Mobile working and telecommuting are major trends in the global economy. And yet France is lagging behind somewhat. Are companies providing employees with the right tools to enable them to work efficiently and securely away from the office? What’s the best device for working remotely, or in specific external conditions? These are some of the questions the leading players in the mobile market answered recently at the Mobility for Business fair, which took place in La Défense near Paris on 15 and 16 October. One of the key themes of the event was productivity and key growth drivers.
The general consensus of the attendees at Mobility for Business was that France has a lot of catching up to do where telecommuting is concerned: according to Nicolas Amestoy, Director of Schöle Marketing, “Only 13% of employees work from home one day or half-day a week as part of an ‘official’ company teleworking policy, compared with an average of 30% in other European countries.”
No office, no work? Is the obsession with “putting in an appearance” at the office a typically French foible, despite the growing mobility trend (around 25% of French employees are “mobile” due to the nature of their job)? Is there a general belief that workers are less effective and focused when they’re away from their traditional office?
According to Olivier Louis, CEO of Yatoo, it’s not that the French are backward in their thinking about teleworking, but that the right tools aren’t available. Taking the office out of the office can be a complex business:
“When you need to work outside the office, the first thing you need to do is take your PC and all the tools on it. But it’s difficult taking the company with you!”
PEOPLE ARE OPEN TO THE IDEA: IT’S PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE THAT’S PROVING COMPLICATED
So what should organisations be providing their employees with so that they can benefit from mobile working? Claude de Soussa, CIO at CBRE and a member of the “Club Décision DSI”, who works mainly with real estate companies and their sales teams (traveling sales reps), stresses the importance of fast, sophisticated equipment:
“IT systems are being challenged by new usages: we need to find any information, anytime, on any device. Innovation is driven by users; what we now need to do is offer them a way of working in the right environment with the right apps, devices and technologies and we need to do it quickly: end-users expect solutions, so we need to act fast and give them advanced tools that will enable them to work efficiently.”
The message is clear: in order to be able to work away from their office environment, employees need the right equipment. The proliferation of mobile devices now means this is no longer an issue. As far as Olivier Louis is concerned, we already have the ideal device: the laptop-tablet hybrid!
“It’s ideal for working in the office or on the move, at home with the keyboard or in touch-tablet mode. As a worker, I have everything I need in one package: I don’t need a network to be effective. It can suit everyone’s needs: I say, hybrids for all, now!”
Of course these devices have existed for a few years now, but in the workplace, were up to now only used by executives. As Pierre-Antoine Robineau, Category Manager at HP, explains:
“In 2010, touch tablets arrived but mainly at the top end of organisations, the white-collar workers (executives and managers). It was an additional tool to the traditional PC, a very handy “extra” as it was faster, more modern and of course, more mobile. But since 2013, tablets are used across all levels of the company and have been combined with laptops to form the hybrid laptop-tablet. Since blue-collar workers have been using them, we’ve noticed a change in working processes. The business lines are wondering how they can use these new devices and everything that comes with them – the applications – in order to be more productive and efficient. So we need to rethink and redesign our range of devices.”
Suitable for most lines of work, the tablet-laptop does require accessories for certain tasks, such as making calls, taking notes, etc. A basic tablet, with or without a stylus pen, depending on how precise you need to be, and, of course, a telephone, are all you need. For outdoor workers, on the other hand, who spend their days braving the elements, it’s another matter entirely.
USERS, BUSINESS LINES, IT DEPARTMENTS, BUYERS, CLIENTS: KEEPING EVERYONE HAPPY
The obvious choice used to be rugged PDAs, but nowadays, smartphones are becoming serious contenders. However, David Pronier, Regional Manager for Southern Europe at Motion Computing, advises against “all-terrain” use of smartphones:
“17 years ago, rugged devices weighed nearly three kilos, were kind of ugly, had pitiful storage capacities and non-integrated communications. Nowadays they’re made of magnesium instead of steel, they’re a different shape, and the technology has vastly improved.”
But, Arnaud Lançon, Associate Director, in charge of mobile solutions at KNK, argues: clients could choose a consumer smartphone.
But which one? And who gets to choose? It’s atricky business, finding a solution that suits end users, business lines, IT and Purchasing, whilst achieving the overall goal of increasing productivity. According to Philippe Teissier, Marketing Director for Plantronics, the key is ergonomics and focusing on the user.
“The steering committee must include people who represent the end users and can give their feedback on the ergonomics of the device. In terms of return on investment for hardware projects, we’ve noticed in the past that if it doesn’t work, it’s not due to a technical issue or the choice of technology but because the ergonomics didn’t live up to users’ expectations. Consequently, they don’t appropriate the new tools and just carry on working the way they used to. Companies need to implement a modelling-prototyping approach, working closely with the future users.”
IS THE INFRASTRUCTURE ONE STEP AHEAD OF PEOPLE’S MINDSETS?
Involving end users from the outset it therefore essential – but it’s not enough. Once you’ve decided on a device and technologies, how do you use them? What do you put on them? And how do you use them when there are problems with the Internet?
Studies show that business applications are at the bottom of the list of priorities, after emails, calendar, contacts and social networks. Companies are concerned – and rightly so – about ensuring maximum security for the data that circulates outside the office, which inevitably slows down the transition to mobile working. Another issue is network cover, which varies considerably from one end of the country to another.
For Claude Soussa, this is no longer an issue :
“Networks are sufficiently advanced now. There’s Wi-Fi almost everywhere, and Lifi, (wireless connection using visible light), is on the rise. Users such as maintenance technicians or foremen on a building site can have all the applications they need on all their devices.”
Whilst it’s difficult at the moment to measure the impact of 4G and the cloud on mobile working, Nicolas Amestoy believes that these technologies “are bound to become more and more widespread. But there is a need for greater flexibility in the workplace, particularly with respect to teleworking, for things to really change.”
In other words, it requires mental and technological flexibility to realise the potential of digital, now.