By: Matthew Prescott, Benefits Advisor
As denizens of the Western world in the early 21st Century, we have it good. We can program DVRs to record our favorite shows when we’re not home, see who is at our front door from an app on our mobile phone, and send instant text messages to friends and family across the globe. Managing communication and routine tasks has become so easy in our private lives, in fact, that many people expect the workplace to be equally convenient and flexible. In an office setting, especially, employees want both the technology and the leeway to work wherever and whenever they see fit. As a result, more and more businesses are shifting toward a mobile workforce—a trend that offers great benefits as well as considerable challenges.
The Pros and Cons
One of the biggest advantages to a remote workforce is reduced overhead. The more mobile the employee base, the less need there is for physical infrastructure, such as office space and furniture, or perks like beverages and snacks in the break room. Leveraging virtual tools and systems also lets companies be more scalable without worrying about adding square footage or increased utility costs. Equally important, employees are happier when they have the freedom to work on their own terms and the tools to succeed. Younger workers, from Millennials through Generation Xers, generally share the expectation that technology not only will be provided to them, but will give them greater flexibility to telecommute or work flex hours. Promoting mobility in the workplace can help employers recruit and retain top talent who are looking for an environment that accommodates their individual work style so they can be most productive.
On the flip side, employees who have little to no face-time rarely share the same level of camaraderie as those who see each other at the office day in and day out. Fostering a strong corporate culture is difficult when individuals are isolated, and the lack of cohesion in the physical workplace also can potentially lead to a fracturing of service. When everyone is working off-site, you no longer have the option to just walk down the hall to ask a question of a coworker or boss. Instead, you’re left waiting until they’re available on their own schedule, which may vary radically from yours.
Similarly, a mobile workforce can lead to issues with customer retention. If a project manager is not in the office to talk about an issue with a client, the account representative may be unaware that the issue exists and never address it. The client ends up feeling slighted, and the company’s reputation can suffer as a result. Setting expectations around communication with employees and customers alike is key to ensuring that everyone is on the same page, when it comes to sharing information and resolving problems quickly.
Tools of the Trade
The ability to work remotely hinges on technology, and the extent to which businesses invest in and support new systems determines the ability for employees to stay connected and get things done. Fundamental mobile tools, like smartphones, tablets and laptops, make it possible to check emails, review documents or jump on a conference call from a coffee shop, airport lounge, or spare bedroom turned home office. More sophisticated systems, like virtual desktops and VPNs, let employees dial into their workspace remotely, rather than having to sit in front of a physical computer in an office cubicle. Other tools employers can use to create a more mobile workforce include:
VoiP technology – Calls can be rerouted to different locations, so an employee can receive a call made to their office number on their cell phone, for example, and the caller is none the wiser.
Cloud-based computing – Documents are housed on virtual servers, making it easy to access and share files while also benefiting from unlimited storage space, reduced hardware costs, and robust data security.
Webinars and video conferencing – Businesses can save the time and expense of gathering people at a single location by using online video to connect presenters and viewers.
Instant messaging – Tools like Slack provide real-time messaging for teams to bring conversations together in one place, while offering search and archiving capabilities, notifications, file-sharing, and social media integration.
Customized communication tools – White label HR platforms let employers manage benefits programs in one place and send targeted communications to improve operational efficiencies and boost employee engagement. For example, iNGAGED, from Marsh & McLennan Agency, provides a single, mobile-optimized portal for employees to access benefits information, rather than having to remember logins for different websites and apps. The platform can be fully branded and customized for the employer, and scaled as the business grows.
More traditional business tools also can help keep productivity high as a company makes the shift to a more mobile workforce. For example, customer satisfaction surveys or metrics that track response time for sales inquiries or support tickets can indicate whether employees are meeting set goals and standards. Similarly, helping employees grow into positions internally or mentoring them up the ranks can be challenging when they have little face-to-face interaction with coworkers or daily feedback from direct superiors. Businesses that are considering a mobile workforce need to address strategies to promote from within while giving workers enough flexibility and technological support to foster their job satisfaction.In short, although technology makes the mobile workforce possible, employers must decide for themselves where the boundaries are when it comes to giving employees the freedom and flexibility to work where and when they choose. Everybody wants something different, which is why in the world of benefits, we typically offer multiple choices of plans. We know that no single option works for everybody. In building a mobile workforce, success comes from finding the right tools and work environment to make an employee successful, while also keeping clients happy, fostering communication and collaboration between team members, and ultimately creating a positive impact on the bottom line.
This document is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC shall have no obligation to update this publication and shall have no liability to you or any other party arising out of this publication or any matter contained herein. Any statements concerning actuarial, tax, accounting or legal matters are based solely on our experience as consultants and are not to be relied upon as actuarial, accounting, tax or legal advice, for which you should consult your own professional advisors. Any modeling analytics or projections are subject to inherent uncertainty and the analysis could be materially affective if any underlying assumptions, conditions, information or factors are inaccurate or incomplete or should change.
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