Understanding the Shift to a Mobile Workforce

Working 9 to 5 in a fixed location may become a thing of the past. An increasing mobile workforce is working outside of the office on their own time—but what does that mean for you?
June 28, 2018

Walk into just about any coffee shop and you're bound to see laptops open and fingers flying. While some of those individuals may be focusing on individual pursuits, there's a good chance others are part of the ever-growing mobile workforce.

A May 2018 global study that included North America showed a growing trend toward flexible working attitudes. The Workplace Revolution: Reaching the Tipping Point study conducted by International Workplace Group (IWG) gathered data on flexible working from 18,000 professionals across various industries in 96 countries.

The study found that 70 percent of employees in the companies surveyed worked remotely at some point during each week and another 53 percent for half of the week or more.

Eighty-nine percent of company owners believe that flexible work allows for business growth. Another 80 percent feel that offering flexible working arrangements enables their companies to lure and retain top talent.

Exodus to Mobile Workforce

"The mobility of office workers has been an evolutionary journey over two decades as increasingly powerful and connected technology has driven the meshing of the office and urban landscape," says Neil Usher, a professional speaker, author of The Elemental Workplace and an executive consultant for the global design firm Unispace.

Because my employees all work remotely, I'm not restricted by geographic location when it comes to choosing talent. I'm able to find and employ people who are the best fit for my company's culture and team.

—Daniel Clark, CEO, Brain.fm

"Working outside of the office has become part of corporate life," says Usher. "In varying degrees, we work where we need to, when we need to. Some organizations have even taken the bold move to occupy no real estate at all, inviting their employees to instead use their homes, urban spaces and co-working centers."

The need for flexibility used to be seen as only benefiting parents, believes Tina Elmowitz, partner at rbb Communications. Her company has had a flexible work policy for years that continues to evolve with direct input from employees.

"Now we see employees at all life stages working from home, other cities, at coffee shops—the locations are endless—and they don't need reasons for working remotely," she says.

"Technology has allowed business of all sizes to mobilize their remote workforces," says Michelle Bodick, managing director of sales and marketing (Americas) for the Instant Group, which places businesses into flexible workspaces.

"Digital connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), the growth of small and medium-sized businesses and the rise of the millennial generation of workers are transforming the notion of where and when work takes place," says Bodick.

Completely Mobile Workforce

When Nadya Rousseau, CEO of Alter New Media, founded her global digital marketing agency in 2016, she was surprised at how quickly it grew.

"Today, I have a team of six people, who are all remote," says Rousseau. "We live in an age when flexibility and independence are valued more than ever before, and our lives are lived in the palm of our hands on our smartphones or on our laptops. Managing my team in the digital age has come with its challenges, but it's also been exhilarating.

"Ten years ago I wouldn't have be able to do what I can today," she continues, "such as hop on a client call with someone from Singapore in the morning, another in Morocco in the afternoon and engage with my Serbia-based team member in the evening."

Rousseau finds that tools like Asana, Slack and Google Calendar make virtual work and collaboration among the mobile workforce enjoyable and efficient. She has also discovered that remote employees are cost-efficient.

"Spending money on a brick-and-mortar location and having everyone all in one place is expensive," she says. "Remote employees greatly reduce my overhead."

Benefits of Mobile Workforce

The advantages to running a mobile workforce are many, believes Daniel Clark, CEO of Brain.fm, a company that uses AI to generate music that encourages relaxation, focus and sleep. Brain.fm employees work remotely 100 percent of the time.

"Mobile workforces allow companies to be more competitive," says Clark. "Thanks to a virtual environment, my company is able to scale and build faster than ever."

Clark has found that a virtual office also enables him to choose from a nearly endless talent pool.

"Because my employees all work remotely, I'm not restricted by geographic location when it comes to choosing talent," he says. "I'm able to find and employ people who are the best fit for my company's culture and team."

Allowing your employees to work remotely shows you trust their work ethic and skill set, adds Rousseau.

"This trust can be hugely motivational for younger workers, who appreciate the validation."

Drawbacks of a Virtual Workforce

Of course, there are drawbacks when it comes to a mobile workforce.

"The biggest drawback of any aspect of digital life, including remote work, is a lack of face-to-face human connection," says Rousseau. "This can make it challenging to ensure productivity, motivation and consistency. Joining a co-working space or holding regular Zoom [or] Skype meetings with your team are good ways to combat loneliness and increase morale."

Another challenge is reinforcing your corporate culture when employees aren't in the physical office regularly, or at all, notes Elmowitz.

"Often, the solution is combining new technology with old-fashioned relationship building to keep employees engaged," she says.

Tips for Running a Mobile Workforce

Follow some steps and procedures and you can make running a mobile workforce a nearly seamless experience. Here are some tips for doing so.

  • Create a written virtual work policy. "Having a detailed policy that is proactively shared will reduce questions and help minimize guesswork for employees in your mobile workforce," says Michael Berretta, vice-president of network development at IWG and owner of Regus and Spaces, which provides workspaces across the globe, including serviced offices and meeting rooms.
  • Listen to your employees. "Flexibility can mean something different to each person, so it's important to think broadly in terms of hours, physical space, technology, communication and even employee benefits," says Elmowitz. "Listen to what your employees want and welcome them into the process as you define your flexible work policy."
  • Incorporate manager training. "Properly managing mobile workforce employees is crucial to the success of a company's flexible work arrangement policy," says Berretta. "Work with leadership and HR to develop and share protocols for collaboration, meetings and employee and manager accessibility."
  • Establish a rock-solid company culture. "As you bring more flexible work in, ensure that what you're trying to do can be measured and tested," says Clark. "If you don't have clear communication or goals to begin with, it's going to be even harder when people aren't in the same room."
  • Use connective technology. "Become familiar with project management tools that will make the process of working remotely easier," says Rousseau. "Slack, Asana and Zoom are several that have kept my team in touch and on track with their daily duties."

Read more articles on team structure.

Photo: Getty Images