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Entries in Mobility (3)

Monday
Mar152010

Worker Mobility – Productivity, The Final Frontier

(Part 3 of a 3 part series on Worker Mobility)

Part 2 of this series looked at obstacles to working outside the corporate office. The final post suggests way to evaluate and overcome obstacles to achieving a productive Worker Mobility environment.

So, how do we go about analyzing something as subjective as “user experience?” As silly as it sounds, it all starts with the user. IT people are not reliable sources when it comes to defining user experience. We have a tendency to characterize everything in terms of quantifiable metrics; a highly valuable skill at the detail level of a problem, but a barrier to achieving a holistic view. IT people shouldn’t use their own experiences as the benchmark for user experience. We know how to fix technical problems, we expect to be on-call 7x24, and we have no fear of technology.

Identifying user behaviors, as it relates to the work they perform, allows the creation of “User Experience Profiles” and the ability to group users with similar needs and behaviors. Now, you have a common language to describe types of users. The profiles describe business outcomes and not technologies. A decade ago, we used terms like “Road Warriors” and “Weekend Warriors” to describe remote computing users. This worked well when we only tried to describe connectivity speeds. Worker Mobility looks at the same problem by examining business processes, the roles people play in those processes, and how they can perform those roles from any location and any time of day.

With the User Experience Profiles we can start attaching technology and environmental requirements and looking for common characteristics across all profiles. This forms the basis for a “Worker Mobility Framework.” The Worker Mobility Framework becomes the building blocks for providing services and solving user problems. Instead of point solutions or infrastructure enhancements, we evaluate everything against the Framework and ask ourselves whether and how it can improve our overall Worker Mobility offerings. Everything added to the Framework must have metrics and a process for evaluating the performance and reliability of each component, and therefore the Framework.

The Worker Mobility Framework should include a set of core components that have typically been an afterthought for past mobility solutions. Security, data redundancy, and support (to name a few) need to be “baked-in” to every Framework component. Performance and usability must be measured using these core parts of the Framework.

We now have a clear understanding of user needs and have implemented a Worker Mobility Framework. If done correctly, we should be able to apply the framework to all of our day-to-day computing needs, be they in the corporate office, or on the road, and provide users with a robust, scalable, and common user experience performing equally well under all conditions.

Sounds easy? It isn’t. You should expect this will be incremental and iterative, and will take years to correctly implement. Vendors will tell you they can solve all your mobility problems but no one vendor has all the parts of a solution. The true solution lies within your organization and your ability to understand the present and future needs of your workforce.

The author of this article is a principal of Harvard Partners and contributor to the Harvard Partners Worker Mobility Program offering.

 

Monday
Mar082010

Worker Mobility – Kids, dogs, and other distractions

milo

 

(Part 2 of a 3 part series on Worker Mobility)

In part 1 of this series, I talked about new business challenges driving us to think about user computing services and support in different ways. In this post, let’s take a look at IT and non-IT challenges facing a virtual workforce.

On a day when I am not seeing clients or pitching new business, I work from my house. My attire is typically sweats and I work from many different rooms as the day progresses. Let me describe one day, a few weeks ago, and see if this sounds familiar.

The day started, as it usually does, with a videoconference with my business partner, Gary. We start every morning this way, as it helps provide us focus. On this day, Gary reminded me we had a video conference with a company wanting to partner with us on a consulting gig, we were also spending time completing a proposal for a client, and we had an audio conference with our web designer. As I started the videoconference with the other company, I looked at the video of myself and realized I had forgotten to change out of my sweats. Even though I made fun of myself and got through the call, I was thoroughly embarrassed. Later that day, while working on the client proposal with Gary, my dog, Milo (the cutest 6-month old beagle you ever saw) jumped on my lap creating a static shock causing my laptop to freeze. I lost no work, but I did lose 20 minutes waiting for my system to reboot. Finally, during our call with our web designer Milo decided to start howling from another part of the house. If you have never heard a beagle howl, it is a sound that penetrates all closed doors. Our web designer thought it was cute, but it became a distraction and we rescheduled the call.

While not a typical day, it helped me see beyond the technical aspects of working from home, and envision a more holistic approach to provide a consistent, reliable and productive user experience, no matter where you are located. In short, it defined Worker Mobility.

Worker Mobility is a framework for delivering computing services anytime, anywhere and with the same level of user productivity as found in corporate offices. It applies technologies to supplement or offset user behaviors in different geographic locations or at different times of the day. It identifies real world obstacles (pets, airports, hotels, children, etc.) and helps people navigate their work and home life when both are located in the same place. It sets performance standards for computing services not based on best case scenarios (i.e., corporate offices), but uses the worst case as the benchmark to beat. It considers the emotional strain of being always available to those you work with.

In the final part of this series, I will share ways to improve productivity when not in the office.

Monday
Mar012010

Worker Mobility – The Virtual Workforce

(Part 1 of a 3 part series on Worker Mobility)

You arrive at work, turn on your computer, open your email, and find a message from the VP of Human Resources announcing the company’s new employee telecommuting program. You think to yourself, this might not be a bad idea. Wake up in the morning, put on my sweats, grab a cup of coffee and work from home. You imagine you will finally have a work-life balance, and get to spend more time with your family, something you have been meaning to improve for a while. The number of daily meetings will be cut in half, and you will finally get some uninterrupted time to complete some opportunistic work projects. Ah, this is going to be sweet.

Many companies are converting brick and mortar employees to a virtual workforce as a means of reducing real estate costs. Outsourcing and globalization have taught us we can manage people from any location, but do we really understand how to make people comfortable and productive in their new environment.

As IT professionals we worry about the VPN, laptops, BlackBerry’s, security, and viruses. We seldom think about what makes people productive in an office environment and how technology has improved their quality of office life. When it comes to Worker Mobility, we focus on support issues. How do we do a better job of fixing a laptop, diagnosing connectivity problems, counting the number of Help Desk tickets responded to in an hour, and providing more availability to applications and other in-house computing resources. From a data center point-of-view, we focus on the servers, storage, and networks that support the desktops and laptops. We never really take a holistic view of the “user experience.”

And then, one day, the Help Desk gets a call from a senior executive informing us she is on the road and everything is slow. The entire infrastructure organization drops everything they are doing and works to diagnose a problem that probably can’t be diagnosed. We look at it from every angle, break out our real-time performance metrics and, in the end, just say “the problem is with the network.”

Why don’t we take the time to understand what “slow” really means? How do we measure “slow?” What do we measure? Is slow for one user, fast for another? Does it make a difference?

As business realities drive us to a more virtual workplace, maybe we need to take the time to analyze and design a new model for providing services and supporting a truly mobile workforce. We can provide a common user experience (look and feel, performance, support) whether in the office, on the road, or at home and, by being proactive, help transform traditional business environments and processes into ones that are highly productive and dynamic. First, we must overcome some unusual obstacles.

In part 2 of this series, I will identify some common, non-technical, pitfalls.