The mobile workforce: the new movement

Technological progress has, over the last two centuries certainly, been a driver of social and structural change throughout the world. Technology has changed the face of transport, entertainment, and healthcare, and is quickly doing the same to education, politics, and the workplace.

One theme that has gained particular attention over the past decade is the digital transformation of the workplace, with particular focus on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

>See also: Is IoT the next step for the mobile workforce?

Business leaders gathering at forums such as Davos have been conscious of both the inevitable change to work dynamics heralded by new technologies, and the fact that human talent is the single biggest element that could drive their businesses forward in the years to come.

Mobility: the enabler of change

No technology better exemplifies this than mobile devices. ‘Handhelds’ are now an integral part of every aspect of modern life, and employment is absolutely no exception. Mobiles have quickly become a staple for professionals on the move, allowing them to access services and support efficiently. This, of course, raises the issue of technical support, since many companies now have to provide back-end assistance to a massively distributed workforce.

Managing this distributed labour force requires a modern support infrastructure, and this specialisation has been termed mobile workforce management. It can include the procurement, deployment and management of mobile devices, mobile apps and PC software, as well as any and all related support services.

Thanks to the increasing connectivity and improvement of the technologies that can be used for this purpose, ‘mobile workers’ are increasingly becoming the norm, both in IT workplaces and others.

More people are actively seeking flexible working and an increasing number of companies are willing to respond. According to research carried out by the TUC, one in 16 people in the UK worked from home in 2016, an increase of 8% from 2015.

In fact, the global mobile workforce is expected to rise from the current 1.45 billion to 1.87 billion by 2022, according to the Global Mobile Workforce Forecast Update 2016-2022 from Strategy Analytics.

>See also: Overcoming mobile workforce challenges: tips for business leaders

But what makes a workforce truly mobile? Is it how the distance between employees, or defined by how connected the technology makes employees? The fact is, the meaning is constantly changing as technology progresses.

It can no longer be applied faithfully to groups whose only claim to the definition is to be scattered across various physical locations and be connected by computers via the Internet. Having a mobile does not make one a mobile worker, and going mobile isn’t simply a matter of selecting devices and operating systems.

The shift to mobility is about ensuring transportability for applications, data sets and services across locations and devices. A truly mobile company, in the revised sense of the word, will also take advantage of all of the new data sources and features (i.e. location, image capture, and sensor data) that mobility provides.

Cloud computing provides a critical role in helping to achieve this value proposition. Cloud is at the core of enabling new service innovation. Many of today’s most highly regarded mobile services, such as file sync and share and streaming content services, couldn’t exist without the cloud.

Challenges to deployment

With all of the benefits that mobility brings to the labour force, it can be perplexing to understand why more firms aren’t progressing full steam ahead with mobility projects. The fact is, morphing a successful business into a mobile workforce is not an easy task, and there are wrong ways to go about it.

>See also: 5 trends impacting enterprise mobility in 2017 

Lack of understanding

Understanding what the team and its customers need to get out of their transition to mobility should always be the starting point. Engaging in a digital transformation for the sake of going digital is pointless, and will ultimately cost the business money through the inefficiencies it creates. Digital transformation in general, and mobility development in particular, should be directed at solving problems, rather than being part of a club.

Team cohesion

The single biggest challenge when organising a dispersed workforce is forging the bonds of community throughout the team. This needs to happen for the team to work well together, but building this rapport is much easier in person. A close approximation to this “closeness” can be mimicked through the use of video-chat platforms or even, to a lesser extent, a phone call. Mobility can address these issues by making sure that communication tools are available to all employees, regardless of their location.

Technical infrastructure

This faux-proximity, however, can often be hindered by poor infrastructure. Research conducted on 2,000 UK office workers by ip.access in found that a startling 43% of ‘higher managerial’ personnel at UK businesses have admitted they have to stand by an open window to take work calls on their mobiles.

>See also: 75% of Europe’s workforce will be mobile by 2018

This may be acceptable for those with access to an office landline at their desks, but many professionals spend too much of their days on the phone to put up with such inefficiencies.

Anyone who works in the City of London knows that connectivity between the high-rises can often be precarious, reducing the efficiency of time spent outside the office. While 5G is set to improve connectivity in these kinds of environments, it too will have its own issues, such as range, that will impact the development of mobility strategies.

Security

This increasing supply of mobile workers is correlated with a growing demand in the market for the secure access to and sharing of data. Without this functionality, users put the sensitive information of their employer and its clients’ at risk, the confidentiality of which is always a primary concern.

In 2017, many business users expect high performance access to company information at any time, from anywhere, but are not willing to compromise on the confidentiality of this data, which is of paramount importance to the security of the enterprise and, as a result, every CIO.

>See also: Mobile technology: giving CIOs peace of mind

This is true across industries: More than 70% of clinicians say their hospitals now allow some sort of “bring your own device” (BYOD), up from 58% in 2016, according to a new Spõk survey of 350 healthcare leaders.

The chief reason cited by respondents for barring BYOD was data security, and yet 65% of doctors and 41% of nurses report using personal devices even when hospital policy prohibits BYOD. Given the amount of breaches that have affected healthcare providers over the last year, understanding how to enforce policies like this is paramount to a secure mobile workforce.

But, ensuring mobile security is about securing more than just the IT endpoints. A recent survey, conducted by Y Soft in New Zealand, found that 35% of workers are using a mobile device at work for printing, but only half have security protection or anti-malware programs installed on their mobile devices. This is worrying, as printers have been shown to be a possible launching pad for malware infections.

Integration is key

81% of CEOs see mobile technologies as being strategically important for their enterprises. The top three technology priorities of industrial manufacturing CEOs are mobility (73%), cyber security (72%) and data mining and analysis (70%). 86% of CEOs say a clear vision of how digital technologies, including mobile, can create competitive advantages is key to the success of their investments.

Maximising the competitive advantage of a mobile workforce requires its integration within business processes and strategy. Take the example of self-driving vehicles, which will allow for working while in the car.

>See also: Why a mobile workforce needs a mobile service desk

Truly mobile companies will go one step further than organising a hands-free ride. Instead of relying on a travelling sales rep to have their mobile device handy at all times when on the road, organisations can forward any business calls directly to the in-car communication system. The same rep will receive reminders from the car to call ahead in case of traffic, and will even be able to start the meeting via video link while in the car.

There are numerous examples, like the short one above, of the benefits integrated mobility can provide the workforce. Everything from training to back office support can be dealt with using mobility as a resource for employees – businesses just have to be prepared to take advantage of it.

The takeover

So has mobility taken over the work culture? It has most certainly captured the interest of employees, but it’s the responsibility of employers to promote a truly mobile workplace.

Innovation has always been a part of software development, but the difference now is that we are in a phase where companies can invest in mobility infrastructure without fear of it being made obsolete in 18 months by new standards or an incompatible technology.

>See also: How ‘smart fashion’ could transform the mobile workforce

It goes beyond machine learning or 5G. It’s about looking at the tried-and-true mobility approaches that are already here, and adapting them to solve problems within your business, whatever those may be.

This does not mean concerns over mobility projects can be ignored. On the contrary, the inevitability of a mobility “take-over” should spur company executives to take a much closer look at how integrated mobility really is, as a concept, within the business, and whether it addresses key points of concern for mobility, such as security and team cohesion.

 

Sourced by Sunny Bajaj, founder, president and chief executive officer at DMI

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.