'Supermobility' is recasting the workplace

Credit: iStockPhoto

Workers are expecting to work anywhere, anytime and on any device.


It was the fax machine back in the late ‘80s that enabled me to start Producer Report, the insider, music industry “tip-sheet” publication. That fax machine (which replaced the cumbersome photocopier-sized telex in offices) allowed entrepreneurs to work solo and remotely—for the first time.

In my case, not only did I write the copy, but I actually distributed the publication by fax from a remote cabin on the chaparral-studded fringes of Los Angeles. Subscribers eagerly bought in from Paris to Sydney. Any delivery delays were instigated not by mail services, but by mudslides or brushfires.

Fax delivery was eventually superseded by e-mail and web—but the idea was the same.

Physical office on the way out

That device, the fax, was something that reduced entrance-to-market and labor-force requirements for entrepreneurs. The fax introduced the digital nomad. The physical office was on its way out, superseded by technology.


It’s taken close to 25 years for that workplace of the future to gel. But today, customers demand real-time communication with vendors; employees expect constant collaboration with fellow workers and clients—even on the move; and everyone expects access to data and media, at all times, everywhere.

We’re entering the age of “supermobility,” as some futurists, such as author Jack Uldrich call it.

Smartphones and video

“No longer is the physical workplace the center or focus of work,” Uldrich says.

Key drivers will be smartphones and video Uldrich says in a white paper published by Polycom, the office conferencing phone maker. Polycom makes video conferencing equipment too, so you’d expect to hear something like that in its research.

Social networking-style communications should be added to his list, but Uldrich has a point.

“The new center is wherever the worker is located—be it in their home, local coffee shop or out in the field.” The idea of banking and retail, for example, being physical places, is no longer true. We will be applying that concept to all workplaces ultimately.

Uldrich thinks that whole “mindset” needs to be recognized by those in the IT arena. And in fact it will be IT who makes it all work.

Flights and meetings

It’s been “nine years since I have worked in a ‘traditional’ office where each and every employee had a desk and a PC,” says Asia-based Roland Banks writing in Mobile Industry Review. Banks is a writer and software developer.

He says that employees at the small tech companies he’s worked at spend their working day at home online and carry out work between flights and meetings.

Mobile versions of tools

But he also makes the point that even those that don’t do that nomadic kind of working, all the time, still do use mobile versions of business tools and systems.

Increased employee responsiveness, decision-making speed, faster internal issue-resolution, and acting on support issues in an IT ticket system are all easier with smartphones taking on key roles at work.


Technical and creative jobs can easily be conducted online, Banks thinks. However, those workers need the right equipment and access to the Internet.

Developing countries in South East Asia have Internet connections as good as in the West. So, it doesn’t have to be just the U.S. mainland that freelance tech workers choose. A Thai Internet café could work, Banks says in an article he wrote about digital nomads. Co-working community spaces are popular in Asia, too.

Connected intelligence

But dreams of freelancing on Thai beaches aside, billions of connected devices in the future mean massive amounts of data will be generated. All of that data will need to be triaged, and then distributed as “connected intelligence.”

Where IT comes in is in that “the physical boundaries of the workplace are evaporating and employees will expect to work anywhere, anytime and on any device,” Uldrich says.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.