The business benefits of mobile are easy to make, especially when it comes to employee productivity and the facility of being able to contact members of staff on a close to 24/7 basis. Yet, I am sure we have all been in situations where we have been interrupted by a business call on our mobile phone at an inconvenient time.

I recently came across a report entitled "The Well-Being of the Mobile Workforce" by Dr. Caroline Axtell, of the Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield, UK. The report was sponsored by iPass Inc. The report interprets some of the key findings from the iPass Mobile Workforce Reports from August 2011 and November 2011 and discusses them in relation to extensive research on employee well-being and remote/flexible working.

The introduction to the report notes that there is a "Dark Side" to being able to work and be contacted
"anytime, anywhere." This can have a detrimental effect on employee well-being due to the increased demands, lower control and higher fatigue that employees can experience. These demands and stresses can also have an impact on family relationships.

Despite this potential "Dark Side," it is evident that some mobile workers who work long hours do feel they are able to balance work and home, and say they are less stressed and more relaxed as a result of their flexibility.

The BYOD Challenge

What surprised me about the analysis and recommendations in the report was that there was no differentiation between the challenges of working with a corporate mobile device and using a personal device for business purposes.

People tend not to switch off their personal mobile phones in case there is a need for family and friends to make contact. Even at night the phone may be left switched on "just in case," only for the incoming call in the middle of the night turning out to be from a colleague in San Francisco who had forgotten you were going to work out of the London office for a few weeks. With the increasing adoption of BYOD the problems could quickly get more intractable.

Managing Virtual Teams

The problem of managing mobile phone calls at inconvenient times is one element of being a member of a virtual team, where often colleagues not only assume that other members of the team are always available for calls but are also in a position to respond to emails and instant messages.

A significant amount of good practice has been built up by managers working with virtual teams. In my experience there is usually no training for team members in how to work effectively in virtual teams.

I ran a workshop at the IntraTeam event in Copenhagen in February this year and was surprised to find that out of the 60 attendees only a few had any training in managing virtual teams. One of the most important steps in setting up a virtual team is agreeing on protocols for communication between members.

For example, someone with young children may ask for no calls between 5pm and 8pm but is willing to be available later in the evening. Another team member may ask for a text message to be sent prior to a call so that they can move to somewhere in their house where the call will not disturb their family.

The Role of Managers

Managers in particular need to be aware of both the potential benefits and issues of supervising mobile employees. As more work is carried out away from an office building it is very important that mobile working practices are discussed during job performance discussions.

In many organizations a good knowledge of working practices in other countries is important. It comes as a surprise to many managers based in the USA that employees in many European countries may be getting up to seven weeks holiday a year! Offices in Muslim countries will shut at mid-day on Thursday ahead of Friday as a day of prayer (Jumuah), opening again on Saturday.

It is not just mobile phone calls that need to be considered. The adoption of tablets means that managers are now better connected to email, Skype and web resources without the need to carry a laptop pc around with them, but that does not mean that in doing so they are agreeing to be accessible on a 24/7 basis.

The Need for Balance

The iPass report highlights that many employees value the flexibility that mobile working gives to them. This balance may change over time and agreements on being accessible need to be reviewed on a regular basis. Employees need to feel that they, and not their employer, are in control of their work-life balance.

For more on virtual team management download my recent Research Note.

Title image courtesy of David Huntley (Shutterstock).

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