Make a connection to new ways of working

If you’re thinking of working from home, or just need to adopt more flexible working practices, Ed Bayley looks at the technological issues of such decisions

In the current climate, many design consultancies are cutting IT budgets and holding back on capital projects. But one of the few areas to escape the hatchet is mobile working, as managers look to new technologies to help them become more responsive and available to clients.

Most consultancies rely on a few key people, whether for final artwork approvals or simply to help smooth over difficult client relationships. It is these same people who seem to spend most of their time away from the office and in meetings. So, the business case for mobile working looks compelling.

Get it right, and mobile technology can improve the effectiveness of your key players, allowing decisions to be taken and business to continue from taxis, trains and between meetings.

At the same time, when funds are tight, flexible working arrangements can assist managers as they search for ‘non-financial’ ways of looking after their staff.

Of course, not all of us want to work at home – the chances are that some days we would never make it out of bed, never mind getting up for an eight-hour day of diligent toil. To make home-working a success, you have to understand what motivates people as well as their working habits.

There may be times – for instance, recharging the creative batteries or seeking a quiet moment of inspiration – when working from home is ideal. On other occasions, you need the collegiate spirit of the studio. So it’s worth considering what works when for your team.

Obviously enough, with situations like maternity leave or staff needing greater flexibility to deal with childcare, the right technological links can make the difference between continuing to work and giving up work all together.

The trouble with remote and mobile working is that a lot of the devices and software involved tend to be on the ‘bleeding edge’ of technology, and there are hazards and pitfalls for the uninitiated.

Designers are usually either ‘early-adopters’ when it comes to new gadgets or technophobes. The first group will have no trouble adding another device to their armoury, the other will simply find mobile technology too clunky and unreliable to use. Until a really decent combined personal digital assistant, or PDA, and mobile phone comes along, one that doesn’t weigh a ton or look like a 1960 electric razor, I don’t see mobile working catching on with everybody.

Nevertheless, here are ten things you should know if you are thinking of joining the ever-swelling ranks of mobile workers.

1 To start working on the move, you need five things:

• A device (smart mobile, mini laptop or PDA) with WAP or GPRS services

• Use of a modem (a built-in modem/GPRS card or Bluetooth mobile phone with modem)

• A mobile connection/ transport mechanism (WAP or GPRS services enabled in your mobile phone contract)

• Some infrastructure, so you can securely link to your office files, diary or e-mail

• Somebody to join it all together

2 Worldwide PDA shipments in 2001 totalled 13.1 million units, up 18 per cent from the previous year1

3 The market is split between three main operating systems. They are: Pocket PC (Compaq, HP, Toshiba, Casio and others) Palm OS (Palm, Handspring and Sony) and EPOC (Psion). Psion has announced that it is leaving the PDA market to concentrate on developing its Symbian software (used on mobile phones). Palm OS has the greatest market share (51.2 per cent) and Pocket PC’s share is growing the fastest1

4 Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of design consultancies use PDAs, most of which (59 per cent) are Palm or Handspring2

5 If you want to receive e-mail on the move, you’ll have the biggest choice of products if you use Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes as your corporate e-mail package

6 Over two thirds (64 per cent) of companies in the marketing services sector use Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes as their corporate e-mail software2

7 Almost two thirds (61 per cent) of design consultancies use Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes as their e-mail package2

8 The most common reasons marketing services companies give for wanting to introduce mobile working are:

• Access to messages when out of the office;

• Staff wanting to work from home; and

• Maternity cover2

9 One of the problems with mobile working is the complexity of joining everything together and getting it to work. It really needs a specialist IT person to be involved

10 Only 24 per cent of design groups have an IT department in charge of the issue of mobile phones (a key component in mobile working). Almost half (47 per cent) of mobile phones in consultancies are purchased through the office manager2

As with any new technology, the most sensible advice is trust no-one’s hype and don’t be a pioneer. And make sure you see it working before you open your wallet.

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