Mobile economic time can increase productivity. Enabling us to act at times and locations that were previously inaccessible. The biggest challenge: a hierarchy that requires permission to act

Note: This post was originally published direct to LinkedIn.

30 days per year.

That’s how many extra work days CA Technologies believes are being created as a result of people using mobile devices for work activities at times and in locations where traditional laptops and desktop computers are inconvenient, inaccessible or unlikely to be used.


Somebody with a mobile device has more availability and fewer disconnected periods during a typical working day. But the important difference is in the type of availability. Having an Internet-connected mobile device makes it easier for somebody to be alerted and able to react to unplanned events. In a world that has become increasingly unpredictable, being able to adapt in real-time can lead to significant productivity gains.

For example, you do see people using laptops on the train. But in most cases they are completing scheduled tasks. Or rather, completing tasks that they are behind schedule on. Such as finishing a report to meet a deadline, responding to an email because they ran out of time at the office. The most likely (and only) form of notification will be spotting a new email or diary reminder. And that only happens if they are already working. You don’t power up your laptop on the journey home just in case you might miss something…

Mobile devices have been designed from the start to interrupt you. And thanks to the rise in virtual assistant software and notification centres, those interruptions are becoming richer and more relevant. That’s the mobile economic time being created. The ability to react and adapt to emerging and unplanned situations. It could be for the benefit of the individual: a delay in the journey that means they should get off at the next stop and take an alternative route that will save them time. It can be for the benefit of the organisation if it means being able to decide and act on a business-related matter in real-time instead of having to wait.

But this new world of work faces a problem: permission.

You can’t speed up decisions if you always need permission to act.

The rise of mobile devices entering the workplace is leading to a flattening of hierarchies, as the traditional command-and-control structure makes way for learning organisations.


In the image above, on the left is the traditional decision hierarchy. Communications pass up and down the chain. Of course, in practice, sometimes people will bypass the hierarchy. But that often comes with consequences. There may be legal barriers preventing direct communications. Often there are political reasons. Undermining somebody more senior in the organisation can be a career-limiting move. If the quality of the decision is correlated with the speed to make that decision, hierarchies become ineffective and reduce productivity.

There is often talk of networks replacing hierarchies. But throughout history we have cycled between the flatness of a network and the structure of a hierarchy. As hierarchies grow they become increasingly bureaucratic and eventually collapse under their own weight. Networks start off flat and nimble, but as membership grows they either become chaotic or hierarchies begin to form. And so the cycle begins again…

Somewhere between the two is the ‘Learning Organisation’. There is still a clear hierarchy – somebody has to lead and make the difficult decisions and compromises. But instead of having a decision-hierarchy, knowledge about the organisation’s vision, purpose and values is regularly distributed. Done well, it means senior roles should be able to trust people to know when they should ‘just do it’ and when to refer a situation for advice from further up the chain of command. And it requires an increased tolerance of failure.

Individuals who are highly networked and mobile with virtual assistance are becoming ‘amplified’. They have access to more knowledge and resources outside the organisation than within it. The smarter organisations will embrace them.


The ’30 days’ quote was given at Ovum Analyst’s Industry Congress held in London in May 2013. No sources provided to verify the number.

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Flickr-MobileOnTrainFeatured image ‘Relaxing on the train’ kindly shared on Flickr by Christopher Porter

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