Has mobile working come of age?

When I began my career in journalism, the days of typewriters, and of hot metal presses, were not too great a distant memory. We had computers, but they weren’t networked, and there was no internet access for anyone.

Work meant an office. To do our jobs meant being at our desks. When we left the office we could work, but only to gather information. We had to wait until we returned to the office before we could make use of that information.

We had mobile phones – but they were only for making voice calls. And that was when you could find a signal.

It sounds like I’m talking about a bygone age, but I’m actually only talking about 1997. (I realise some of you reading this may actually consider 1997 a bygone age).

A lot has changed – and in many ways we’re now liberated from our desks. So what precisely is different?

Processor technology has given us the ability to take most of our computing needs and perform them in mobile devices, such as laptops, netbooks and smartphone. That coupled with near-ubiquitous wireless connections and networked computer applications has meant we’re always connected with our office, our data, our customers and colleagues where ever we are.

Tools such as Microsoft’s Office 365 can transform your ability to do businesses wherever you are. Your e-mail, calendars, contacts, documents and collaboration tools, such as Sharepoint, can now be accessed via mobile devices with all the flexibility and productivity of desktop tools.

Virgin Business recently conducted a survey of 5,000 businesses, and it found that 64% of them had equipped employees with the tools to work remotely. Driving this was the need to save money.

But there are still key challenges. Among IT decision makers, recently surveyed by Cisco Systems, 57% rated security as the biggest challenge to enabling remote working.

The Virgin survey found that just one in 50 businesses are using a VPN to give staff secure access to files and data when working remotely.

But increasingly, small business, freelancers and entrepreneurs are ditching the office completely. Online organisation Work Snug has sprung up – helping mobile workers find great places to work on the go. It’s visited and reviewed thousands of workspaces in the major cities of the world, and even offers an app that can find you places to work.

You simply point your smartphone in a direction and it will overlay rated places of mobile working on the screen. And if your favourite place of work away from work isn’t listed you can add it to the service.

It would seem that mobile working has finally come of age. But there are other considerations…

A survey by iPass of people who use mobile phones or tablets for work has found 61 per cent of mobile workers say that they sleep with their smartphone; 43 per cent say they keep their smartphone within arm’s reach at night.

Worryingly, 38 per cent of mobile workers wake up to check their smartphone during the night.

Matthew Stibbe is writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing. He is also an avid blogger, closet geek and HP fanatic.