Despite the latest mobile offerings, the traditional office cannot die out just yet

There’s a clear change among the workforce of today. From the introduction of flexible working hours to products which enable employees to do their jobs on their smartphones, the traditional office is becoming less and less relevant.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, boasted during the Salesforce1 World Tour that he could run his entire business on his phone, from the basics such as calendar integration and sending emails to printing attachments and gathering signatures.

Other vendors are joining the dots together. Last week Good Technology released its Mobile Workflow Builder tool, which groups together apps to take employees through tasks – or workflows – step by step. Irish mobile backend bods FeedHenry also unleashed its product to help field workers complete jobs through bespoke apps.

The partnership between IBM and Apple announced last week, where IBM’s software will be shipped in with Apple’s hardware – and yes, you did read that right – was seen by the analysts and hacks as a win-win situation, but it also cast sombre thoughts on BlackBerry.

Marc Benioff boasted during the Salesforce1 World Tour that he could run his entire business from his phone

With BYOD not so much a trend as a de facto part of the enterprise, BB continues to be seen as yesterday’s man, a phone which is given to you by your employer, not necessarily one you wish to use. The Apple/IBM deal served to put another nail into that particular coffin.

Windows Phone has a better reputation, but practical use cases don’t back that up. For instance a large part of a conversation I had earlier this week with an executive was spent discussing his new employer-given Windows Phone. It was a good phone, very functional, decent UX, he said, but what severely let it down were the apps, his thoughts on which can’t really be printed here.

This was an interesting point. As a bog standard enterprise phone for email, browser and calendar, it struck a chord as being fantastic. For users who want to combine their work life with their home life, it missed the mark. Does this sound familiar to anyone who owns a work BlackBerry?

Galen Gruman, writing for InfoWorld, penned a scathing piece on BlackBerry earlier this week. “When you’re desperate, you sometimes do stupid things,” he wrote. “That’s what’s happening at BlackBerry, the struggling smartphone maker now lashing out as a world it doesn’t like while continuing to play at product designs that make no sense.”

Owch. It’s not just mobile where companies are disrupting the status quo, either. Desktop as a service provider NaviSite has announced it is powering PMGC’s SmartDesk virtual working environment. PMGC is looking at the ‘weightless office’, a fully managed, cloud-based desktop infrastructure which aims to work just as well both in and out of the office.

I can see the raised eyebrows now and the ‘heard it all before’ shtick, but we’ve got to give things a chance. What’s interesting about this deal is that PMGC is not just targeting the enterprise market but smaller and mid-sized organisations – “levelling the playing field for businesses here in the UK”, in the words of NaviSite Europe managing director Sean McAvan.

This is all well and good, but the question remains: will this make the office obsolete?

The answer here is: not completely.

Good Technology CTO Nicko van Someren, speaking to Enterprise AppsTech about the mobile workflow product, estimated that by being able to “join together those last pieces of the workflow”, workers, hypothetically, could go from 90% mobile to 98% mobile. It would still mean a trip to the office, but for one afternoon a month, rather than once a week. It massively improves productivity, he correctly noted – but it doesn’t eliminate the office completely.

The idea of a hot desk system isn’t new either, with employees grabbing the nearest communal machine they can find, firing up an external client, doing their hour’s work then flitting away. Some tasks, such as accountancy, would be admittedly more difficult on a mobile device.

It's worth noting that not every employer is keen on a telecommuting workforce

It’s worth noting as well that not every employer is too keen on the idea, for a variety of reasons. If the CEO is concerned employees won’t be pulling their weight if they’re away from the office, then these figures might suggest otherwise: according to Inc. Magazine, 53% of telecommuters work more than 40 hours a week, compared to 28% of non-telecommuters.

Being glued to your office can be an inconvenience at times, especially for those who are parents. With the school holidays just around the corner, doing a day or two at home can be the proverbial lifesaver. It depends on your employer, of course, but as Trevor Connell, an executive at enterprise comms provider Unify, and a father, put it, it’s not a question of a work-life balance but “work-life integration.”

Yet in some cases it could just be a gut feeling. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer famously nixed the company’s work from home policy last year, since arguing that workers are “more collaborative and innovative” when they’re together.

This element of needing social interaction is an interesting one. Only this week was the ‘coffice’ – cafe and office – examined; pioneered in Australia, a sanctuary for those who work alone to avoid going stir crazy.

Then again, if everyone is working mobile and to their own time schedule, you might only get fleeting interaction in your office anyway.

Where do you see the future for the traditional office? Does your company offer telecommuting?

Read more: Home and mobile working: Should CEOs give their workforce more freedom? in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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