Managing a Mobile Workforce

ISantana-100x125For many businesses and other organizations operating in today’s global economy, maintaining a remote workforce is increasingly becoming the norm. This trend is tied to the proliferation of online and mobile collaboration tools, along with evidence that telecommuters can reduce overhead costs for an organization. In addition, research shows that remote-based workers often generate greater productivity because they’re more satisfied with their work/life balance and have lower rates of job burnout.

Despite the positive aspects of telecommuting, there are a lot of issues that organizations must mitigate when integrating a mobile workforce. These issues can be thornier when the organization maintains a blended workforce with both on-site and remote employees. From the standpoint of the remote worker, the potential drawbacks can include a deep feeling of isolation, cultural disconnect, and lack of confidence in the supporting infrastructure.

At Evans Consulting, we have many years of experience with building and supporting a mobile workforce. Based on this experience, we have identified some key factors that should be considered in order for the remote work environment to be successful:

Technology Infrastructure Must Support Remote Collaboration and Practices

First and foremost, each employee participating in the mobile working environment must be provided with the tools to be an effective communicator. This means the organization must have a well-developed technology infrastructure, including hardware support and application tools that enable remote collaboration via instant messaging, web conferencing, virtual chat rooms, and the like. Employers should also provide adequate training so remote workers can leverage these communication tools effectively in lieu of casual, in-person interactions that would traditionally happen in the hallway or in the lunch room.

Leadership Must Promote Culture for Remote Collaboration

Along with providing the technology tools for remote collaboration, an organization’s leadership must also embrace the cultural shift. For example, the organization should establish protocols for ensuring short but frequent contacts to keep everyone abreast of daily happenings, strategic changes to projects, or logistical issues. Consistent communication of mission and goals is essential for helping remote employees feel connected and included.

In this manner, whenever possible, management should also make a point of acknowledging contributions from remote employees. There are many ways management can give a virtual “pat on the back” to a remote employee, such as acknowledgment during an all-staff conference call, or via text message, email, or a post on the organization’s internal web portal. This kind of feedback is critical so the employee knows their work is being noticed and is important to the organization’s overall mission. Oftentimes, employees who report low feelings of engagement experience little team support behind their contributions.

Many other elements come into play in the dynamic of integrating a mobile workforce. For example, cultivating a sense of trust is just as important for keeping employees from falling into the psychological traps that may surface while working alone. Unwelcome perceptions, such as the idea that not “being seen in the office” may affect an employee’s chances of promotion, can easily be avoided when laying a foundation and culture that fosters integration of a remote workforce.

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