How to Support a Mobile Workforce to Adapt to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the ways many people are working and will most likely continue to change how they work in the future. Businesses need to adapt their operations and understand the different types of workforces they could have, including a prominent and growing mobile workforce.
What is a mobile workforce?
A mobile workforce is a group of employees who do not work in a central, physical location and instead, stay connected to the business and each other through technology – computers, tablets, smartphones, and other types of devices. Workforce mobility was on the rise pre-pandemic.
Why is a mobile workforce important?
When businesses were required to reduce the number of employees who shared a physical workplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic, utilizing a remote workforce allowed a business to remain operational because employees could continue to work while reducing their potential exposure to the virus. Keeping the business running is certainly beneficial, but even businesses that reluctantly accepted mobile workers are still poised to reap many of the other benefits that come with having a nimbler workforce. These are benefits that many companies have already discovered and put to their advantage long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Larger talent pool
Incorporating a mobile workforce into your organizational structure removes geographic barriers to hiring and offers access to a larger talent pool. No longer is it necessary to live within commuting distance to the office, as access to the internet becomes the primary commuting requirement.
Greater employee loyalty
Accommodating workers' preferences is one way a business can strengthen a worker's sense of loyalty and satisfaction with their employer. Especially as many workers may want to continue working remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
When workers can fulfill their role and responsibilities using mobile technologies, it frees them from commute time, may allow them to dress more comfortably, and as demonstrated by the pandemic, decreases their risk of exposure to illness in the workplace. When combined, these factors can contribute to a better work/life balance and with it, greater happiness and energy that can increase on-the-job productivity.
Lower certain overhead costs
Having workers on-site inevitably requires an employer to shoulder an array of overhead costs: rent or lease of space, utility bills, and other expenses. With a mobile workforce, employers can reduce many of these overhead costs.
Save on travel
Digital technologies such as video conferencing and remote presentations can often replace the need for an employee to travel for work purposes. Not only does an employer eliminate the loss of productivity associated with travel time but a business can also eliminate hotel, meals, and other associated travel costs.
What is the difference between a mobile workforce and working from home?
Working from home and the mobile workforce both fall under the umbrella of remote working, yet they are distinct from one another. Understanding workforce mobility is to recognize that it depends on the ability of an employee to access everything they need to fulfill their work responsibilities from any place at any time, as long as they have internet access. Digital nomads have access to files, team chats and projects, calendars, email, and voice or video conferencing along with human resource information such as timesheets and benefits information. A mobile workforce may include home as a workspace but they are not limited to it. In contrast, working from home simply means that an employee is performing some work duties from home, with or without the aid of mobile technologies and may even be working from home in addition to commuting to a physical, central office.
Challenges of a mobile workforce
Employers may be eager to gain the benefits of having mobile workers but are held back over certain concerns. Incorporating workforce mobility brings its own set of challenges. Successful mobile workforce management depends on an employer's willingness to address these challenges and look for appropriate solutions.
Accounting for time
When it comes to timekeeping, both employers and workers need to accurately track time and attendance. Doing so allows an employer to keep tabs on schedules, vacation and personal days, as well as implications for overtime, taxes, and related pay structures. Online timekeeping technology can help employers and employees accomplish all of the above. For overtime, employers may want to consider establishing clear work-hour rules, changing pay structures, and making a list of non-exempt employees to determine potential exposure to overtime pay.
Liabilities for employees
For the mobile worker, the lines can begin to blur when they are on the clock or not. For instance, what happens if a worker gets into an accident while answering a work call while driving to the office supply store? Solutions can include creating written policies that specify employer-sanctioned activities, establishing clear rules against out-of-office activities that increase risk exposure, and meeting with your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage.
Mobile working increases the opportunity for flexible scheduling, so employees can maximize their productivity, but this availability puts workers and employers at risk for abusing time. Be sure to establish a remote working policy that sets parameters around work availability, provide the supporting technology to empower that availability, and discuss hours that are accessible to workers located in different time zones.
Company information and security
Mobile workers can bring additional security risks if they log in to your company's network through unsecured sources, download sensitive data that can be stolen, or lose devices containing valuable company information. Be sure to work closely with information technology specialists to establish best practice security procedures for your mobile workers and invest in cyber liability insurance and security software that increase the protection of your information.
How to manage a mobile workforce
Remote workers may struggle to complete tasks and projects, deal with personal life distractions, or feel isolated. The right technology can help with each of these. Managers can establish daily one-on-one check-ins and regular, virtual team meet-ups. Consistent communications can also help supervisors remain sensitive and aware of the challenges facing their mobile workers.
Technology has enriched communication capabilities well beyond email. Video conferencing, group project management applications, and texting apps keep communications convenient and fluid for mobile workers. Managers and supervisors can get creative as well and organize virtual happy hours or other online social events to encourage camaraderie across mobile team members. Finally, adopting self-service technology can give mobile workers convenient, on-demand access to items such as their time cards and benefits information. Doing so can help reinforce the added value a business gives its workers.
Mobile workforce trends
The continued advancement of technologies designed to help a telecommuting workforce (e.g. video chat, online timekeeping, messaging and project management apps) is making it easier for managers and employees to stay connected and productive. Everything from getting paid, managing health insurance and retirement funds, to professional training and development can be done online. The pandemic pushed many workers out of the office and these same workers are discovering an office is not required to effectively do their jobs. Smart businesses will start considering how to change their practices now to stay ahead of this workforce trend and accommodate employee demand for work mobility.
Knowing what a mobile workforce is and how it affects a business can help employers prepare for such changes coming to the workplace. Reputable human resource services can help integrate workforce mobility into your business practices.