96.2 Million workers in the US are mobile in 2015. According to forecasts from the International Data Corporation, that number will grow to 105.4 million by the year 2020. With the continued drop in the cost of technology, and the accelerated advancement of tools enabling mobile workforces, is your company prepared to support its mobile employees? Without a doubt, there will be challenges, but with new technology, and some upfront planning and communication, you’ll breeze through the transition. Here’s a few potential concerns to get you thinking:
- How do you know if your remote teams are working like your internal teams?
There are many ways to track the productivity of your mobile workforce with today’s tech. However, it’s also easy to go overboard. Forcing your employees to wear movement tracking arm bands is completely possible today, though maybe unreasonable. Any tool that is used needs to strike a good balance between providing useful data to the organization, and becoming big brother. Whether it is time tracking with GPS (like TSheets), or mobile phone location tracking, you will need to consider the privacy and safety of your employees when making a selection. Trust goes both ways, if you don’t trust your employees to be working, they most likely will not trust you either. Whatever method you choose, be it tracking spyware or video surveillance, be sure to be clear it with your employees upfront. Let them know why you feel tracking is appropriate, and even ask them for help solving the challenge you see. If they understand the challenges, they are more likely to buy-in to the solution, assuming the proper ground rules have been established.
- How will your teams communicate?
Keeping open lines of communication is critical to any business, but the additional challenge with a remote workforce is reproducing the same level of communication that exists face to face. Audio and visual cues represent 93% of the communication we have, whereas only 7% is the actual words that are spoken. Keep this in mind when evaluating communication tools. When selecting tools for meetings consider video conferencing tools like: Skype, GoToMeeting, Google+ Hangouts, AnyMeeting, or MyTrueCloud. Although video conference tools can take a little time to get used to, they provide the closest resemblance to face to face communication, and should be strongly considered. At a bare minimum, using them for audio only meetings can be successful, though not as powerful. For simple conversations and interactions try online chatting tools like Skype for Business (formerly Lync), HipChat, or Google+ Hangouts Chat. The most important thing is that everyone uses the same tool for the same purpose, and they are given training on how to make use of all available features.
- How will you handle project management?
A challenge you may come across with team members in and out of the office is storing, organizing and sharing tasks, files, notes, and documents related to projects. You need to ensure your employees are unified, and working towards the same goals, but traditional in-house project management tools might be limiting. Consider some web based tools that were built for remote teams. Consider tools like Trello, Asana, Wrike, ProWorkflow, or Basecamp. All offer different ways to manage projects, share information and documents, and collaborate with team members. The best way to know if one works for you is to demo them with an actual project. Don’t be afraid to try a few, the more the team likes the tool, the better!
- How can you make sure remote workers have Internet access?
With employees spread out all over, potentially around the globe, connectivity has historically been a challenge. The good news is that there are many companies working towards the global availability of basic internet service. Facebook, Google, Samsung have all started up initiatives and committed significant funding to bring the entire world online. Whether internet access is achieved through an app, micro-satellites or Google’s Loon balloons, the future is bright. In the meantime, you can equip your employees with a mobile hotspot through any major mobile phone carrier to pretty much guarantee connectivity. Here’s a list of the fastest mobile networks from PC Magazine.
Hopefully this starts to convince you to seriously evaluate embracing a mobile workforce. I feel the pros far outweigh the cons, and the hurdles are easily overcome by a number of new technologies.