fact we work solely online – as long as we’ve got a connection, and a working laptop (or mobile computer), we can work. It’s utterly liberating and the prospect of ever working in an office again fills me with dread. However, I do wonder, what’s actually enabled this to happen?

Technology has of course played a key role. After all, if we didn’t have the tools, we simply wouldn’t be able to do it. Does it follow then that technology is the key driver behind mobility? I’m not sure that it does. Employers, and employees attitudes need to be right for it to happen.

Seven years ago, a study was conducted across five different European countries, amongst a number of different occupations. Its task was to “investigate to what extent vocational identity is an essential factor for a future European concept of work”. Back then (and let’s be real, this was before the technology was in place to be properly mobile) they identified a new trend in employer/employee relationships which saw a new breed of entrepreneurial employee, who was much more flexible in his approach to work.

The relationship was seen as more user-provider than employee-employer. Although it didn’t bring into play any question of mobility, you’ll find (and this is somewhat anecdotal on my part) that those who are mobile workers today are probably the same kind of folk who have a user-provider style relationship with their employer. The grounding then, of the mobile enabler? Perhaps.

A recent study by research firm IDC reports that over 1 billion people, or approximately one third of the world’s workforce, are mobile workers. In some countries, such as Japan and the USA, this is up to 70 per cent of the workforce. It doesn’t define in the top line report what a mobile worker is, save to say that they don’t work at a desk full time. But it’s an interesting set of numbers nonetheless.

Governments across Europe have for some time been trying to help employers to be more flexible in the terms and benefits they offer workers. I’m not convinced how much that’s enabled mobile working, but it could be possible that it’s had an influence of some kind.

There are other things, which we might not consider enablers on mobile working, but they certainly count as facilitators. Publicly accessible WiFi is something which I think has to be a big part to play. Particularly that available in coffee shops. Even though I’m more inclined to use my mobile dongle than the publicly available (and now frequently free) WiFi it’s the coffee shop’s facilities that make the difference. In any western city, you’re never far from a warm, dry and reasonably comfortable coffee shop that’ll serve you up a latte, a seat and if you’re lucky some free electricity. And free to use, too. Sure, it’s made it easier to be a mobile worker, but has it been the thing that’s enabled me to?

Technology, I would argue, is also a facilitator rather than an enabler. In that, technology itself makes it easier to be mobile, but there are other factors at play which actually enable us to work remotely. If the attitudes, support and coffee shops weren’t in place, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. That isn’t to say technology isn’t important – it’s absolutely vital – simply that there are other things to consider.

Now having said all that, it’s quite possible that I haven’t considered everything either, only those things which I’ve found relevant to me. So over to you dear Conversations readers. What’s been the real enabler in your mobility?

Photo by State Records NSW