If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, an intellectual journey should begin with a definition The Wikipedia has no entry for a "mobile worker" or a "mobile workforce". If that is not odd enough, that other great pillar of internet research, Google, is equally baffled. Not that a definition is unnecessary. This is contested territory as even a superficial reading of the subject will rapidly reveal.

, chief operating officer at Itec Enterprise Solutions, says anyone not tethered to a desk is a mobile worker. Magix Integration director qualifies that to say that "once you have a cellphone or laptop we define you as mobile" and Mitel SA managing director adds that there is a distinction between a mobile and a remote worker.

Remote workers are arguably those employed at static locations away from the company`s primary address, be it a branch or home office. A mobile worker, by contrast has no fixed abode.

The mobile employee goes where the work is, either in the workplace or in the field. It is debatable whether the former are true mobile workers, but they certainly include warehouse staff that needs to be mobile in the stores environment while having seamless access to the back office.

Field agents, including the modern sales force, service staff and delivery crews are indisputably part of the mobile workforce. Long tethered to the office by paper-based systems and primitive communications, the technology is now available that allows them continuous access to company applications wherever they are, whether it be on the road, at a client site or in a hotel lobby.

There is a second species of mobile worker, who has by definition always worked off-site, for whom the ICT revolution has made a material difference: tradesmen such as plumbers and, more recently, independent professionals and consultants.

In a service-orientated knowledge economy more and more workers can be unchained from their desks. Some can - and should work - from home at least part-time and others should have little need to ever visit the office. Indeed, they need not even have assigned desks or workspaces, using hot desks and meeting rooms instead.

The advantages are many, firstly to the bottom line. Higher productivity means more income, which Bull notes remain the main priority of any business. Greater efficiency, he adds, translates into a business discriminator that allows companies to better retain - if not gain - business. The second preoccupation of any business - cutting costs - is met inter alia by moving to paperless solutions; smaller offices that incidentally save on rent, air conditioning and power consumption; and eliminating costly equipment duplication by, for example, phasing out desktops and integrating mobile phones into the company PBX network. This has the further benefit of reducing the company`s direct and indirect environmental footprint.

Tags: Mobile  Workforce