Software and hardware vendors are responding to the increased demand for mobile enterprise solutions, but you need more than software and hardware to successfully manage your mobile workforce. You need to take many factors into account -- for instance the expectations of your mobile workers and the cross-cultural differences.

The Growth of the Mobile Workforce Worldwide

The mobile workforce phenomenon started about a decade ago, though even before that there had been companies where workers didn't spend their time at the office but worked more from home. However, such jobs were more exotic than typical and they certainly didn't affect millions of people.

Although we will never reach 100 per cent mobility of the workforce, there is a lot of room for growth. While it is true that there are some jobs that require an on site presence, many can be done remotely with no sacrifice in quality.

The technological advancements of the last decade have made it possible for more jobs to be detached from the office desk and now we are facing the mobile workforce phenomenon in its entirety.

Expectations of Mobile Workers

One of the factors for successfully managing a mobile workforce is to know what the expectations of your mobile employees are. The Connected World Report by Cisco (news, site) surveyed thousands of IT decision makers and end users in 13 countries to find how the mobile workforce affects IT security policies and what the expectations of mobile workers are. Some of the findings of the survey are predictable, while others are really surprising.

Basically, the findings of the survey in relation to the mobile workforce wishes and expectations can be summarized as follows:

  • 3 of every 5 (60%) employees believe they don’t need to be in the office to be productive, efficient

  • 2 of every 3 (66%) employees desire work flexibility

  • 2 of every 3 (66%) employees would accept a lower-paying job with more work flexibility than a higher-paying job with inflexibility

  • 45% of IT professionals are unprepared or struggling to make their workforces more mobile, distributed

The figures above show that employees value mobility because it gives them more flexibility. In a similar survey by iPass “93 percent of respondents believed mobile technology made them more productive.” Additionally, 35 percent think that mobile technology improves their work/life balance.

These figures are pretty interesting because they show acceptance of the mobile way of work. To some extent, workers are more mobile-friendly than IT departments are ready for them to be.

However, the differences among different groups of employees are quite tangible. One of the major factors for these differences is nationality (rather than social status, for example) and on some points the differences are drastic, as we'll see next.

Cultural Differences

We might live in a global village but national characteristics are far from distinct. For instance, here are the answers the respondents in the Cisco Connected World Report gave to the question “ Do you feel you need to be physically “in the office” to work efficiently?”


Source: Cisco Connected World Report

The answers vary dramatically from country to country and this reflects the different cultures. While there are cultures -- i.e the Germans (57%), the Japanese (56%) and the Italians (53%) -- who believe they must be in the office in order to be efficient, other nationalities, such as the Indians (7%) and the Chinese (19%), think they are more productive when not confined in the office.

The reasons for these discrepancies can be most diverse and they could be of a personal nature (lots of distractions at home, so work there is impossible) rather than national but it is a fact that the attitudes vary dramatically from one culture to the next.

Mobile Access: Right or Privilege

The cross-cultural differences are also present in the answers to the question of whether being able to work remotely is a right or privilege:


Source: Cisco Connected World Report

What strikes me are the geographic differences -- i.e. in countries where outsourcing is most popular (India, China and Russia), even end users view remote work as a right rather than privilege. Outsourcing itself is remote work, so maybe this involvement with outsourcing shapes one's vision that remote work is to be taken for granted rather than consider it a privilege for the chosen.

Money vs Flexibility

One of the most interesting findings of the survey is that if having to choose between a higher paid job (10% more) with restricted remote access and a job with lower payment but more flexible remote access, 66% of the respondents would go for the lower paid job.


Source: Cisco Connected World Report

Again, the differences among countries are significant and in some nations (Germans with 52% and Japanese with 50%) the majority will follow the money but still the overall picture shows that employees value mobility highly. Or do they?

The next question “Since your company does not support or allow you to work remotely, which of the following statements would apply? (Select all that apply)” shows that for 62% (and 88% in the US!) no remote access isn't a big deal. In contrast, 54% of Indian respondents say they would never join such a company because for them it is an old-fashioned one and they wouldn't work for somebody who still lives in the last century.


Source: Cisco Connected World Report

The Ugly Sides of Remote Access

The Connected World Report also examines some of the fears related to managing a mobile workforce. Security is of paramount concern for respondents and 57% put it first among their fears. Data loss and lost/stolen devices are two other major concerns, though managers admit that these two aren't that dreadful.

All in all, mobile workforce and the mobile enterprise are the future, so we need to adapt. For many enterprises the difference between going mobile and staying as is will be the difference from staying competitive and dropping out of the game. This is why managers need to learn quickly how mobile workforce is different and how to manage it.