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How to make mobile workforce management work

A mobile workforce is an increasing reality for companies. But employers need to enlist mobile workforce management strategies to keep employees engaged and productive. 

A mobile workforce is an increasing reality for companies.

Employees see mobile work capabilities as a benefit, and companies often see it as a cost-savings opportunity as well as an attraction for new talent. So it seems like mobility in the workplace should be a win-win.

Companies that support a mobile workforce enable employees to work at any time from anywhere and on any device. This means they support workers’ ability to work outside the office technologically but also by sponsoring a culture of remote work, with employees being valued for their contributions.

According to a Deloitte report, employers recognize the importance of workforce mobility to competitiveness: 68% of respondents say that a mobile workforce enables business strategies. At the same time, though, more than half companies lack mobile workforce management policies to truly support productive remote workers.

The benefits of a mobile workforce

Let’s start by looking at the advantages, which are compelling indeed:

Employees who work from home don’t need to commute. With the average round-trip commute time in the U.S. taking 52 minutes a day, and the average person’s waking hours being 15.5 hours a day, this means 5.5% of a person’s useful time is given back.

In addition, remote workers can manage their time and balance personal responsibilities.. In some jurisdictions, they may be able to write off some of their property costs as business expense and therefore reduce taxes.

Mobile workers also claim productivity gains; for example, there may be less idle chatter compared with a traditional office environment. In addition, mobile workers may often feel compelled to extend work hours because they are remote and want to show commitment.

From the company’s perspective, the most obvious benefit is office space reduction, which can lower costs including office rent, utilities, furniture, maintenance, and office infrastructure (such as phones), etc. Real estate is one of the main contributors of a typical company’s overhead cost, second only to payroll.

Companies that promote employee mobility can draw from talent outside their geographical proximity. Workforce mobility extends the talent pool to a global market. It also potentially means access to lower labor costs.

Mobile workforces also help companies mitigate business continuity risks, by reducing the impact of business disruption caused by transportation issues, power outages, disease outbreak, natural disasters, or weather and traffic events.

The pitfalls of a mobile workforce

But there are downsides to consider with mobile workforces.

Any sizable team is made of high performers, low performers, and people in between. In fact, according to an entrepreneur.com article, 20% of nearly any employee group are strong performers, 60% are average performers, and 20% are weak performers. High performers will always get their work done regardless of the amount of supervision and coaching, no matter where they are. Managers need only recognize and reward them, which can be easily done remotely. Low performers, on the other hand, need more supervision. In fact, low performers will constantly find excuses to justify their shortcomings, and that gets worse when managers are not around to collect the facts and confront these employees with them. It possibly impacts the morale of the 60% average group as well, according to the article.

Another possible drawback is that a mobile workforce can miss team collaboration signals. Nonverbal cues are more difficult to perceive in remote work situations. Without these cues, making decisions can take longer and be more convoluted. Customer satisfaction could be a victim of poor teamwork as well, since customer issues – especially the more complex ones - require company siloes to work together.

Finally, consider that the Internet enables a mobile workforce. Security concerns come embedded with the Internet. Companies with remote workers expose internal, and possibly even proprietary information over the Internet, which makes it vulnerable. Companies have to invest heavily in authentication tools to prevent security breaches for collaboration tools, such as file-sharing systems, videoconferencing tools and more.

Key mobile workforce management strategies

Despite the pitfalls of remote work there are some guidelines to making it successful. Here are a few important guidelines in establishing and managing a mobile workforce:

  1. Make collaboration tools seamless. Collaboration tools can eliminate the hurdles of distance. But they need to be seamless, secure, well integrated into other business processes and easy to use.
  2. Incorporate self-management and reporting tools. Remote work is most productive when it’s underpinned by goals. Technology can help here as well, with platforms that encourage employees to articulate their specific goals for the week and help them report on success.
  3. Encourage conscious communication. Remote workers often report being left out of key ideas in conference calls and being marginalized in projects. Managers and colleagues need to include remote workers actively in large discussions and encourage regular communication between colleagues. For remote employees, that also means turning on one’s camera during videoconferences and being readily available on chat and other communication channels so they can collaborate when necessary.
  4. Make work mission driven. Companies with successful remote workforces can articulate their overarching mission and often find tools to connect workers’ daily routines to company objectives.

Conclusion

Worker mobility is here to stay, and it has strong advantages for employees and employers alike, but it doesn’t work in every case. If not properly applied, it could have negative impact on productivity. It works best for self-disciplined, high performing employees. Key performance indicators, and deliverables, must be clear and measurable. To improve chances of success with worker mobility, managers must develop new ways to monitor and coach staff remotely. Companies need to invest in teamwork of virtual teams. And security and privacy issues need to be properly addressed for those accessing workplace mobility tools. As collaboration tools like videoconferencing become higher-quality and more fully featured, they can help with the communication of nonverbal cues and improve teamwork effectiveness and meeting productivity.

While technology can help, the key to making worker mobility work well is to establish strong management practices and to recruit people with strong work ethics.

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Celso Mello

Celso Mello is the chief information officer at Toronto-based Reliance Home Comfort, a leading home services provider in North America, with more than 1.8 million customers.