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Facilities for work 

This is the sixth of our series of articles aimed at facility managers, architects, designers and others responsible for providing buildings, interiors and other facilities for work.

Here we consider the mobile office.  Although strictly away from the control of the facilities manager, dealing with the issues of health and safety, security and insurance will be of concern.

 

 

 

 

The mobile office

Overview:

A portable computer and mobile phone enable mobile staff to be more productive, spending more time with customers, clients or suppliers and proportionally less time in the office. In fact many people, even those in conventionally non-mobile roles, are recognising the benefits of true location-independence.

As technology improves, especially with the forthcoming broadband wireless networks, many more staff will want to work in this way.

In fact many of these people will start to work more from home. In companies where this way of working is already popular - for example professional sales teams in the IT industry - e-mail processing, web-based customer research and proposal writing is undertaken at home. This often happens in the evenings, with customers visited during the day and occasional trips made to the office or another venue for team meetings.

For these people, most of the home-working considerations in the previous section apply. Additional facilities issues around mobile working are outlined in the next sections.

Work locations:

As well as the office and at home, fully mobile staff may work at the following locations:

  • In a car, train or plane

  • At a railway station, airport, roadside café, hotel lobby

  • At a third-party business centre

  • At a customer or other third-party's site

For the facilities manager, the first two of these locations imply a minimal office, consisting basically of the technology and whatever facilities happen to be available. There are of course health and safety implications in ad hoc "working anywhere".

For the second two locations, there is considerable scope for specification of preferred facilities, which would be formally defined in contracts and service level agreements.

Health and safety:

There are several risks faced by mobile workers that do not exist in the office or the home. Apart from those faced generally by mobile workers - for example road traffic accidents and crime - facilities managers need to take account of:

  • Working whilst driving: some employers insist mobile phones be turned off whilst driving, others provide hands-free kits.

  • Theft of equipment: laptop computers are a particular target, especially in the street and at railway stations; carrying computers in normal briefcases or bags reduces the risk.

  • Health and safety implementation at third party locations

  • Additional risks from injury through poor posture and working in non-optimal lighting conditions when working on the move.

Insurance:

As with home working, the main issue is to be aware of the risks and ensure they are adequately covered: theft, personal injury, third-party liability. Most policies exclude the theft of equipment from cars unless securely locked in the boot.

Confidentiality and security:

The home working issues addressed in the previous section are compounded for mobile staff, who often work overlooked in public places or incur greater risks of equipment theft.

In spite of the obvious risks, it is surprising how many mobile phone calls are overheard on public transport and how many documents can be read from screens. Once again the solution is a combination of procedures and training.

One of the greatest obstacles to the use of third party facilities has been employers' fears about security. Many demand exclusive use of workstations and storage that can not only be locked but also be stowed securely away.

Such fears may be justified or exaggerated: it is necessary to make an assessment according to the merits of the work involved, the sensitivity of the information accessed or processed by staff at third party locations, and the relationship between the employer and the third party organisation.

Next article: Conclusion - a strategic approach

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