Julie Søgaard

The future of work is mobile

Can you picture yourself only working from a mobile or a tablet? According to recent research that is the future we are heading towards: In 2015 40 % of us will do most of our work from a mobile or tablet. So if you’re not already one of the mobile workers chances are that you will soon become one.

Change happens gradually, but small trends can soon grow to be the predominant way of doing things. And thanks to the rapid development of mobile devices, applications and responsive websites, we can really work from anywhere and at any time.

According to Kevin Spain from Emergence Capital we are about to see a shift:
“I feel like we are on the cusp of a fundamental shift in business software. Once again, the change is about rethinking business applications, but this time it is with a mobile lens”. (May 2013)

So if mobile work is the new black, how should we prepare for it? As mobile phones and tablet devices become more prevalent amongst business users, we need to ensure that our business applications are ready for the transition from the desktop to the touch screen, from a fixed width layout to a responsive layout.

Responsive layout

Responsive websites has been around for a while and can be traced to the now famous article of 2010 “Responsive Web Design,” by web designer Ethan Marcotte. However, most of the discussions about responsive and adaptive web design have been in relation to content-based web sites – and business applications have still not had the responsive treatment.

Responsive design may seem like a fairly simple thing, just resizing the content to fit different screen sizes. But it shouldn’t be limited to just removing horizontal scrollbars and making pictures smaller. Content often needs to be restructured and restyled to fit the constraints of the mobile device.

Content should always be prioritized over navigation and most importantly – you must decide which workflows that are the most important ones for each platform. The prioritization of tasks are likely to differ depending on the device you are working from.

Mobile or not?

So responsive is the new normal, and the fact that you can offer a great user experience no matter on which device is great! But before rushing ahead making your web application fit for mobile devices you have to consider if it makes sense to include the entire app in the mobile version.

Not all work tasks are suited for mobile. For example, if you are dealing with tasks involving lots of typing or managing large data sets, chances are that these things will never be done on a mobile phone.

But with that said, if your business app is even remotely suited for use beyond the desktop it is probably money well spent. Over the next couple of years we will see a tremendous increase of mobile devices used for work situations and tasks that was before done back at the office can now be carried out “on the fly”.

A few examples of sectors that can take huge advantage of this are:

  • Healthcare, for example nurses and doctors walking from patient to patient
  • Education, for example including mobile devices in classrooms and field excursions
  • Retail, for example in sales and demo situations
  • Warehouse, helping employees pick and handle goods

Mobile work is especially great for smaller tasks with simple workflows such as updating statuses, reviewing and approving, entering short pieces of information etc. Your mobile device also supports location-based actions, which for many work areas can change the work processes entirely.

Who’s doing it?

Many companies out there are already supporting mobile work and some of them are doing it really good.

I like the following companies:

  • Podio, an online work platform for collaboration and project management, is a great example of optimal use of the mobile platform
  • Shoeboxed, another example, is widely recognized for its intuitive UI
  • MailChimp and Freckle provide the users with a really fresh and friendly interface with the content neatly prioritized
  • I also like applications like Cartavi, a networking tool exclusively for physicians and health care professionals

Common for these apps is that they do not only fullfill a need – they also provide the users with a great mobile experience.

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