09 May Most of us still struggle with mobility
Early last month, I had the privilege of moderating a thought-provoking roundtable on the social and business challenges of an ever-increasing mobile work force. Hosted by IP-telephony leader Avaya, the roundtable brought together academics, market analysts, communications, IT executives and customers, and media. If there was any one conclusion from the two-hour session, it was that the expectation of an always on, always connected work- and lifestyle is driving a massive business initiative to blend communications networks to reduce costs and drive productivity without overburdening workers.
We can argue the definition of “mobile worker,” yet by any definition the fact remains that the ability to communicate with co-workers and customers directly and efficiently is the cornerstone of business productivity. Indeed, according to a 2004 In-Stat market report, some 72 percent of the total employment work force in the United States – 103 million people – will be mobile workers needing more effective communications systems.
Yet, if all this mobility is making workers more effective and dynamic, it’s not showing up in the data. Late last year, Avaya underwrote a primary research project to understand business effectiveness of communications systems in key global markets. That research supported much of the anecdotal comments from the panel I moderated last month, and is well worth sharing here. Among the findings:
• 64 percent of office workers carry two or more technology devices every day (more than a quarter carry three or more), yet despite this seeming connectedness, nearly 60 percent say they regularly receive messages late because people don’t know how to best get in touch with them.
• Over half of office workers have missed an important business meeting, customer call, contract or new business lead because they were not able to e-mail or call someone. One third of respondents said the result of missed communications opportunities had cost their businesses direct revenue.
• If technology allowed workers to complete their workload one hour earlier every day, 42 percent said they would use that extra hour to do more work.
Clearly, there are productivity gains to be made through better leveraged communications technology. But there are some odd contradictions, too:
• Nearly three quarters of workers say they would like to be able to prioritize incoming calls so that only important calls are connected immediately. At the same time, more than 80 percent say that when they want to reach someone, they want their call to go through immediately. In other words, we want to be able to screen incoming calls, and we assume that our out-going calls to make it through any such screens.
• 65 percent of office workers agree that telecommuting improves work/live balance. Yet 60 percent of employees believe companies are wary about providing telecommuting options because they fear loss of control, yet only 3 of 10 U.S. and U.K. managers actually distrust their staffs to work remotely. That number is greater in Russia, where 41 percent of managers say they distrust telecommuting workers.
While Westerners tend to believe that we live in globally connected planet and that effective communications will bridge cultural gaps, there are some very interesting differences in the cultural acceptance of communications technology.
• When asked what is the most important business benefit of mobile communications, 45 percent of those surveyed said satisfying customers was the No. 1 benefit. That statement was rated highest by Australian respondents (57 percent) and lowest by Russian respondents (31 percent).
• When asked who takes up most of a worker’s time with calls and e-mails, workers in the U.K. and Australia said they spend most time communicating with colleagues (58 percent and 56 percent, respectively). In Brazil, 50 percent of calls and e-mails are focused on customers. In Germany, 18 percent of communications are with bosses, the most of any country surveyed.
• 58 percent of Americans receive work-related calls outside of normal working hours, not so bad when you learn that 97 percent of Australians receive out of hours calls on a regular basis. German workers reported the lowest number at only 35 percent.
No matter from where you hail, though, this survey seems to present a paradox of communications: despite the increasing array of devices and systems we have to stay in touch, most of us struggle to keep up with e-mail and phone calls. Indeed, the answer to the problem is not likely to be more technology but better integrated technology.
This column was reprinted with permission of Network World Inc. All registered trademarks are owned by IDG. More information can be found at http://www.idgef.com.
© IDG. All rights Reserved
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.