Heed tech, people issues before going mobile

Businesses must first consider various manpower and technical matters before deploying mobile workforce strategy, observers highlight.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor on

Telecommuting may offer companies cost savings and improves staff productivity, but businesses must first consider important manpower and technical issues before implementing the mobile workforce model.

Vu-Thanh Nguyen, Singapore-based research analyst at AMI-Partners, said companies need to identify the kinds of jobs that are suitable for telecommuting.

Jobs requiring constant group interaction and frequent use of common equipment are better performed in the office, while individual or computer-based work such as research and writing, could be done more effectively away from the office, Nguyen said in an e-mail interview.

Companies must also establish clear policies and guidelines that support both managers and employees. "Employees need to be sure they have their organization's support for telecommuting, and managers need to know how to manage telecommuters effectively and fairly," he said.

For several companies in Asia, Nguyen said, technology support for the mobile workforce can be handled with ease but management mindsets may very well be more difficult to change.

"Asian managers may be more comfortable managing employees in the office environment, but feel a loss of control with telecommuting employees," he explained. "Learning how to let go, and how to control based on performance rather than time and presence may be difficult for many employers."

Companies should reward workers based on their results, performance and effectiveness, not their time in the office, he added.

Tech as mobile enabler
Companies should also support their mobile workforce by providing suitable equipment, connectivity and management policies, Nguyen said, pointing to laptops, fast connection to the Web and corporate networks as essential telecommuting tools.

Michael Yu, Asia Pacific and Japan director of Hewlett-Packard's network solutions group, said it is important to look at the company's current software architecture when planning for a mobile workforce. This will allow the organization to determine its existing mobile integration points, and decide whether changes need to be made to support a mobile workforce, Yu said in an e-mail.

For example, he said, if a company already uses Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 or 2007, and has existing mobile integration points ready to support a variety of mobile products including smartphones, PDAs and notebooks, and services such as voicemail and e-mail, it is important to analyze all data requirements and determine how these can be efficiently and effectively delivered to mobile workers using the integration points already in place.

Companies should also acquire telecommuting products and services according to their business needs, Yu said. "Customers are advised to take the time to understand business needs and align their mobile strategy to business direction, then thoroughly research a variety of solutions before making a final decision," he said.

Because a mobile workforce strategy impacts many areas of the company, assembling all affected departments and creating a mobile workforce support team will help ensure consistency across the company when dealing with mobile needs, he added. It will also aid in addressing any organizational concerns with the business model, he said.

It is also important to engage workers who will be using mobile products and services when developing a mobile strategy.

Yu noted: "For example, if the majority of workers are salespeople, it is important to engage the key stakeholders to determine their individual needs and how this new mobile strategy caters to the workers' requirements."

Case for unified communications
According to Nguyen, for telecommuting to be effective, companies must adopt applications that allow mobile workers to collaborate and share their work and knowledge.

Yu said employing unified communications (UC) equips the mobile workforce with collaborative tools, for example, that provide access to company databases and applications, as well as the ability to share information with colleagues and communicate with customers.

UC over high-speed networks also support high-definition video conferencing at a relatively low cost, and allow companies to run voice services as applications to cut costs and increase flexibility, he added.

UC-type social networking tools such as Twitter, can also help further drive cost savings by facilitating effective communication with a mobile workforce, he said. For instance, if a company requires an extra person for a shift, an IM (instant message) is automatically sent via an automated agent to all employees enquiring on their availability. If one responds positively, it automatically schedules that employee for the shift in the common calendar that can be accessed by other workers.

"This is another way to help drive business value, and increase productivity and service levels," Yu said, adding that midsize companies requiring UC capabilities, but do not have an existing technology infrastructure, can consider adopting the technology through a hosted service.

Larger enterprises can utilize their existing IT infrastructure to support additional UC applications such as routing international calls over Internet protocol (IP) networks to maximize high-speed broadband and software functionality, bringing immediate cost-savings to the company, he said.

Nguyen noted telecommuting provides cost savings to both employers and employees. Companies can save a large amount by cutting their office space rental, parking and utilities bills. Workers also save time and money on commuting, he said, adding that employees can also enjoy flexibility in time management and achieve better balance between work and family demands.

"All of these things can make employees happier, and thus, increase their productivity and quality of work," he said.

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