According to research firm IDC, the number of mobile workers worldwide is expected to reach 1.3 billion (37.2 percent of the global workforce) by 2015, with more than 153 million of those mobile workers in the United States and Canada.
While many organizations now allow employees to use their own mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) at or for work (BYOD), getting workers to regularly communicate and collaborate, with each other as well as the office, via their smartphones or tablets still poses a challenge.
So what can you do to make mobile computing attractive and easy for employees and foster mobile collaboration? CIO.com asked dozens of mobile computing and work collaboration experts to find out. Below are their top eight tips for improving mobile collaboration.
Ensure cross-device/platform compatibility. "Make it easy for employees to collaborate and share files on any device -- PC, Mac, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, etc.," says Ryan Kalember, chief product officer at WatchDox, the provider of enterprise file sharing and mobile content management solutions. "If employees aren't able to access, work with and collaborate on a document with their preferred device, mobility falls short. Having to convert file types or use multiple apps to edit or annotate a document disrupts workflows and decreases productivity."
"Make sure your office workers and mobile workers have compatible software," says Peter Poulin, vice president of Marketing, Motion Computing, a provider of integrated mobile technologies. "Mobile workers and office workers need to share reports, customer files, invoices and work orders across devices. In an age of BYOD, one can't assume all devices will support the same software."
Embrace video conferencing and video chat. "The cost of video conferencing has come down significantly," says Kenneth Leung, director of Enterprise Marketing, Avaya, a provider of business communication solutions. "In fact, users can download a video conferencing client or app on virtually any device, smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC/MAC, and with a single click simply enter the video conference from where they sit," he says. "No need to go to a special room or have special equipment."
And if your budget doesn't allow for an enterprise video conferencing product or service, "[hold] meetings on Google Hangouts, which allows many people to conference at once and will switch to highlight whoever is talking at the moment," says Kiki Schirr, Marketing Director at Fittr, the developer of mobile workout and fitness tracking apps.
Host a virtual meeting room (or rooms). "Collaboration often happens unexpectedly, which is why collaboration from a mobile device is beneficial," says Rocky Mitarai, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Connect, Adobe's mobile and web-conferencing solution.
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"To ensure immediate mobile collaboration, companies should deploy a mobile web-conferencing solution that offers a persistent virtual meeting room with a unique URL that is available 24/7," Mitarai says. "Having a readily available virtual meeting room eliminates the time necessary to create a room and makes it easier for meeting participants to join, knowing they don't have to keep track of constantly changing meeting room URLs."
Implement a cloud-based project management tool. "Using a centralized online workspace to track everything from deadlines and deliverables to budgets is the most efficient way to keep team members in the loop," says Brent Frei, executive chairman and cofounder, Smartsheet, an online project management solution. Just "make sure the tool has a mobile app so it's accessible anywhere -- from desktops, tablets or [smartphones]. This allows on-the-move employees to stay up to date on project details."
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"Basecamp [a popular project management app] makes long-distance collaboration (and note-sharing) easy," says Fittr's Schirr. "It's five dollars per month per user right now, and that has been worth it, even for our boot-strapping company. If you cannot afford that, use Google Docs. It's a surprisingly capable program."
Deploy a group chat solution (as opposed to individual instant messaging). "A few years ago we started using Campfire for almost all of our instant message communication," says Avin Kline, cofounder & CEO, Web Success Agency, a web design and marketing firm. "Campfire allows you to setup 'rooms,' which we use for different departments. We also have a 'Water Cooler' room where we talk about anything from weekend plans to what we're listening to right now. We all feel connected."
Integrate mobile phones into your phone system. "The ability to use any phone and have it function exactly like the one in your office is crucial," says Brian Crotty, COO, Broadview Networks, the provider of a VoIP business phone system.
"Your mobile phone system should be the same as your normal phone system -- with the same phone number and seamless access to important contact information," Crotty says. "Mobile twinning allows you to have calls seamlessly routed to employees' mobile phones, and mobile softphone apps give team members the ability to make calls from their iOS or Android device as if they were in an office, using the same business phone number and calling features."
Train your people on your mobile collaboration tools and mobile best practices. "Not everyone is well-versed in effective mobile collaboration," says Aliza Sherman, digital marketing strategist, Mediaegg. So before officially rolling out any mobile collaboration tools, "set up step-by-step processes, establish guidelines and provide proper training so that everyone on your team understands how to communicate through digital and mobile tools," she says. Also, understand "that not everyone is up to the challenge of virtual communications."
Similarly, go over mobile device best practices. "Working off mobile devices creates concerns of battery life, connectivity and information security," says Michael DeFranco, founder & CEO, Lua, a mobile workforce communication app. "Having employees understand the best way to mitigate these concerns greatly increases their productivity," he says. "Ways to optimize battery performance include turning off location services, [using Wi-Fi whenever possible] and reducing display brightness."
Instruct employees on proper mobile etiquette. "A single noisy user disrupts everyone else on the conference call," says Chris Thompson, vice president, enterprise product marketing, at wireless headset provider Plantronics.
To remedy that problem, mobile workers should "have a good headset. Sit somewhere quiet. And learn how to use their mute button," Thompson says. Another no-no: typing on a keyboard while on speakerphone. To alleviate that problem, "keep keystrokes to a minimum or make sure you are wearing a good headset."
Have another suggestion regarding how to improve mobile collaboration? Please leave a comment.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a technology writer and a regular contributor to CIO.com. She also runs a marketing communications firm.