For many years, the idea of a connected workforce was restricted to on-call doctors and a handful of other professions. Limitations in technology meant that for connectivity to be possible, workers had to be in the same physical space and work on a similar schedule. Fast forward a few years and we have seen a substantial rise in mobility and connectivity that has made the flexibility that used to be exclusive to doctors available to any profession that wants it.
According to Strategy analytics, the global mobile workforce is set to increase to 1.75 billion by 2020, accounting for 42 per cent of the global workforce. The days of the 9-5 in-office work day might not be entirely over but it is certainly not as essential as it once was. Most people can effectively carry out their job functions whenever and wherever they want. Time and space are no longer the constraints they used to be and ideas of working late and remote working are slowly being swallowed up as merely working.
For businesses, this new lease of flexibility and mobility is bringing with added benefits. Greater flexibility and mobility among employees has enabled better customer service, increased productivity, lower facilities costs and so much more. For small businesses, these benefits are not simply matters of profits, they can often be a difference maker in whether the business stagnates or grows. The financial and human resources benefits, if invested, can also stimulate growth and new opportunities. These benefits, however, do not come without their challenges.
As technological advances are combining to make our lives easier, they are also giving IT helpdesks a major headache. A recent study of IT professionals by analyst firm IDG finds that the number one challenge with the remote workforce is supporting new technology and devices. Along with this, staff also come with the expectation of having their new technology available to them round the clock. This doesn’t only prove to be a challenge to the IT helpdesk, it also adds significant support costs to the bottom line.
The same study referenced above also reveals that high-end user satisfaction as the support desk’s number one goal is closely followed by decreasing operational and security risk. The fact that these two challenges are so high in the list of IT priorities provides a glimpse into the complexity involved in supporting a mobile workforce. In my experience, the challenges of ensuring user satisfaction and decreasing operational and security risks are often in direct competition.
It is easy to forget that a decision to keep network connection limited to a physical space can be an issue of security more than one of reluctance to support new technology. We should always be aware that as businesses open their networks up beyond the office walls, they are exposing themselves to more risks. Issues of identity and access management, authentication and many others creep in leaving the network at greater risk if these issues are not ‘policed’ appropriately. Add that to the fact that inappropriate policing could affect employee morale and productivity and you can see how having these competing goals is leaving many IT professionals feeling overwhelmed.
IT teams definitely have their work cut out. Not only do they have to keep staff connected, productive and happy, they also have to stay on top of the ‘connected, remote workplace’ phenomenon and secure the business against any potential risks. It is certainly a huge task and unfortunately there is no silver bullet that solves all of these problems. These are not the sort of challenges that will go away over time either. Business, small and large, must invest in making sure that they are fully equipped to deal with them appropriately.
For many small business, their main differentiator and the reason why customers choose them over competitors is the staff. Recognising this and investing in the tools that will make them more engaged and enable more productivity would be a good place to start on the connected workforce journey. With things constantly changing, this will have to be an ongoing investment as well. It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture or investment but it must always point in the direction of enabling employees. Happy employees are productive employees, after all.
Assess the risks and benefits
A connected, remote working staff base brings many benefits, especially to a small business. However, it also comes with some risks. Small businesses need to be fully aware of the risks involved and whether or not they are willing to take them on. These risks could range from the expense to managing employee satisfaction and morale, and can also be the difference between stagnation and growth. The margins on these risks are even tighter for small businesses.
Invest in support
If 105 million mobile workers by 2020 happens as predicted, investing in technology solutions to support it will be inevitable. Just as innovation in mobile and collaboration technology is making life easier for workers, small businesses need to invest in support tools that make it easier to meet the expectation of the users. With more mobile workers will come more support requests, from setting up new devices or maintaining existing ones. Ensuring that staff will get the support they need will only have a positive effect on the user experience.
For small businesses, supporting a remote working employee base is about productivity and how it influences growth. What difference does it make to bottom line? And how does it differentiate the business from competitors in a positive way? As small businesses explore these questions and other growth opportunities, it is imperative to invest in IT resources to maintain a positive user experience in line with any expected growth. Failure to do so could not only have a negative impact on staff, it could also result in missed opportunities that would be detrimental to the business.
Peter Zeinoun is director of products at LogMeIn Rescue.