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5 Big Challenges of a Mobile Workforce and What to Do About Them

Millennials now make up about half of the U.S. workforce, and with that change comes a change in the way people work. This is a generation that demands independence and mobility often more so than higher compensation. What challenges come with these new mobile employees?

Millennials now make up about half of the U.S. workforce, and with that change comes a change in the way people work. This is a generation that demands independence and mobility – oftentimes preferring these options over higher compensation, according to some recent reports. Mobility, helped by technology and changing attitudes among employers, has gone beyond an employee benefit to become an assumed part of many jobs. 

Allowing employees to work from home, make their own hours, and perform their duties outside of the office is a good thing, a great recruiting tool, and potential moneymaker for companies large and small.  But this cultural change has created a few significant issues for employers as well. While there are no cut and dry actions to take, here are what some of my clients are doing to address the most common issues they’re facing with their remote workers.

How do I account for overtime?

By the end of 2016, new overtime laws will go into effect that will require employers to pay “non-exempt” salaried workers (generally, those that don’t supervise others or perform other “professional” duties) earning up to $47,476 per year overtime. Previously, the maximum salary was at $24,000.  Mobile and work–from-home employees present a unique problem here, so much so that the Department of Labor announced earlier this year that it will be studying the hours logged by these workers in an attempt to reconcile the Fair Labor Standards Act's long-standing rules on hours worked away from the workplace in response to the 24-hour access to the office afforded by modern technology.

Your actions:

  • Make a list of your “non-exempt” employees to determine your potential exposure.
  • Consider changing pay structure to elevate above the limit or convert to hourly.
  • Have specific work-hour rules (an email sent on a Saturday could be considered overtime, so be careful).

Is my company liable when an employee is remote?

As more and more employees work from home, remotely or on the road, the lines blur between when they’re on the clock or off. So what happens if an employee gets into a car accident while texting a colleague about a work issue? Or if someone injures themselves while working from home, but during the work day? It was once clear that any liability incurred between the four walls of the office is the responsibility of the employer. But those walls are quickly falling and your people are working wherever and whenever. Where does an employer’s liability begin or end?

Your actions:

  • Create written policies addressing employer-sanctioned activities. 
  • Have clear rules against out-of-office activities that could create exposure for your company (i.e. texting while driving, drug use while on the job, inappropriate behavior, etc.).
  • Meet with your insurance agent to ensure that you have adequate coverage.

It was once clear that any liability incurred between the four walls of the office is the responsibility of the employer. But those walls are quickly falling.

How do I ensure a remote employee’s availability?

One of the biggest attractions for the remote/mobile employee is the ability to work anywhere and anytime. This certainly suits those that believe they may perform better late at night, early morning, or some other time beyond the typical 9 to 5 work day. Unfortunately, managers and others are normally back in the office during normal working hours, as expected by your customers and suppliers. You must ensure that your employees are required to be available during the hours that suits your company’s interests.

Your actions:

  • Create a work-from-home policy that stipulates work hours where the employee must be available.
  • Provide technology (i.e. video conferencing, collaboration, messaging) that will enable the worker to respond quickly and timely to requests.
  • For those workers who may not be available during normal work hours (i.e. located in different time zones, travelling, etc.) agree in advance on what hours they can commit to being available and have managers work out communications during that period.

What about the security of my company’s data?

Everyone has heard in the news about the almost daily security problems experienced by large corporations and governments created by hackers who steal data, download malware, and create viruses that have crippled operations and put personal data at risk. Smaller companies are also equally at risk, and according to reports such as this most are unprepared. Mobile and work-from-home employees present additional security risks because they may login to your network through an unsecured source, download data that can be stolen, and lose (or have stolen) devices that contain company information. 

Your actions:

  • Work closely with your information technology firm to develop best practice security procedures for your work-from-home employees and create policies for them to follow.
  • Invest in security software and services that will help minimize the risk of a data breach and allow your technical staff to remotely support those employees.
  • Purchase cyber-insurance to minimize you financial risk of a data breach that could cause significant operational interruption.

Smaller companies are also equally at risk, to data security problems, and according to reports most are unprepared.

What if the work-from-home arrangement isn’t working?

Finally – and this is the most important issue – is your employee really capable of working from home or remotely? Can she put in a full day regardless of the distractions? Will she be as reliable and as productive as she would be in the office? Can she speak with customers and others without dogs barking in the background? Is she capable of adeptly, seamlessly, and effectively using the technology that you will provide to her so that her doing the job remotely isn’t considered to be a factor? If she’s not performing satisfactorily, do you both have a Plan B? Have expectations been clearly set?

Your actions:

  • Put down in writing your expectations for that employee when she is working remotely and ensure that you both agree on her responsibilities and deliverables.
  • Agree on a short-term arrangement with a specific evaluation date (maybe after 90 days) where both parties can mutually agree on the progress of the arrangement.
  • Prepare the employee that the arrangement may be terminated if it’s deemed unsatisfactory to the company.

As an employer, you, of course, want to attract the best people possible and you want to give them as much flexibility as you can to allow them to do their jobs independently and with freedom. This is what the new generation of workers want today. Many companies are accomplishing this successfully and they are doing so because they’ve identified and addressed the above issues beforehand.


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Gene Marks is a business owner, small business expert, author, speaker, CPA, and columnist for The Washington Post.

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