Everywhere You Go: The Mobile Workforce
Everywhere you go, there they are. People on their mobile devices, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. I find a certain irony in our obsession with mobiles, at least when it comes to the mobile workforce. We’re tied to our devices, liberated from our offices, able to choose our own schedule, enjoy flexibility in how and where we work, and are always connected. Yet we work more hours than ever. Flexibility also means we can hold down a day job and still participate in the gig economy. We can be an office manager, an accountant, even a data scientist, and still drive for Uber or Lyft, make money from consulting, or blog about our hobbies.
Always connected is not always advantageous. Should we be answering emails at 2 a.m. or while on vacation? Some countries, notably France, have addressed this legislatively and their answer is no, we shouldn’t. Companies may also enact rules and procedures regarding connectivity expectations, such as a “no email Friday.”
It’s odd how reliance on devices plays out in the real world. We are connected but at the same time we are disconnected. I see people following the blue dot on their online map rather than watching the scenery go by. They look at their weather app to see if it’s raining instead of looking out the window. “The rain will end in 5 minutes,” one mobile user says to another, but I see no rain outside and put my umbrella away.
The mobile workforce can be can be either full-time employees or contractors. To meet the expectations of their employers, both need access to the knowledge base that affects their ability to do their jobs. This exacts high expectations on all sides. Employers want productivity gains from mobile working, and employees want the same features and functionalities on their phones and other mobile devices as they do if they are in the office.
As Verint’s Kelly Koelliker points out, having an extensive knowledge base is crucial to maintaining a productive workforce. This is another aspect of the connected yet disconnected phenomenon. As remote workers, they are connected to other employees. However, since they are not working in physical proximity to other employees, it’s much more difficult to ask a question and get an immediate answer from a nearby colleague. Email has much to recommend it, but instantaneous responses is rarely one of them. You could use your smart phone to actually talk to someone, but it’s still not quite the same as the in-person experience. The solution is a really, really good knowledge base to take care of most of the remote workers’ questions.
Knowledge management also plays a role in empowering people. Out of sight, out of mind is an age-old problem. As more of the workforce goes into mobile mode and are not in the office on a regular basis, if at all, they can begin to feel disenfranchised, as if they don’t belong in the same way that others do. Koelliker thinks the answer to this lies in providing avenues for the mobile workforce to contribute via feedback, internal social media posts, and collaboration. Find a way to foster teamwork, and productivity will increase.
A hallmark of mobile working is the “always on” aspect. Even if you choose not to answer an email or text at 2 a.m., you may be reading it. After all, emails or texts sent from the U.S. at 2 a.m. Eastern time may reach a remote worker in Poland at 8 a.m. Central European time. Always on transcends the time and space considerations of a traditional office setting, possibly making for interesting time shifting of work projects but also requiring a strong knowledge base to ensure all the mobile workers are on the same page, if not the same time zone, for the successful completion of projects.
Koelliker suggests that updating the knowledge base in real time is to be encouraged. This is a benefit of the always on nature of remote working. If someone in Poland finds a fabulous solution to a problem that’s been plaguing the team, he or she can add it to the knowledge base immediately, making it accessible to colleagues in other parts of the world, at their fingertips when they go to the knowledge base. The real-time aspect of updating keeps the knowledge base fresh and adds value in that it reduces the amount of time and energy spent futilely searching among old, outdated, and irrelevant bits of information.
Even with always on mobile workers, there’s a danger of inconsistency, says Koelliker. The location of an employee or contractor shouldn’t affect the answer given to a customer. Some answers, however, could be location dependent. Take the simple question of opening hours for a restaurant. Suppose it’s a chain, with restaurants in different cities, perhaps even different countries. To consistently tell customers when the restaurant closest to them is open, you would need to know where they are, as times differ depending on local conditions, laws, and regulations.
If you think the mobile workforce will be shrinking anytime soon, I’m afraid you’re wrong. It’s more likely to grow, and with that growth comes a proliferation of devices. As mobile becomes commonplace, it behooves companies to get it right, to effectively align with the needs of their mobile workforce. Employers need to keep up with the changes in mobile technology so that they are providing an environment conducive to the best and most efficient use of all devices, starting with a strong knowledge base.
Companies and Suppliers Mentioned