The Evolution of Work: Mobile Communication

mr-spacelyI never knew exactly what George Jetson did for a living – but what I did know was that his boss, Mr. Spacely, could communicate with him from just about anywhere. This didn’t seem like such a good thing – at least how it was portrayed at that time. But I am slowly changing my view. In our world, the tools may be different, but the theme remains. Mobile communication was inevitable, and it is permeating our workplace. It is up to us to weigh in, manage the weaknesses and maximize its potential.Mr. Spacely may have abused his technological privileges, by brow beating his employee with counter-productive exchanges, but mobile doesn’t have to be a “dirty” word in the workplace. Many seem worried that the “human side” of work will suffer greatly, and that the quality of our work lives will plummet. I am not quite that concerned.

Finding Balance
With any innovation, there is an adjustment period while people struggle to integrate the product or process into everyday life. Integrating mobile effectively with work may be particularly challenging because of the possibility of intrusion – it is an obvious downside. Of course, we should be concerned about the inherent downfalls of a technologically jammed life.

There has been continued sentiment to “contain” the boundaries of work – in an effort to improve the overall “quality” of our lives. However, containing work may have never been a viable goal. (Although the parameters of those boundaries and the definition of “quality” will vary by the individual.) I can’t seem to confine my thoughts concerning work to my desk, and I’m not sure that I would want to. We are bound to think about our work and its challenges outside of the office – when we are commuting, eating dinner or watching a movie. That is not a bad thing – but how we utilize mobile to capture how we function as thinking people productively, is key. Simply because technology will allow our work lives to expand – does not necessarily dictate that it  becomes a 24/7 operation.

We have to manage technology – and not the other way around. It is an opportunity and not a sentence.

We are learning that to excel, organizational cultures must emphasize openness and collaboration, and if technology contributes to that cause, it’s a win-win situation. Helping employees become more effective through mobile should be a priority – but this is not a race – it is a process. Mobile could tax us further and contribute to our downfall, but there are situations where mobile just makes a lot of sense. It’s already in our pockets. So why not try.

A natural fit: Idea management & collaboration
Developers are challenged with the task of determining what really translates into mobile and what simply doesn’t work. Mobile doesn’t seem to be suited to duplicate a PC desktop – however, with certain workplace challenges the advantages are there. As explained by Benjamin Robbins, Principal at Palador, “If there is one aspect that a mobile device should greatly excel at over a PC, it is collaboration”. Robbins is really putting this notion to the test. He has made the committment to use only his mobile device, and the adaptations which he creates for an entire year. (Read about his journey here). The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. Not only does he want to explore what can be done with a mobile device – but what can’t be done effectively, as well.

As he explained, there is a natural fit between mobile and functions of work such as brainstorming. With mobile this is an anytime proposition, so you don’t have to be at your desk to create. The idea that you can share notes and ideas with colleagues, across time zones and brick & mortar walls is key. Robbins explains that, “Discovering what aspects of mobile that can enhance virtual learning is key.” He goes on to explain that we could view mobile as a workplace classroom without boundaries. “There are endless possibilities for idea sharing and the visualization of those ideas with mobile.”

Picking up the communication slack
Some mobile communication tools are born out of a strong need in the workplace. LUA, for example, the brain child of Michael DeFranco and his team, has an organic feel both in its inception and implementation. A recent graduate of the TechStar start-up accelerator program, DeFranco explained to me that LUA developed because of a gap in the communications market. Designed for fast paced, field-driven environments, LUA provides communication capabilities to industries that in a former life, were primarily walkie – talkie driven. (How can we forget the communication nightmare of first responders to the 9/11 catastrophe?)

Other industries such as film production, sales organizations and construction, where quickly disseminating evolving information can also spell success or failure can utilize mobile to become more effective. With the ability to upload and distribute documents, initiate instant conference calls, and sync team communication between desktop computers and mobile devices – LUA fulfills a long list of field communication needs. Even freelancers can also be enabled to access the network temporarily – a must for quickly changing workforces.

Facilitating virtual team effectiveness
The potential of mobile to facilitate teaming is evident – and those who teach virtual teaming techniques see great potential. As explained by Illysa Izenberg, of Strategy and Training Partners, LLC, “Technology enhances team communication when the warmest and most connective and inclusive tools are utilized (such as video-conferencing, online whiteboards, and shared intranet sites).These tools focus on people communicating openly yet respectfully to discuss concerns, share documents and personal information on intranet “walls” to collaboratively resolve challenges.”

Creative platforms such as Jostle, which help teams communicate and excel, also seem to be a natural for an extension into mobile. Jostle which emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teaming in more traditional work environments, is in the process of adapting its capabilities to both iPads and smart phones. With strong visuals to help employees map out their work lives and learn about other team members, the platform helps to build engagement.

The emphasis remains on the people side of the equation, as helping people connect should remain a mobile goal. As explained by Brad Palmer, “Collaboration happens in real-time. With mobile, teamwork becomes much more dynamic and responsive, greatly enhancing the engaging experience of working alongside each other to get work done.” Moreover, Jostle allows the inclusion of employees that don’t have work email addresses or desk phone numbers with its mobile form, an advantage to many organizations.

As time goes on we will undoubtedly see more progress in the adaptation of mobile into daily work life. It will be interesting to see where it takes us in the next few years. At that time we’ll have to pause – and teach Mr. Spacely a few things.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. She teaches workplace effectiveness strategies to employees and businesses. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

4 thoughts on “The Evolution of Work: Mobile Communication

  1. Pingback: “The Evolution of Work: Mobile Communication” « The Lua Blog

  2. Mobile communication is a tricky work subject. The company I work for just implemented a mobile POS system for the store, yet associates are not allowed to wander around with their cell phones in their pockets.

    Like everything else, there is an appropriate time and application for mobile use. When, where and why are the details that need ironing out. Thanks for a great post Marla.

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