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Grow Your Business Technology

Should Your Work Force Go Mobile?

work-at-home-11071802 Credit: Dreamstime.com

Having a mobile (or work-from-home) work force can have some serious benefits. It can save employers money and often makes employees very happy. Some are even willing to take a pay cut to work from home .

Before you send your employees home, though, there are a few company hurdles to overcome. Lisa Baker, the director of enterprise and public sector marketing for HP, gives BusinessNewsDaily readers some advice on what to consider before shutting the office doors and sending your employees home.

The management mindset

Managing mobile workers requires a different mindset, one where trust and outcome-driven measures determine success. This changes the way people are managed — and may mean reviewing performance criteria, possibly shifting to a more continuous feedback tool such as Rypple.

Results-only work environments offer a good model for mobile office management, balancing a flexible approach to individual work with a more formalized communication structure. Employees work at their own pace (with a clear deadline), but have regular, scheduled progress checks and virtual meetings to keep everyone motivated and encourage team bonding.

Managers can also teach by doing, particularly when it comes to the etiquette of virtual meetings. Any company without a social media policy should draw up a guide on language, tone and disclosure rules, particularly for corporate Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts.

The way employees work

Employees want flexibility. Not everyone wants to work from home all the time, however, and some people will be more naturally self-sufficient than others.

Overall, though, it’s the danger of overwork that employees and managers need to watch out for when going mobile. In a recent Cisco survey, respondents claim to regularly work an extra few hours a day and another recent poll of managers found nearly 60 percent of managers visited work-related websites outside regular hours, and nearly half check work emails before going to bed.

There are also little communication habits that may need to change: ensuring your instant-messaging status is up-to-date, for example, or shedding a lifelong paper Post-It habit in favor of virtual ones. Backing up and sharing work online should become second nature.

The right tools for the job

Accessing a company’s network remotely is an increasingly straightforward process, while VoIP, IM and virtual meeting tools such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting and cloud-based DimDim are just a few options for distributed work forces to stay in touch.

Mobile workers tend to be more adept at ‘pulling’ information, so intranets and Wikis can replace town hall meetings or be used to share knowledge and self-train. But human resources should ensure any important company information is delivered directly to individuals rather than relying on them to find it.

Establish clear support structures

Mobile offices rely heavily on technology, so mobile workers should know who and how to contact the company’s help desk for IT support. Likewise, managers and human resources should ensure employees know to whom they can turn in an emergency, while ensuring they are compliant with data protection regulations.

Rewrite the IT policy

Security concerns remain an obstacle to getting work forces mobilized. In a survey of small and medium-size enterprises by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, the vast majority (83 percent) said they suffered a security breach in the past year. According to Cisco’s research, 66 percent of employees expected IT to allow them to use any device to access corporate networks — but nearly half of IT respondents felt the company wasn’t prepared to meet their expectations.

Whether BYOD (bring your own device) or company-provided, devices and data need to be insured and secured by the company. Devices and data should be password- or code-protected, and restricted access applied where necessary. Experienced mobile workers also advise peers to keep a spare laptop battery and USB backup drive handy.

IT policies will need updating to ensure clarity around issues such as who owns data on personal devices; what happens when an employee who owns such personal devices leaves; what, if anything, employees are allowed to download onto portable devices; and terms regarding who pays for broadband or smartphone tariffs.

Office space

An office can become a space for teams to hold meetings, socialize and exchange ideas. Hosting company PEER1’s boss, Dominic Monkhouse, had a miniature putting green put into the company’s UK office to allow employees to relax at work. Arguably, smaller companies could do without an office altogether, instead using serviced offices or the growing number of shared offices that have sprung up in major cities to cater to nomadic workers.