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How SMEs can prepare for a mobile workforce


Improvements in workplace and personal technology are enabling SMEs to operate with a more mobile workforce. According to IDC, in 2015, more than one third (37%) of the world’s workforce were considered “mobile” or of no fixed location. By 2020, IDC predicts a staggering 73% of the same workforce will be mobile.

Most people today own or have access to smart devices, and coupled with the increase in workforce mobile applications, small businesses are able to operate in an entirely different way. Workers can now communicate, perform tasks, and check-in with their employers and work colleagues from almost any location on earth. Business owners also have the ability to better manage and minimise the risks associated with a workforce on the move.

Globalisation is also a key criterion in the increasing mobile workforce as more companies look to enter global markets. Employees and contractors can now work from any location, often setting up virtual offices where they can report in and collaborate seamlessly using the available technology. More and more companies are using this mobile working strategy as an incentive to attract millennial talent, who are more open to travel opportunities on the job.

While some areas of the workforce have always been ‘mobile’ as a necessity of the role, such as manufacturing, construction and healthcare, today’s typical ‘knowledge workers’ – such as those usually confined to an office – have a significantly different attitude towards workplace flexibility. They understand that most work can be performed from any location, and more and more we are seeing this expectation impact career decisions, as they seek out employers utilising this communications technology.

With the continued growth of the mobile workforce, developing an associated infrastructure is crucial for those SMEs looking to get on the front foot by attracting new talent and extending their reach either nationally or internationally. But redesigning a workplace structure doesn’t come without its challenges. There are five critical themes that all business leaders need to consider in enabling a mobile workforce:

1. Communications technology is key:

Having a team or contractors working remotely can present logistical challenges. Implementing mobile workplace technology that supports this shift is the first step in resolving these issues. Cloud-based tools enable staff to access data, collaborate and connect with team members and even report back in to management.

2. Management skills need to evolve:

Managing a mobile or global team is fast becoming a prerequisite of the job, and one that should form part of management training processes – while those already in senior positions need to evolve to suit the new structure. Building trust is the number one concern for those managing a virtual team. But this has to go two ways. Instilling values of accountability in the team will in turn enable management to trust the work is being completed to a high standard. Cloud-based reporting tools help to create transparency in this area, while some mobile workforce technology offers gamification that can be used to incentivise staff.

3. Out of sight does not equal out of mind:

Knowing where workers are at any point in time and if they are safe is a significant problem for organisations globally. With the increase in worker mobility and associated travel accidents, personal attacks, missing persons, terrorism and global catastrophes, businesses have a duty of care not only to their workers, but to their workers’ families.

With less control over where and when our staff are working, performance (or output) based management becomes critical. There are now some great options for staying connected and up-to-date on work and work milestones, including travel movements.

4. Structure the use of BYO devices:

Around 80 per cent of Australians currently own a smartphone and that number is expected to further increase. SMEs can often allow employees to use their personal devices for work purposes, such as making phone calls, perhaps with a reimbursement plan in place or an agreement that the employee will add this into their personal tax expenses.

With a mobile workforce, smart devices will prove integral to the plan, so think about adding more structure around the responsibility of payment and upkeep of these devices. You may wish to consider replacing BYO devices with a company-owned product should sensitive work-related data need to be accessed and stored on the device.

5. Work within the letter and the spirit of the law:

As an employer, you are responsible for workplace safety wherever that “workplace” may be. Increasingly, this obligation is now law. Under Australia’s harmonised WHS laws, employers are required to manage risks to the health and safety of remote or isolated work and implement control measures that include effective communication with remote and isolated workers.

As an SME employer, it is essential to stay up-to-date with any legal or compliance issues regarding your workplace team. Regardless of your legal obligations, best-practice employers are always looking out for their team members’ safety and wellbeing on the job.

About the author

Joe Hoolahan is Co-founder and CEO of JESI. JESI is a is a mobile workforce solution that supports the safe movement of workers tracking and reporting time, date, transport type, local trips or travelling nationally or international.