EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

ICT-based mobile work

ICT-based mobile work is work carried out at least partly and on a regular basis outside a person’s ‘main office’, whether the latter is the employer’s premises or a customised home office, using ICT to access the company's shared computer systems. The term is defined by research published by Eurofound in 2015 on New forms of employment.

This type of work takes place when convenient for the task, business schedule and lifestyle of the worker. It features ever-changing situations, although the need to collaborate with other workers or clients requires a connection to shared resources to achieve a joint goal.

For most employees, mobile work could be considered a variation of telework, where workers carry out their job from a fixed location outside the employer’s premises. The difference is that ICT-based mobile workers work in a range of locations and specifically use ICT to connect to shared company computer systems. They can be either employees or self-employed.

A research report commissioned by the European Commission on The Future Workspace: Perspectives on Mobile and collaborative working (4.1 MB PDF) defines four types of mobile work:

  • full mobility, with frequent changes of location and multiple locations, involving a variety of shiftwork patterns and a combination of individual and team workplaces (occupations such as journalists, multi-site managers, regional-global sales people and service engineers);
  • site mobility, with frequent changes of location but in geographically limited areas, such as hospitals, schools, offices and campuses (typical occupations include researchers and construction site workers);
  • multi-location workplaces, involving a number of fixed-work locations, changing infrequently but with ad-hoc mobility (field engineer);
  • networked workplaces, with limited physical mobility but with the ability to work at many different locations; (workers involved in 24-hour software development and complex design and engineering tasks).

The research found that such work is generally conducted on the basis of standard work contracts, in most cases related to full-time positions of indefinite duration.

ICT-based mobile work is not suitable for all jobs. It must be possible to perform the necessary tasks away from an employer’s premises or any other fixed workplace. Workers also need to be able to access company communications systems and exchange work-relevant information wherever they are and at any time. This requires some kind of cloud computing system for data storage with virtual access from mobile devices and the related infrastructure, as well as agreed procedures for communication and information exchange. The work culture also needs to foster a sufficient level of trust in staff by the employer so that they can delegate responsibilities and accept a certain loss of managerial control. Workers, in turn, must be able and willing to organise and manage their work.

The increased autonomy that workers gain from ICT-based mobile working reduces the employer’s control over employees. This can lead to companies either paying their staff based on results rather than working hours, or introducing monitoring systems that monitor whether a worker is logged on to the company network and how long they work on each task. Both can be disadvantageous for workers if their wage level, work intensity and stress levels are affected. Much can depend on a worker’s ability to organise their work efficiently. Full transparency of each and every activity might also interfere with the workers’ privacy.

ICT-based mobile work is largely employee-driven. Workers’ motivation to engage in it is often bound up with a desire to commute less and so save time that could be used for different activities. If they organise their workflow and fulfilment of tasks well, ICT-based mobile work can improve work–life balance.

Employers use ICT-based mobile work to increase flexibility in work organisation and introduce innovative work practices, hoping to achieve efficiency and productivity gains through the best use of time. As ICT-based mobile work becomes more common for specialists, knowledge workers and management, it may help employers to attract skilled labour. Costs can also be cut by reducing office space.

See also: Adaptability; Crowd employment; New forms of employmentQuality of workTeleworkWork-life balance.


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