Mobility in the Workplace

Recently our clients and partners have been asking more and more questions about the mobile workplace. What does it mean? How exactly does it work? Is it right for them?

Mobility strategies for the workplace can mean different things for different organizations. For some companies, supporting mobility is a way to reduce real estate costs.  For other companies, mobility is part of a broader strategy to support employee flexibility.  Whether hoping to shrink your footprint to reduce real estate costs, or building a workplace model more aligned with employee expectations and work patterns – mobility in the workplace is once again a hot button issue, and can have a big impact on your space and workforce.

In general, there are two broad categories of mobility.  External mobility means supporting people working remotely from home, a coworking space, or otherwise on the go.  Internal mobility means supporting office-based staff with a greater mix spaces for individual and collaborative work within the office footprint.  Internal mobility strategies allow organizations to take advantage of the latent vacancy already present in their workplace.  External mobility strategies allow organizations to leverage an increasing array of real estate options that reduce the amount of space required for long term lease.    

While a relatively simple concept, actually implementing a mobility strategy can be anything but. These strategies require careful coordination of space, technology, and protocols, and often face an uphill battling misunderstanding of what a mobile and flexible workplace really is. But when successful, mobility programs can help to reduce the overall real estate footprint, providing significant savings to the organization.

Before you put pen to paper, and roll out a mobility program at your own organization, consider the following four pillars of a mobile workplace:

1.       Align People and Work Mode
The biggest factor in a mobility strategy is understanding the population at hand. What are the key work modes and work styles of your employee base? What kind of individual work or team collaboration takes place throughout the day or week? What spaces in the office (if at all) does your employee base use on a daily basis? How much of your staff works (or can work) remotely, and how much of your staff is required to be in the office for face-to-face work? Ultimately: In what ways can work happen away from the boundaries of the workstation or office?

One clear indication for a mobility-ready team is clearly patterns of peaks and troughs of occupancy. Pockets of consistent vacancy throughout the week will naturally influence the type of mobility strategy you can apply.


2.       Find the Right Scale of Implementation
After considering your people and the culture of work styles, the next step is to consider the scale of who will actually be involved. Most of our clients begin by identifying the group(s) and department(s) that spend most time away from the office. How aggressive should the mobility program be applied? Or does it make sense to pilot with a specific group first?  And if selecting a pilot, what is the work flow relationship between the pilot group and other groups?

An effective planning tool is to identify workstyles. Who is internally mobile, externally mobile, and who are your resident workers? Quick wins begin with groups with the most flexibility. Consider those who can adjust easily when provided the correct adjacencies to the right teams and variety of secondary working points (huddle rooms, conference rooms, touchdown stations, focus/phone booths).  Ultimately: How will mobility enhance or otherwise change everyday work flow?

3.       Build your tech foundations
One of the key infrastructure requirements to have in place prior to rolling out a mobility program is the right technology solution. Organizations on laptops or thin client are halfway there, but other considerations – a robust network for Wi-Fi and VPN, peripherals like docking stations, headsets, and managed print solutions need to be coordinated to ensure functionality on Day 1 of implementation.

For companies considering supporting external mobility through coworking or work-from-home solutions, it is critical to consider the technology that employees are expected to use on a daily basis and ensuring compatibility with company tools.  Coworking space providers increasingly work with enterprise clients to support remote teams and can provide organizations with IT solutions to ensure compatibility and compliance as needed. 

Workplace technology is a series of interdependent critical path dependencies.  Any successful mobility strategy is only as good as the weakest link in that path.  Ultimately: What steps will be taken to ensure that technology enables – rather than hinders – successful mobility? 

4.       Walk the Walk
Gaining consensus and buy-in should start from the top down. The best planned mobility strategy can unravel with poor messaging and misunderstanding. Having senior leadership communicate new initiatives generates excitement and enthusiasm, and it helps to facilitate greater commitment of everyone involved. Leadership should walk the walk, and communicate openly the opportunities and challenges that mobility will bring.

Ultimately:  Who will be your champion(s) for the program? Engage with them first to help craft the roll out and communications surrounding the project.

Implementing a mobility strategy may seem daunting at first, but start by building on the four pillars above.

Coming up in Part II of this post – common pitfalls and roadblocks for the mobile workplace.

Contributors:  JiYoon Yoo, Design Strategist/ Jinghang Huang, Design Strategist/ Mat Triebner, Senior Strategist/Peter Bacevice, Director of Research