Managing the mobile workforce

The workforce of today is evolving rapidly. Whether in manufacturing or management consulting, electrical engineering or fashion, workforces are becoming more agile and mobile to keep up with the evolutionary pace of business.

This process of change is in part being driven by the proliferation of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, which have helped to break down the traditional concept of work, both as a place and as a timeframe (9-5, Monday to Friday).

Companies that can embrace these new technologies are finding that their teams can work smarter, not harder, to satisfy their most demanding customers.

Identifying the right device

Whether mobilising a workforce of 10 or 10,000, companies will always find that change can be a difficult concept, and tough to implement.

However, with a firm hand on the tiller, change can be expected, implemented and managed with minimal effort, leaving the workforce to conquer new challenges while keeping customers happy.

Delivering the right tools

The first step in the process of creating a more mobile workforce is ensuring they have the right devices for the jobs they need to undertake. In today’s crowded technology marketplace, there are countless variants of smartphones and tablets available, running under competing operating systems and with varying levels of compatibility.

For many companies, when deciding on devices, the seniority of an employee may also need to be taken into account, as the tasks run by senior managers may require different tools and functionalities as those run by more junior employees.

Counting the costs

Once a company has decided which devices to provide and to whom, the next step is to make sure each is loaded with the right tools, apps and functions to support productivity effectively.

Take, for example, a delivery driver. As part of the logistics team, they will be given a mobile device to ensure they can communicate with their base, log their time via an app, and post updates on delivery statuses on another. In-built functionalities, such as a phone’s GPS system, can also prove invaluable, with a company able to track a delivery driver’s location, while using the camera function to provide proof of safe delivery.

The benefits provided by smart mobile tools such as phones and tablets are not just reserved for on-the-ground employees as well. Senior managers can use sharing and visualisation functions, live messaging and a range of enterprise apps to support their productivity as well.

While mobility tools can enable employees to work harder, smarter and longer, these devices do have a constraint - cost. Each of the tasks detailed above will entail a cost, in either call time or data usage. Phoning back to base to check on an order while on the move will use minutes out of a call plan, while logging billable hours, requesting holidays or noting employee feedback could require an extensive data plan for an employee away from their desk or travelling abroad.

With increasing use of photography and video (think of the delivery driver mentioned above photographing their deliveries to prove safe receipt) this issue can be compounded as each photo being uploaded could consume a data plan quickly. If data usage is not accurately forecasted, a company’s CFO could be in for a nasty surprise when the monthly mobility bill comes in.

Mobile Device Management

For CFOs, the key to avoiding mobility mistakes is a well-defined Mobile Device Management solution, which extends far beyond the initial decision of what device to give each employee.

Every device that is activated and being used by employees needs to be monitored, with data usage anticipated and any links back to confidential documents controlled. This is because if a device is lost or stolen, it could provide access to sensitive corporate information. In addition, information can also find its way into the wrong hands through a disgruntled employee who can take photos, audio recordings and documentation out of the company on their device.

For these reasons, it is imperative that each and every device is managed securely. A well implemented Mobile Device Management solution can give a company’s IT department the tools necessary to partition each mobile device, making sure only required services or data can be accessed by the employee using the device. This can be customised by level of seniority so that members of the C-suite have more privileges than those at lower levels when accessing their devices.

In addition, once configured, a Mobile Device Management solution can enable a company to remotely track, lock or wipe devices should they be lost or stolen, reducing at a stroke the risk of data falling into the wrong hands.

As businesses harness new technologies to improve their processes and unleash their workforces, we are seeing a new dawn of mobile and agile workers, working where they need to be and when they are needed, rather than tethered to old-fashioned concepts of “workplaces”. While the benefits of this new approach are obvious, with employees able to better meet the requirements of an equally mobile customer base, companies need to be sure that they are firmly in control of the transition to mobility.

To do this, they need to plan out their mobility strategy in advance, and put in place a solid Mobile Device Management solution, to ensure mobility enhances rather than detracts from their employees productivity.

David Walker, EMEA & APAC strategic consulting, Tangoe