Mobile workforce was born about 50 years ago, with the term coined by NASA engineer Jack Nilles. In 1972, Nilles, who at the time was working remotely on a complex communication system, believed that mobile working was an innovative way of working and would act as a solution to traffic, sprawl, and shortage of nonrenewable resources.
Then on September 20, 1994, AT&T trialled the mobile work arrangement more with its 32,000 employees. The experiment was to explore how far a vast organisation could go in transforming the workplace by moving the work to workers, instead of workers to work. The results of the trial were fascinating. Through the program, the company could save more than $100 million annually in its North American sales and distribution unit alone. There is also increased productivity as employees tend to devote less time and energy to typical office routine and commute.
As of now, the advancement of broadband and new digital technologies has made it much easier for an individual to engage in freelance and additional side jobs than it was years ago. The presence of the global COVID-19 pandemic has also led to rapid change from physical to virtual work arrangement where mobile workforce is enabled.
But that is not all, a mobile workforce consists of more than managing the workforce virtually. While some might interchangeably refer to the mobile workforce as remote working or telecommuting, mobile workforce might require a greater amount of tech infrastructure and people management. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the mobile workforce.
According to IBM, a mobile workforce refers to a workforce comprising individuals who work outside of physical office location. A mobile workforce is not defined merely by the type of workers, but defined closely by the technology associated with enabling members of this workforce to do their jobs. Generally, mobile workers work in an identified location, typically a satellite office, a branch location, or an international facility.
The workforce is indicative of a shift to mobility of data and location to aid ‘anytime, anywhere’ nature of modern work. Therefore, mobile workforce professionals are not limited to employees who work from home. Rather, deskless individuals such as retail employees, insurance salesperson, and gig workers are considered part of the mobile workforce. Types of industries that often enable mobile workforce are manufacturing, construction, retail, and healthcare, where workers spend their time outside the office and rely exclusively on mobile devices to interact with customers, partners, suppliers, or home office.
Meanwhile, remote and telecommuting serve a slightly different nature of work. Telecommuting is a broader term for any type of work performed outside of the traditional office setting. Employees who do telecommuting work are called telecommuters. Telecommuters usually work several days a week from home or a location close to home, and not necessarily have a need to travel abroad. Telecommuting can also be referred to as a situation where a worker is regularly off-site, such as when an employee works from home for several days while attending a professional conference. The term telecommuting is often related to flexible work arrangements.
Remote work arrangement has a similar definition as mobile working arrangement. The difference is that remote workers are typically working from their own home or wherever they choose. Remote work might also involve a combination of home-based and occasional office-based work. Typical remote jobs will require productivity tools, such as time tracking, reporting, invoicing, etc. to keep remote workers organised and efficient.
As of today, 80 percent of the global workforce is already deskless. This accounts for nearly 2.7 billion people worldwide. The majority of workers come from eight sectors, including agriculture, education, healthcare, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation, and construction.
As businesses improve the efficiency of the mobile workforce, there is an enormous opportunity to improve how the workforce is managed, deployed, and supported. With the right people management, IBM predicted that the global mobile workforce will rise and reach 1.87 billion workers by 2022 along with the vast development of business techs such as cloud-based software, BYOD policies and more sophisticated mobile devices.
Likewise, the surge of millennials and Gen Z joining the workforce makes it more essential for employers to enable work from any location. Skedulo noted that millennials are the first generation to have grown up with technology and they are used to communicating and collaborating from afar with advanced technology solutions. In the future, these generations and next generations are predicted to expect more from their employers. They want to be equipped with modern tools that increase quality and productivity at work, not to mention more flexibility to work anywhere anytime. Hence, senior leaders across industries should adapt to this trend to remain competitive and retain top talents.
Whether it is a mobile workforce, telecommuting, or remote working arrangement, the presence of cybersecurity risk is always a challenge for employers. Not only that, people management of the mobile workforce can be overwhelming for the HR team.
Business development professional Francis Knott pronounced that there are several issues worth noting when a company enables mobile working arrangement. As an instance, stolen devices containing downloaded sensitive files could present a serious liability. Weak password or out-of-date software or applications can also provide an easy entry for cyber predators to access the corporate network. Oftentimes, the use of third-party tools to ensure collaboration and productivity can also be a real risk when they are integrated with devices that are accessing the corporate network. Phishing scam and network (Wi-Fi) security should also be counted to ensure secure mobile work arrangements.
To ensure the cybersecurity risk is not adverse, employers must take a proactive approach to cybersecurity defence training, Knott suggested. The training can help raise awareness among mobile workers and address many issues associated with a weak password, out-of-date software, phishing attacks, and more. An added measure to enable this is that organisations can prohibit the use of public Wi-Fi and rely on custom VPN endpoint security solutions, albeit it might increase costs and disrupt the productivity of a mobile worker.
On a different note, discussing with the tech or IT team regarding the increased risk of cyberattack should regularly be conducted to ensure your company is up to date with the latest risk and has prevention or solution before an adverse attack happens.
The mobile workforce and individual workers within the environment might face unique challenges in the workplace. Some of the common challenges include communication, collaboration, integration, usability, and accountability. These key challenges must be solved before bigger problems occur, and senior leaders should effectively support the deskless workforce by providing functional and helpful tools, such as follows:
Dropbox Business expands the cloud storage offerings of DropBox with lost file recovery, integration and a collaboration extension. The tool would work well for mobile workforce by providing a centralised file storage solution with some collaboration capabilities. Dropbox Business also offers flexibility to team members with an ability to work offline or collaborate within the web-based platform.
Grasshopper is a tool that brings quite a bit of flexibility to companies looking to maximise their mobile workforce. The tool creates either a 1-800 or local number with a customised greeting for businesses. From there, companies can add individuals and employee extensions that route calls through to cell phones.
Time Doctor focuses on time tracking and productivity for its users. The tool addresses two needs: 1) to eliminate distractions for individual remote workers, and 2) for accurate team reports for remote managers.
Keeper is a password manager and digital vault tool to manage passwords in one place. The app has well-designed and user-friendly features. Keeper also enables two-factor authentication, secure password sharing and inheritance, optional secure file storage and massaging, and helps retain a full history of passwords and files.
AnyConnect by Cisco is a robust VPN tool built for large-scale companies. Cisco offers several options for businesses that wish to subscribe to its VPN services. What makes Cisco AnyConnect great is that it has a polished and clean interface, enterprise-level technical support, multi-factor authentication, and integration with other software.
NordVPN is designed for organisations of any size. The tool evolved as a provider kept adding more corporate-oriented features to NordVPN, eventually creating a whole new product. The plus of using NordVPN Teams includes an experienced VPN with a proven track record, easy to use interface, and has plenty of services around the world. The toll, however, lacks third-party integrations.
allGeo is a solution designed specifically for field service workers. The platform offers multiple mobile employee apps, including: