By 2022, it’s estimated the global mobile workforce will hit 1.87 billion people or 42.5 per cent of the world’s workers. The Asia Pacific region alone already has 877 million people working remotely. Over the last two decades, working remotely has moved from simply some of your people working from home to team members working on opposite sides of the globe. The mobile workforce is the main driver behind a shift in what workers consider their primary work device. As mobility increases, so does the need for portable devices and tablets. One report estimates by 2020, more than 75 million wearables will be in the workplace.
The benefits of a mobile workforce range from lowering overhead cost to increase employee satisfaction. Many companies boast an increase in productivity and revenue. When employees can work anywhere, they can get more done. However, some companies have reported challenges with productivity when employees don’t work in the same physical location. IBM made headlines last year when it gave thousands of remote employees the ultimatum to either come back to the office or find a new job. IBM justified their action by pointing to 20 consecutive quarters of declining revenue. They believed the decrease in productivity was due to employees not physically being together. Other U.S. companies have followed suit, such as Yahoo and Bank of America.
Why are they reining in their mobile workforce just at a time when millennials value work/life balance and mobile technology is at its peak? “I think these companies are really struggling to compete at an innovation level with smaller-stage organisations,” stated a U.S. HR executive in an NBS News interview. “They’re thinking of every single possible way to reunite people to drive better innovations.” In short, individual productivity might be on the rise, but companies feel collaborative productivity may be taking a hit when employees are not physically together. Is there a way to have the best of both worlds, a highly productive workforce that can work from anywhere, and at the same time maintain the team’s collaborative momentum? We say, “yes.” Here are three ways to manage your mobile workforce without sacrificing productivity.
Create Opportunities for Collaboration
The first step to maintaining productivity is maintaining “soft” tools. These include that feeling of being part of the team, overall company culture and teamwork. All of these are driven by effective communication. In a physical office, employees bump into each other in the breakroom, in the restroom, at the water cooler and in scheduled meetings. All kinds of impromptu brainstorming can happen when great minds happen to pass by and feel the need to bounce an idea off their colleague. Those opportunities just don’t happen in the virtual world. So, you must create them.
It’s easy for team members to live in their own world, and not communicate. To remain productive, team members must over-communicate. Create opportunities to “chat” both formally and informally. In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, have a chat room for each team that is always open. Team members can jump in anytime, see who’s available to chat or post an idea for later discussion. Use a mobile system that encourages collaboration. Software designed for mobile teams offers instant feedback on projects, quick and easy messaging, real-time access to schedules and project updates. Additionally, an engaging technology that allows employees to video chat or creating short videos that can be watched at a time convenient for the other team members. This approach is especially effective when team members work in different time zones. In addition to work-related communication, some organisations also set up a company-wide chat for informal communication. It creates a “water cooler” scenario where employees can feel socially connected to each other.
For formal meetings, utilize tools that make collaboration easy. For example, Intel’s Unite technology is being used by Lenovo for its Smart Meeting Room. This tool allows users to easily log in with a PIN, connect wirelessly to a variety of different display platforms and showcase up to four presentations at once. All participants can share and annotate content while connecting to displays, projectors or interactive whiteboards.
Improve communications with these three tips:
- Set expectations. Set a process for what method of communication works best in differing circumstances. For example, email is okay for non-pressing issues. While VOIP or video chat might be best for an urgent matter. Sent guidelines for how often email, text and non-live chat messages should be checked. Employees shouldn’t be expected to respond 24/7. However, they should understand that certain expectations exist around checking for messages when you are part of a mobile workforce.
- Establish check-in schedules. When projects are started, include check-in points at certain intervals. Find regular overlapping times for employees working in different time zones. These might be set up as certain phases have finished, after important client meetings or simply by the calendar to ensure everyone is on task.
- Don’t forget training. Schedule training and other development opportunities that mobile employees can participate in, even if it is via video, conference call or an interactive online tool. Consistently offering professional development opportunities keeps team members engaged, helps them feel valued and keeps them part of the team.
Leverage Device Versatility
Once the “soft” tools of productivity are maintained, focus on the “hard” tools your mobile staff need to maintain productivity. A study from U.S. research firm Gartner found that today’s mobile worker uses an average of three different devices in their daily routine, often moving between multiple devices to complete a single task. Does your mobile team have access to premium mobile devices that allow for a seamless transition from mobile device to laptop or desktop? Apps that are aimed at improving productivity will only inhibit it if they cannot run effortlessly across devices. For example, a salesperson may use a mobile app on his or her smartphone or device while meeting with a customer. They need to be able to reopen the record once in the office and pick up where they left off on their desktop. Does your in-house software have a mobile version that makes this type of integration possible? Can multiple employees work on the same document or have the same record open at once? These little workflow issues can turn into a lot of frustration for employees that are trying to get their work done.
Wireless docking technology helps turn all the conveniences of the office into a mobile set up. Take advantage of wireless docking technology to enable employees to easily set up everything they need to complete their day’s work anywhere, including two external displays, keyboard, mouse, audio and other peripherals.
Another key to device versatility is printing. While “paperless” systems are taking over, there are still many companies that need the ability to print on the go. Mobile printers are ideal for field service personnel that need to print receipts, work orders, reports or to simply capture an actual signature from a client. If paper copies are not needed in the field, organisations can use their cloud-based infrastructure to send a print request from their mobile device directly to a printer in the office.
Look for devices that allow freedom without compromising performance. However, your infrastructure must also be optimized for mobility as well. Look at options such as Lenovo’s Unified Workspace, which ensures that employees have access to the right apps, tools and content wherever they are.
Make Security a Priority
Nothing stifles productivity like a security breach. Unfortunately, your mobile users are often the target of cybercriminals. Consider just some statistics from a 2017 report that illustrate the vulnerabilities of mobile workers.
- 35 per cent of communication sent via mobile devices is not encrypted.
- Mobile devices connect to an average of 160 unique IP address every day.
- 43 per cent of mobile users do not use a passcode to lock their device.
- Business apps are three times more likely to leak log-in credentials than your average app.
- 50 per cent of apps with five to 10 million downloads include some kind of security flaw.
The bottom line? To keep your mobile force productive, you must keep their devices secure. Here are four ways to do this.
- Awareness is key. Define a realistic security strategy, and include it in your mobile workforce’s training. Emphasise specific vulnerabilities your workforce is exposed to.
- Empower the employee. Help your mobile workers know they are part of the solution. Explain how using multi-factor authentication is helpful. Set up automated alerts to go to the employee. Geolocation sends a red flag when someone logs in from a suspicious location. Since mobile workers know where they’ve been, have them receive and monitor these.
- Monitor. Monitor. Empowering the employee doesn’t mean solely relying on them for monitoring. Use an intrusion detection or endpoint detection system to spot any erratic behaviour.
- Track your mobile assets. Use a software solution to keep inventory. Devices get lost and stolen. Keep tabs on what you have and where they are. Have a contingency plan for what to do when a device goes missing.
According to HR in Asia, the global workforce is increasingly mobile. As Millennials take over the workforce, the need for digitalisation in the workforce will continue to increase.
Read more about keeping up with this trend by downloading our “Guide to Digital Transformation“ e-book. Contact us for more trends affecting your business.