EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

ICT-based mobile work

Definition

ICT-based mobile work refers to work arrangements carried out at least partly and on a regular or occasional basis outside a person’s ‘main office’, be that the employer’s premises or a customised home office, using information and communication technologies (ICT). Work thus takes place wherever and at any time it suits the work activities, task, business schedule and lifestyle of the worker, not necessarily at a specific place but also ‘on the road’. Consequently, ICT-based mobile work takes place in ever-changing situations, but with a need to collaborate with other workers or clients, hence the requirement to be connected to shared resources to achieve a joint goal.

The term is defined by research published by Eurofound in 2015 on new forms of employment.

Background and status

Types of ICT-based mobile work

ICT-based mobile work could be understood as an expansion of the more traditional home-based telework, linked to the development of mobile technology, internet capacity and software that facilitates sharing and storing information. Therefore, 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. They can be either employees or self-employed.

A joint research report by Eurofound and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2017 defines three types of mobile work based on the frequency of working in this arrangement and type of location (home, office or other location), all of them involving the regular use of ICT.

High ICT-based mobile work: This arrangement involves frequent changes of location and multiple locations. Occupations such as journalists, multi-site managers, regional-global sales people and service engineers frequently work under this arrangement.

Occasional ICT-based mobile work: This arrangement has less frequent changes of location. Normally, workers are in this arrangement on an ad hoc basis when they need to accomplish specific tasks beyond normal working hours or when travelling for work. Occupations such as clerks, professionals and researchers can work under this arrangement.

Regular home-based telework: This arrangement involves working from home only or in combination with working at the office. It caters for a variety of occupations, including teachers and clerks, and especially for tasks not requiring face-to-face interaction.

Requirements of mobile work

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. Sometimes, workers also need to be able to access company communications systems and exchange work-relevant information wherever they are and at any time. This might require 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.

Pay and working conditions

The increased autonomy that workers gain from ICT-based mobile working might reduce 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 a worker’s privacy.

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

Work organisation and innovation

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.

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