The script has flipped. Business used to be the driving force behind technological innovation. But with the increasing pervasiveness of mobile, consumer apps are the ones propelling the biggest advances in the workplace.

“I think, over the last decade, we’ve really gotten accustomed to apps for the things we do in our consumer lives,” said Alan Lepofsky vice president, Constellation Research who specializes in the future of work. People are increasingly bringing those preferences — as well as the personal devices that power them — into the workplace.

By 2017, it’s expected that 65 percent of Americans will own a smartphone. That number won’t come as a surprise to millennials: 85 percent of them already have one. Today’s workers don’t just want mobility — they expect it. And, increasingly, they’re shunning employers’ outdated solutions (including email) in favor of apps they’re already accustomed to. For example, a survey conducted by Software Advice found 82 percent of employees say they communicate with co-workers via text-messaging every day.

Businesses can no longer expect to coast on tools from a past era, so here’s a bit of advice for those looking to take their mobile adoption to the next level.

1. Provide Flexibility and Support

Mobile isn’t just about devices. It’s more and more a context in which people do work — and it can’t be ignored.

A recent ConnectSolutions survey revealed that 40 percent of workers are “able to conduct at least half of their total workload on a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device.” IDC predicts that there will be more than 105 million mobile workers in the US by 2020 — that's nearly three quarters (72.3 percent) of the workforce. 

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Organizations should find more ways to support their workers’ mobile contexts by offering valuable apps or other services that can empower them to conduct even more of their work from anywhere.

Of course, companies shouldn’t move to mobile simply to appease their employees. They should do it because it’s good for business. A recent Harvard Business Review survey of large and midsized companies found that 53 percent of respondents believe mobile increases employee productivity.

2. Create Mobile Policies for Your Communication Solutions

A company needs to carefully consider its Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and the solutions it chooses in order to balance the wants of employees with concerns such as compatibility and security. “I'd venture to guess that most people working in IT understand that if a device has an IP address, a URL or an on-off switch, then it's fair game for attack,” writes Kevin Beaver, an information security consultant with Principle Logic. Beaver strongly advocates proper processes when it comes to device onboarding, which he says are “critical to securing BYOD and IoT devices.”

3. Identify Which Jobs – and People – Will Succeed Remotely

Not all positions are conducive to telework. For instance, it may be important for a project manager to remain in the office in order to oversee onsite staff. On the other hand, many jobs, especially in areas such as creative and sales, are ideally suited to a mobile workforce. That said, many companies run up against cultural challenges when it comes to implementing a universal mobile infrastructure for all employees.

It’s important to ensure that mobile employees are self-directed, have a defined home office space and are willing to let go of career fears such as the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. In addition, companies should train managers on how to lead remote workers. The Society for Human Research Management (SHRM) offers an online toolkit for managing flexible work arrangements as well as a customizable sample PowerPoint presentation to help supervisors get started.

4. Seek New Ways to Collaborate

A recent Constellation Research report found that “enhancing collaboration” was among the most important goals of more than 500 organizations surveyed. “We really want to focus on the collaborative apps,” said Lepofsky. “We can't just take our full-featured desktop apps and expect them to work on mobile.” He says that simply sharing ideas and information defined the first era of modern workplace collaboration.

The current era is about what Lepofsky calls “purposeful collaboration,” in which, he said, “‘social’ is built directly into the tools and business processes.” Companies should continue to push the boundaries of mobile collaboration – in order to both increase their competitive edge and meet rising employee expectations.

5. Maintain Open Communication Channels

Finally, for mobile to work for everyone, a company must adopt tools and put systems in place that allow it to communicate to remote, on-the-go workers so those employees can easily stay informed and engaged. To address those needs, many organizations are moving to OTT (“over-the-top” products that bypass traditional communications delivery systems) and “freemium” messaging and news apps. In fact, 60 percent of employees already use an OTT app at work. Not only can these tools help employers reach remote staff in real-time, employees benefit by using the same tools to better collaborate with co-workers.

“Mobile devices, wearable devices, IoT devices; all of those gadgets and sensors and data aren't going to mean a thing to people unless it provides context to them getting their jobs done,” says Lepofsky. But for those that get it right, the benefits can be significant. For instance, telework improves job satisfaction (36 percent of employees would choose it over a pay raise), increases retention (according to 95 percent of employers) and saves companies money on everything from real estate and utilities to the costs associated with relocating workers.

By providing employees the right tools to untether them from their desks, you’ll reap the rewards for years and even decades to come.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  kevin dooley