The whole concept of “Enterprise Mobility” is misunderstood.

But at least this guy gets it.

If you go to Rabbi Google and ask “ what is enterprise mobility?” you wind up with a definition like this:

Enterprise mobility is the trend toward a shift in work habits, with more employees working out of the office and using mobile devices and cloud services to perform business tasks.

Ok, definition seems fine.

The problem is that virtually all enterprise mobility services on the market have focused exclusively on the “mobile devices and cloud services,” and not at all on the “employees working out of the office.”

This industry report forecasts that “mobility investments” will exceed 100 billion dollars by 2020 (!) and “predicts that mobility revenues would come from primarily consumer and enterprise purchases of hardware such as smartphones, portable PCs and tablets, as well as services such as connectivity.”

So basically, “enterprise mobility” is just going to mean forcing your employees to use a Blackberry or whatever, and maybe connecting all those unhappy Blackberry users to a private cloud server so that, I don’t know, so that when they eventually get hacked at least it’s like a bespoke hack tailored just for you (and all the other enterprises using similar private servers).

But hold on, what happened to the whole “employees working out of the office” thing? How’s that going to work? I understand that smartphones and tablets and servers will play an infrastructural role in supporting that shift, but is anybody talking about what the future of teamwork and productivity and organizational culture looks like when talent is no longer stationary in the office? When your human resources become -ahem- mobile?

This guy is talking about it. Greg Caplan, founder and CEO of Remote Year, makes a great case for re-thinking enterprise mobility in terms of people, not devices. The company — which just raised a Series A with investors including the co-founders of AirBnb and WeWork Labs — helps organizations to attract, develop, and retain talent by sending employees on curated year-long working sabbaticals in which they spend 12 months in 12 cities around the world.

We believe when people have this global experience, they open their mind to different peoples and cultures and perspectives, and if you add up many people having that experience, you have a more globally connected world, and therefore a better world.
…obviously the way to do that is to, we believe, work with corporations, large and small, to evolve their thinking about how to think about their work force, and where they are specifically.
…over and over again [these companies] are spending lots of resources focused on the four main key things. One is leadership. Two is comfort with change and decision-making. Three is global understanding. And four is innovation and entrepreneurship. Although they’re spending tons of money on this on their top talent in all different ways, grad school, executive programs, things like that, Remote Year promotes all those things, and for [the companies], in most cases, is no cost. It’s just a permission-based thing because the employees actually pay for the experience.

In the future, of course, the companies will pay for the employees to have that experience; it will come out of training and professional development budgets or benefits budgets or whatever. And in return Remote Work will provide the curation and structure to make sure that those employees are actually being productive (instead of just goofing off at the beach) and probably offer guidance to corporate managers on how to manage workers without breathing down their necks. And employees will be happier and more creative (with or without their Blackberrys), and the companies will attract and retain better talent, and everyone will be a winner.

Even refugees.

In Belgrade and Serbia there’s obviously lots of refugees, and a big refugee camp not too far from where [Remote Year participants] live and work. Every group that comes through there has been volunteering their time, money, resources, to help out and chip in for the people, obviously, who were displaced for very different reasons. We’re moving as a privilege, and [they’re] moving as a necessity, but we’re both moving, and we have a lot of thought and care for those people.

This is important. The recent U.S. election has me thinking a lot about whether “lifestyle mobility” is just a new code word for “class privilege”, and a little worried about blowback from large swaths of the population that feel stuck where they are. Sure, transcending the limits of local geography sounds great, but we need to make sure we’re not leaving behind camps of the dispossessed in our wake, whether refugees, migrant workers, or simply the rural unemployed.

The goal is to transcend the local, not get disconnected from it.

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