When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, over 16 million people were forced to adopt a remote work lifestyle in a matter of weeks. While many thought this would be temporary, some experts now identify the U.S. as having a working-from-home economy where almost twice as many employees are working from home vs. the office.
With this shift, many now realize two key things: first, how important it is to create flexible work environments and second, how technology will be their enabler. But for those who have been part of the mobile workforce for years, the need for flexibility, mobility and remote connectivity and collaboration is nothing new: mobile workers are consistently challenged with staying connected to teams and critical information in the field, similar to how remote workers are now looking for tools and solutions to stay productive and engaged from home.
So with mobile workers expecting to comprise 43.3% of the total global workforce by 2023, and traditional workers no longer bound to a single location, it’s finally time for companies and technology manufacturers to recognize the importance of on-the-go work, and start creating solutions to support these needs.
Prioritizing digital transformation
Better supporting remote and mobile workers begins with evaluating companies’ technology investments and IT infrastructure. Business decision makers must ask themselves critical questions to understand where they are in their company’s digital transformation journey and what still needs to be done. What tools do workers need to do their jobs effectively? How are processes changing to better support a disparate workforce? How have customers’ needs changed?
Responses to these basic questions can be the starting point for a company looking to better support employees and in turn, their customers. And because much of the workforce now relies on staying connected to coworkers and customers from a distance, shifting from manual processes to technology-enhanced ones will be a key piece of the puzzle.
Implementing technology-based practices will help decision makers stay on top of changing trends or market demands, enabling companies to remain agile and continue supporting workers and customers. Many companies, organizations and even entire industries have been wholly unprepared for the shift to remote work because they did not already have technology in place. The education sector was perhaps most glaringly unprepared and has now found itself struggling to make quick tech investments – from Chromebooks to streaming technology – to stay effective. Others like the food service industry have pivoted, relying on mobile ordering, food lockers and other newer technologies to continue meeting consumer demand.
Addressing challenges with a solutions-first mindset
For companies unfamiliar with managing disparate teams and workers, this shift may seem daunting, which is why it’s critical to work with solution providers – not just technology vendors. In today’s increasingly complex world, it’s not enough to equip workers with laptops, smartphones or other hardware basics. By working with a technology partner who can offer software and services as an additional layer of support to the hardware they provide, companies can avoid facing the challenge of implementing new technologies and digital strategies.
A common issue for many businesses is agility and that has become even more challenging in a remote environment. Agility is key when it comes to leading employees, especially remotely, and the ability to offer technology the enables this type of operational efficiency is paramount. Information must be easily accessible no matter where employees are working, but without the proper technologies in place, organizational agility could be impacted. For example, a traditional office worker who’s now working from home may have a simple question for a colleague. Though, in this scenario, she no longer has the luxury of walking over to her colleague’s desk for a quick answer. In the absence of that, searching for answers remotely can get frustrating. Having a strong, reliable digital infrastructure in place can help employees stay productive, and that’s where agility allows leaders to provide employees with the right tools to solve problems and do their best work.
For a mobile worker, this need is no different. Instead of collaborating with a colleague, someone like an EMT may need access to a person’s medical records when responding to an emergency incident. Agility in this scenario provides the EMT with the right technology and access to the information he needs to take care of his patient. This may include a combination of a secure laptop or tablet, enhanced connectivity provided by a network like FirstNet and the appropriate software and applications to make his work more efficient such as speech-to-text for updating the patient’s chart.
While connectivity isn’t the only concern for companies with mobile workers or those shifting to remote work environments, it’s a crucial element to consider when striving for efficient workflows. Beyond selecting solutions that bridge the gap between the tools themselves and the scenario in which they would be used, companies can advance their digital transformation journeys and enhance employees’ experiences by creating and committing to a cohesive strategy that prioritizes agility.
Managing teams remotely
As workers continue operations from the comfort of their homes, companies are also faced with managing an increasingly dispersed workforce, similar to how the mobile workforce operates today. While this comes with technical challenges like connectivity and security, it also means learning how to support workers emotionally by creating an open and safe environment that welcomes conversation and collaboration, but also allows workers to perform at their best.
Companies that are most successful with managing remote and mobile workers will focus on outcomes and less on the effort it takes to get the job done, which is the traditional model of assessment. This can be done by communicating to workers what the end goal is for a certain project, and providing more clarity on if and why certain processes or technologies were put in place to meet that goal.
Similarly, creating a culture of transparency and openness as an organization can help employees feel like they’re on the same page with their coworkers and team leads despite their location. Knowing that remote work can lead to isolation, and isolation can in turn lead to uncertainty, the level of transparency from teams – especially senior leadership – must far exceed previous ways of working. Information sharing is a critical component to this, so creating outlets for coworkers to connect, developing repositories of information for easy access and encouraging open and honest feedback can help workers continue to feel seen and heard, while also fostering innovation and the sharing of new ideas.
Regular check-ins with teams can also help with making workers feel safe, connected and an important part of the organization. In extreme cases when workers start to feel disconnected to their coworkers, work no longer remains an identity and rather a transaction which could lead to retention issues. As the overarching work culture shifts in the U.S., leaders now managing an increasing number of remote workers should look to those who’ve been leading a mobile workforce for a while now as inspiration.
Realizing enhanced workforce support
This year’s market shifts have had serious economic impacts, but they have also been a catalyst for companies to ramp up their digital transformation initiatives to support flexible work – something that will benefit remote and mobile workers alike. Now that working from home has been normalized, more workers than ever are demanding increased flexibility, and will look to their employers to provide the technology solutions that enable this. As both remote and mobile workers continue demanding these solutions, digital transformation must become part of companies’ DNA to succeed.
- Faisal Pandit is President of Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America
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