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Issue Date: October 2007

Mismanagement can damage productivity, performance and well-being

October 2007

New study identifies psychological profile and communications resources required for a successful mobile workforce.

According to a new study commissioned by Cisco, South African businesses are in danger of missing out on the benefits offered by mobile workers through the recruitment of inappropriate personalities, poor management and failure to provide adequate communications resources.
Mismanagement in particular can have serious implications on the success of a mobile worker – with under and over communication both having a negative impact. A lack of regular communication can lead to increased levels of stress and feelings of isolation, whereas micromanagement can undermine trust. This is important considering mobile workers will account for one quarter of the world’s working population by 2009, according to IDC.
The Cisco study, ‘Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce’, carried out by occupational psychology specialists at Pearn Kandola, examines the business and interpersonal challenges of mobile workers across five regions. The study reveals the dominant personality characteristics of effective mobile workers, examines cultural influences on mobile working and highlights management best practices, addressing the specific challenges that mobile workers face.
“As the mobile working phenomenon continues to grow, organisations must ensure that they have suitable leadership in place to manage teams of mobile workers,” commented Stuart Duff, occupational psychologist at Pearn Kandola and author of the report. “Managers must not fall into the trap of treating mobile workers in the same way as office-based employees. They need to be effective communicators and relationship builders with an adaptive management style that they can tailor to the personalities within their team. Organisations must also ensure that the right tools and resources are made available to mobile workers, ­giving them the same connectivity as office-based workers.”
Workers that flourish and succeed within mobile roles are typically self-motivated, resilient, extrovert and independent, so when recruiting, organisations must rigorously test for these attributes. There are several personality profiles that could be successful in a mobile working environment. These are as follows:
* Stimulation seeker – extroverted, motivated by contact with people.
*  Tough survivors – emotionally stable, low levels of neuroticism, resilient under pressure.
* Curious explorers – creative, open to new ideas, enjoys variety of experience.
* Independent decision-makers – maintain independent mindset, appreciates being trusted to work without supervision.
* Disciplined achievers – conscientious and self-motivated.
According to the report, a successful manager needs to trust their mobile teams and enable them to manage their own workload, and emphasise deliverables rather than activities. Managers must also play their part in establishing a mobile work ethic within their organisation and regular communication with mobile workers is vital. To this end, it is imperative that managers give mobile workers the same access to communications resources as office-based workers. To avoid isolation and demotivation, managers need to promote visibility of mobile workers within the organisation. Providing forums for social interaction between colleagues is also important. For example, instant messaging and presence tools are a good way of building a mobile workers’ sense of inclusion, and video facilities can reduce feelings of separation by giving them visibility and access to team workers who are working remotely.
Geographically, the report addresses five regions, which include Western Europe, Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States; Central and Eastern Europe; Middle East and Africa; and Latin America and the Caribbean.
In South Africa, where skills are in short supply and issues such as traffic congestion adversely affect productivity, there is ample opportunity for mobility to provide options for workers to maintain productivity and for companies to provide arrangements which support employee satisfaction, said Raymond Janse van Rensburg, senior systems engineer manager at Cisco Systems South Africa. “Certainly the technologies to enable secure mobile access to the Internet and enterprise applications are readily available, particularly in urban centres where traffic congestion is becoming a major problem,” he said.
“Mobility can give people the opportunity to achieve a better work-life balance, be it the mother who needs time for her children, or people with sporting or other interests. However, the real issue is one of the suitability of the individual to responsibly handle the extra freedom,” said Janse van Rensburg.
With connectivity, devices and integration largely fait accompli in this country, the only question marks that remain are cultural. “Some employers are not comfortable with the concept of mobile workers with unusual or limited time in the physical office; similarly, some workers may not be suited to working from home or from a coffee shop, preferring a more structured and supervised environment,” he said.
“This study highlights the need for businesses to address a number of issues in order to make their mobile workforce as productive as possible,” Janse van Rensburg, added. “Making sure mobile workers are suitably equipped with appropriate communications technology is just one of these issues. In addition to this, organisations must also focus on developing skilled managers, select the right candidates and provide the right resources and support to create a successful mobile workforce.”
The study into ‘Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce’ can be downloaded from the News@Cisco website, http://newsroom.cisco.com


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