Today’s software and mobile devices enable new breed of ‘Road Warriors’

Work Essentials: Today’s software and mobile devices enable new breed of ‘Road Warriors’

By Nina Bondarook

Gini Courter only worked out of her company’s office in Grand Traverse County, Michigan twice during the first half of the year. The balance of her time was spent traveling to provide software training and business solutions to clients of Triad Consulting, the firm she co-founded there 10 years ago.

“I spend 99.9 percent of my work time at client sites, in hotels or at remote locations,” says Courter, Triad’s managing partner. “I’m still adapting. Every time I see a laptop case with a couple of new features, I start to drool.”

She’s among a growing breed of Road Warriors who use today’s technologies to work from ‘any location at any time.’ In fact, Massachusetts-based IDC, a marketing research firm, estimates that by 2009 there will be more than 878 million mobile workers worldwide.

Sales people and repairmen were among the nation’s first mobile workers. But Courter says it’s a trend that’s being driven today by employees across the board who seek the flexibility and “higher quality of life” that a mobile environment can provide.

Businesses, too, are reaping the benefits. Studies show employees who telecommute from home or are mobile can save employers as much as $10,000 per year, depending upon how companies calculate their savings and other factors. For example, some businesses count the rent savings they accrue when employees move off site and smaller office spaces are required for operations. Others calculate the positive impact that happy mobile-enabled employees can have via reductions in absenteeism and employee churn. However launching a mobile initiative can also require additional investment in infrastructure, software, wireless devices and computer support.

At a very minimum, companies who send employees into the field should provide them with a wireless PC and a cell phone, says Lori Quaranta, co-founder of Consetta.com in Seattle, Wash., which provides small- and medium-sized businesses with Web solutions. In order to be truly effective, however, employees also will need a national wireless card that enables them to connect to the Internet from any location, remote access to e-mail via that laptop or some other type of personal digital assistant, and remote access to any database of information they’ll need in their work.

Nokia Corp. is one of the companies banking on the growth of the mobile workforce. In a company white paper, Nokia says it conducted a study in September 2005 that found most employees spend as much as one-third of their time away from their desks, and another third of their time conducting business out of the office.

“The ability to work while you’re on the road is no longer a competitive advantage; it’s a competitive expectation,” says consultant Laura Stack of Denver, Colo., who is ‘The Productivity Pro’ and founder of the company that shares that moniker.

“It’s becoming standard protocol to carry a Blackberry/Treo device so that you’re accessible when you’re away from the office,” says Stack, who averages 10 business trips a month. “But it’s not for everyone. Addictions (to wireless devices) can form fairly quickly for those who don’t insist on privacy or never turn them off. If your significant other says you shouldn’t be bringing your SmartPhone to bed, it’s probably too late for caution. You’re already addicted.”

That, says Courter, is exactly why both employers and employees need to develop written agreements and clear guidelines for mobile work. Not every employee is a good candidate for a mobile job, she says.  “Mobile employees need to be self-reliant, self-supervising, task-oriented workers. And they need to know how to use technology to get the job done.”

When they do go on the road, she adds, mobile workers should give themselves 30 days to settle into their new environments before evaluating their performance.

“People are going to have to be disciplined enough to shut off their mobile devices, or they’ll lose the work/life balance they were striving for in the first place,” Quaranta adds. “And don’t forget the human interaction side of things either. Even today, getting on the phone or conducting a face-to-face meeting can be more effective than relying solely on e-mail to communicate.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the growing mobile workforce can find a plethora of information on the Internet – especially on the Web sites of manufacturers that product mobile devices and software. Microsoft Work Essentials, for example, provides in-depth articles by non-Microsoft industry experts, software demos, downloadable templates and webcasts covering topics such as how to use Microsoft Office software on mobile devices, how to collaborate with co-workers when you’re working remotely, how to use instant messaging, and tips for working effectively as part of a virtual team. 

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