The future of workforce mobilisation
There are plenty of benefits to a mobile workforce, but barriers still remain.
I was pleased to co-host a round table session recently with a group of IT and security executives on the topic of ‘The future of workforce mobilisation’. A lively discussion, it has made me rethink a lot of what I thought I knew about mobilisation in business. A trend which I had thought was entering maturity is, in many organisations, really still in its infancy.
Naturally, the conversation initially focussed on the desired business benefits from mobilising the workforce and how we need to pay attention to workflow and process to ensure maximum efficiency from our employees. But the discussion quickly turned towards applications and the suitability of current applications for a mobile workforce.
In short, they aren’t. Historically, applications have been written based around desk-based workers and therefore just don’t meet the needs of a mobile workforce. It isn’t simply about interface. Applications for mobile users need to be based on assumptions that:
- any device can be used for access;
- the network is insecure;
- the network might not always be available; and
- that the company policy might restrict certain access to data when mobile.
Accepting and prioritising these assumptions is often termed a ‘mobile first’ strategy. Yet, when questioned, none of the companies represented were working in this way.
Concerns about security were also quickly raised. Security is essential to any mobile solution but many businesses still fail to balance appropriate security measures with user interaction. Make it too onerous for users and your security measures might be in vain, as users either switch off or, worse, try and circumvent your solution using a consumer app. While often done with the best of intentions, this is shadow IT at its most dangerous, exposing valuable corporate information without any accountability.
Surprisingly the topic of most concern, and potentially the most difficult to address, was that of 'corporate culture'. Managers and workers alike are concerned about personal accountability when working remotely. Workers are concerned that the lack of visibility means 'the office' is thinking they're shirking when in fact they're likely to make better progress due to the lack of distractions. Managers are equally concerned about losing visibility of their reports and the lack of control that potentially unfolds. This culture seems incredibly engrained universally across all businesses and verticals. Even legal firms where time is accounted for on a per minute basis, reported the same feelings of concern within their workforce.
This lack of trust is a dangerous trend that could kill our economic growth potential in the UK. A mobile workforce introduces many advantages to businesses of all sizes. Access to a larger and more geographically diverse employee base enables dynamic growth and enhances competitiveness. Workers with disabilities can meet their work obligations around their individual needs, workers with families can meet their work obligations around demanding family commitments, both of which expands the available employee marketplace.
And there are direct financial benefits too. Mobilising the workforce obviously gets people out of the office and therefore frees up desks enabling a rationalisation of physical infrastructure (estates, buildings, etc). As this normally represents the biggest company expenditure behind payroll it can obviously bring significant economic savings.
So how do businesses become more mobile-minded? Focus on the broad strategic benefits of a mobile workforce that is more diverse, empowered and productive; adopt a ‘mobile first’ strategy to your application investments; embed security but in a user friendly approach and whatever you do, don’t underestimate the cultural barriers.