THE MOBILE MANAGER Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone – Are all managers mobile at heart?

You might say the people of Haast on the South Island’s lush west coast don’t have particularly ‘mobile mentality’. You won’t find laptops wirelessly connecting from the local coffee shop or people showing off new mobile phones that get fast email, ‘push to talk’ broadcast messages or video.
In Haast, there is no mobile telecommunications service to speak of. Got Telecom mobile phone? It won’t work. Got Vodafone one? Same story. While local helicopter charter business occasionally lends deerhunters satellite phones, no one else gives mobile technologies much thought.
A hundred kilometres up the coast at Fox Glacier village, it’s different story. On the verandah of the local Bebe cafe, three German tourists huddle over mobile phones. One is composing text message, another is sending photo to friend’s mobile phone, the third is just talking. At an adjacent table woman is clearing business email using laptop computer and wireless data card. Competing with coffee cups, cameras and plates for space, is wireless mouse.
The wireless telecommunications coverage in Fox Glacier village is seemingly well patronised. But if Haast had similar coverage, would its residents similarly assimilate mobile technologies and devices into their everyday lives? Is ‘mobile mentality’ solely dependent on access to the right technologies at the right time and price or will some people always be repelled by the connected, autonomous and less structured work environment that mobile technology and devices support?
For business, an investment in mobile technologies that fails to translate to confident and functional mobile workforce is squandered investment. Not only does the business not reap the business benefits of more flexible, productive and accessible workforce, it is less likely to see return on capital expenditure – and mobile devices are expensive.
If employers have lot at stake when they invest in workforce with remote access to the company computer system and call centre, so does the mobile employee. How do people really feel about being contacted anywhere, almost any time? Does this free them up or stress them out? Does working in mobile environment require self-management as well as company management?
If young New Zealanders are anything to go by, the answer to this last question is resounding “yes”. recent survey of 1500 young mobile technology users by the government-supported Internet Safety Group (ISG) hints at how invasive mobile technology can be when not properly managed.
The survey found 29 percent of teenagers used their mobile device inappropriately during school classes, 11 percent were woken every night by text message or mobile phone call, and 46 percent who had received abuse over mobile device admitted sending abuse the same way. When parents and teachers got involved and set guidelines, these problems diminished considerably.
A 1999 study into the social effects of “pervasive” technology use (such as mobile computing and communication devices) by IT giant IBM found that even experienced computer users typically expected mobile technology to have negative impact on their social interactions. The study, available at http://www.research.ibm.com/journal/sj/384/dryer.html noted that “even within highly technical community, most users believe computer use decreases social activity… [they believe] the devices affect the mechanisms that determine when interactions are satisfying and productive”.
Ironically, while sociologists and other searchers regularly highlight the potential social risks of using mobile technologies, they also accept the rise of the mobile workforce as inevitable and even important to modern business productivity and global competition. All of which leaves today’s managers wondering. Clearly mobile workforce needs to be carefully managed, but how?
Mention sociological research into mobile devices to an organisation with thriving mobile workforce and you’ll see lot of eye rolling.
Jan Mottram, HR manager for Vodafone New Zealand, has observed the effect of mobile technology on people “close-up” and can’t imagine why anyone would have reservations.
“You could say the invention of cars affects the way people communicate because people now drive instead of walking and stopping to talk. People will always have an innate desire to connect personally and mobile technologies will no more prevent that than cars have.”
Geoffrey Handley, managing director of SMS (text message) application developer The Hyperfactory, says although much of the research into the social impact of mobile technology is out of date, it’s fair to say New Zealand organisations are less enamoured about “working mobile” than those in other countries.
“New Zealanders really value their personal space and want clear line between what is work time and what is not. So [employers] do encounter early negative reactions to mobile technologies, but these are rarely sustained.”
Daniel Cummins, marketing manager for mobile device maker Siemens New Zealand, says (slightly tongue in cheek) that mobile technologies actually go one better than human beings when it comes to communication.
“They integrate voice, text, picture, music and video into one communication; person can’t do that.”
Cummins says mobile devices and services can help reveal what someone is feeling, and he describes instant messaging services (IMS), which ‘pop’ communications directly onto computer desktops or devices, as the next wave of value-add services for the mobile workforce.
“Push-to-talk is first – there are great social implications from that service for group communication and for tracking groups of business users. You can quickly discover information like: who is in the country? Who is available to take call? Who has certain piece of equipment or information?”
Two years ago Vodafone New Zealand gave up fixed lines for mobile handsets and Mottram says no one has complained about being “overly contactable”. She says mobile workers can plan to work when they are most effective, diminishing human problems like “night owl” body clocks (those employees who spend the first hour of the morning staring into space) and logistical problems like childcare hours and commuting.
“We have staff member with young toddler in childcare who leaves the office early to pick him up. She uses her laptop to finish her work from home,” says Mottram.
She says New Zealand employers often judge the commitment of employees by the amount of time they spend at desk and tend to manage by “line of sight”.
“Employing mobile workforce requires more trust than that. Whether or not business can manage that trust depends on its culture, but there is talent war on and today’s workforce demands more flexibility. If you can help people make choices, you are bound to get satisfied people.”
Kevin Kenrick, general manager mobile for Telecom New Zealand, is also touting choice as the number-one reason employers should look closely at what mobile technologies can deliver. “You have working population that is time pressured, unemployment is low, and there is war for talent. Individuals are increasingly demanding lifestyle balance in place of money,” he says.Kenrick advocates simple message: along with the productivity and customer satisfaction benefits mobile workforce affords, happy employees are productive and (hopefully) committed ones.
But does everyone want the flexibility mobile work environment affords? Think of the employee who collects her son from daycare and works from home at night. By the time she gets home, unwinds, does chores and spends time with her family, it’s 9pm and the work is still waiting.
Kenrick is quick to dispel this portrait. “You do get mothers who try to be superwoman but there are also men who are keen to be more active as parents. If both parents work flexibly, there can be lot of give and take.”
In other words, mobile dad gets Johnny from daycare on the days mobile mum is snowe

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