Eighty four percent of mobile workers report they are unable to be productive while out of the office because the available technology does not meet their needs, according to a new market study.
“Why U.S. Mobile Workers Can’t Their Work Done,” a uSamp (United Sample) study looked at the work habits of 501 U.S. mobile workers. The study was commissioned by social software company harmon.ie, (where I’m an executive), which just released a mobile collaboration product for Microsoft SharePoint.
The survey found that only 12% of respondents felt they had sufficient tools to work with colleagues while on the go. Without these tools, it appears that people are being pushed to their limits to complete work assignments. For example, 41% of respondents said they had completed a presentation or document literally at the last minute (1-30 minutes prior to deadline). To meet these deadlines, many people admitted to employing extreme measures to complete important documents, including working on documents in bed (45%), at a child’s play, recital, or sporting event (12%), even working on documents in public bathrooms (14%)–giving new meaning to completing documents “on the go.”
Other key findings include:
· Fifty-four percent of those surveyed reported lower personal productivity, and 43 percent reported that they are often missing key information to complete a project. Thirty-two percent admitted that they often make mistakes in critical documents while on the go.
· Among the executives of the surveyed workers, more than half (56 percent) admitted to project delays or missed deadlines because of poor mobile collaboration, and 38 percent missed business opportunities altogether.
· Similarly, 54 percent of executives finish projects on the road at least half the time, of which, nearly three quarters (72 percent) finalize documents up to an hour before a presentation. Fourteen percent finish documents within five minutes of a presentation or even after the meeting adjourns.
What Do The Results Mean?
It is clear from the survey results that mobile users are struggling to work on documents and collaborate with colleagues when they are out of the office, which is not all that surprising. It is also not surprising that people are being pushed to their limits. Here’s a case in point: Several years ago, I attended a conference in London. During a break, I went to use the bathroom. The bathrooms were quite large and there were at least 25-30 people in there during the break. In one stall was a guy quite vocally participating in a conference call. You could hear him typing as well. So I am not surprised that 14% of survey respondents admit to accessing documents in public restrooms.
On the other hand, I do find it surprising how many organizations ignore the consequences of these insane work habits. The fact that almost half of the survey respondents claim that extreme work habits cause them to miss deadlines or incur project delays is an colossal red flag. The fact that over 40% of respondents produce incomplete documents is disturbing. And the fact that a third of respondents say they make mistakes because of these work patterns is ludicrous. The bottom line is that without the proper tools and the appropriate work habits, people will continue to be wildly unproductive on the road. The flurry of activity using iPads and smartphones we all see creates an illusion of productivity, but according to the survey results, the work is usually low quality and it is often completed past deadline.
What Can You Do?
Being productive on the road is not easy. However, businesses can ill-afford to ignore the problem because the consequences are too severe. Businesses must be proactive in providing the tools and training needed to support their mobile workforce. Here are several things companies can do today:
· Understand that enabling people to work on the road is a double-edged sword. People may be able to work anytime, anywhere, but maintaining standards of quality will require changes in quality control and oversight. Allowing people to finish a presentation in the minutes prior to going on stage imparts flexibility, but it also can lead to costly mistakes.
· Adopt mobile work tools and applications that are integrated into the existing in-office, desktop environment. Employing the same tools on the road that are used in the office provides workers with a uniform and consistent user experience; this eliminates confusion and inefficiency. Besides, mobile users are more likely to use these tools since they do not require a change in daily work habits.
· Provide easy, secure and high-speed access to corporate resources, whether they are on premise or in the cloud.
· Demand that workers use only centrally-stored documents. Popular products like Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Connections provide document management and storage capabilities for large companies, while Box and Dropbox offer similar capabilities for smaller organizations or individuals. Eliminating local copies of documents goes a long way to reducing mistakes brought on by document chaos.
· Provide training on how to work on the road, irrespective of the mobile device being used. With many companies advocating BYOD (bring your own device) policies, this is not always easy to do.
· Set clear expectations for what is acceptable work behavior. In my opinion, attending a conference call from a public bathroom stall falls into the ‘unacceptable’ category…to say nothing about the implications for a videoconference in such circumstances.
Author David Lavenda is a high tech marketing and product strategy executive who also does academic research on information overload in organizations. He is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.
[Image: Flickr user Sean Venn]