Is Workforce Mobility in your Culture DNA?

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We already know we can work from anywhere and at any time. Armed with smart phones, compact tablets or slick, shiny laptops we are as at work in a café or on our living room couch as often as we are in a cubicle. If it were up to every individual, who wouldn’t design their work day to fit their life vs. the other way around?

But, most of us work with others. We are part of teams and groups that need to work together. And our work is over-lapping. It’s no longer quite as easy to sit all day alone in a cubicle or a closed office and accomplish our tasks. HR professionals are working on employee branding; sales and marketing teams are doing something called “smarketing”, and software developers are “factoring in their users” or the industry professionals who need to use what they create.

This collaboration of job functions impacts management decisions in several areas, including:

  • Allowing mobility for some or all of the employees, depending on roles
  • Space or office adjustments to allow mobile worker integration with office workers
  • Work process change management to accommodate the new environments
  • Impacts generated from the existing company culture

The new “corner office”

IBM has long been a leader in mobile work assignments. As early as 1995, IBM executives made decisions to “downsize” real estate and move employees to home offices. This change particularly impacted sales or branch offices at first and then later almost every corporate office globally as well. The motivation was to save over $1.9B in real estate costs and the move was enabled by the technology capabilities of IBM – a phone and computing infrastructure to support people’s ability to work remotely.

I remember this well because I am an alumna of the first mobile workforce of IBM in 1995. I can still remember the furniture truck arriving at my home with a desk, chair, file cabinet, printer and PC. Work was about to invade my life in a big way! My new “corner office” had a private cafeteria (my kitchen) and a window overlooking my flower garden.

Here were the personal adjustments I needed to make to work from home:

  • Extreme quiet and loneliness – I began talking to myself!
  • Calorie load from the proximity to snacks – missing the exercise of daily walks to the car park, the coffee shop and lunch with colleagues
  • Extra-long phone calls with people I have never met and am now still connected with virtually – a new definition of relationship
  • A lack of ability to “show and tell” (it was too early for Skype and Join.Me)
  • Learning how to sign into IBM locations for an office or a cubicle without taking someone else’s space – a premium commodity!

Fast forward to the 21st century and the so-called Age of Millennials.

Whether we use this term or not, we accept the fact that a whole generation arrived at work, armed with technology skills their predecessors did not have. This group of workers intuitively understands independent communication via a smart phone or tablet. It’s not new and novel. Work is already part of their life. What they desire though, is community with coworkers. In my case, I mourned the loss of a separate work life; the new workforce is yearning for integration. Either way you look at it companies who want to attract the best talent from a blended set of generations and workstyle preferences need to acknowledge that there may not be “one size fits all.”

Ironically now, IBM is now moving employees from home back to offices in the hope of improving collaboration and accelerating the pace of work. Yahoo announced a similar change almost four years ago, startling many in Silicon Valley. The trend is toward more community, not less or in fields such as software development and digital marketing “bringing small, self-directed agile teams in these fields together.” according to CNNMoney. Time will tell if these moves can help bridge the gaps that exist between workstyle desires and organization needs.

Managers of this change have lots of considerations to make when changing to or from mobile work environments. Tapping into the authenticity of your organization and the unwritten rules of engagement will help you to make lasting decisions that help your employees and you adjust to the newest age of mobility and community.  A mobile workplace strategy that supports lots of different workstyles and your company culture at the same time, requires starting with an assessment – not only of space and space needs but of your culture. “Organizations who have supported mobile enablement are realizing significant benefits from employee satisfaction, retention and attraction of talent, increased productivity, but more importantly, better ways to accomplish business objectives that drive the company forward.”


Is your organization preparing for this? I welcome your replies.

Infographic used with permission from our friends at Nucleus home intercom system

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