How to Manage a Mobile Workforce

Written by Guest blogger Nigel Crunden Thursday 18 February 2016
Occasional employees working remotely can often be neglected, but properly managing their wellbeing and relationship with colleagues can be the key to business success

The UK already has a strong mobile workforce and it’s still growing.

Many firms requiring proactive, self-managing employees to work remotely or between locations can enjoy a clear return on investment because of the increased productivity levels that this flexibility encourages. This is according to recent research from Stanford University that found mobile and remote workers are 13% more productive than their office-based counterparts.

As well as those that work remotely on a permanent basis, many office-based staff regularly travel to and from different locations as part of their core role, meaning that in some cases, large proportions of company employees are spending increased amounts of time working away from the physical setting of a business.

Despite the perceived benefits of remote working, however, increased working hours, isolation from peers and unproductive working conditions can all cause increased stress and reduce efficiency.

For mobile workers particularly, lengthy travel time can take its toll on concentration levels, especially if this involves going overseas. It is therefore important that employers make suitable adjustments to their working relationships with these individuals to ensure wellbeing and productivity levels are properly maintained.

Further to this, the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) recently highlighted the potential for mobile and remote workers to suffer from heightened stress and anxiety if unable to switch off.

Find out how managers are struggling in an always on work culture

This represents a significant risk for businesses, meaning that it is their responsibility to put measures in place to help maintain their well-being.

Before putting anything in place, it is important that business owners acknowledge responsibility for the wellbeing of their mobile and remote employees and ensure it matches that of office-based workers.

For example, the obligation to make sure that staff take regular breaks is one widely recognised in the physical workplace, but those working outside this setting are often left to manage the dynamics of their day independently.

This provision can be neglected if there are no clear boundaries in place to trigger much-needed downtime.

This is particularly applicable where travel between locations has caused tiredness and fatigue. Using electronic devices or systems to record the amount of breaks a remote employee takes over the course of the day is one solution to this.

However, it might be easier and more cost-effective to simply restrict the access of remote individuals to the work server at key times during the day, in order to enforce downtime.

This is just one aspect of a whole host of measures employers should be taking to better guarantee out-of-office staff continue to feel motivated.

Another core focus should be on inclusion in order to tackle the isolation that can come with lone working.

Making workers feel like they are part of a cohesive team therefore makes a major difference to their happiness and productivity levels. Achieving this comes down to making certain that all employees are involved in team meetings through the use of video conferencing and that their achievements are publically acknowledged within the company.

They may not be physically present, but their efforts are just as valid, so properly acknowledging this can make a big difference.

Even when last minute ad hoc meetings are arranged, where possible it is important to include remote workers to guard against them feeling left behind and motivation levels dropping off as a result.

Many see a clear-cut difference between mobile/ remote and office-based working but this doesn’t always have to be the case.

Providing employees with a ‘halfway house’ or touchdown office space where they can occasionally work within branded surroundings that reinforce a cohesive, team-oriented business focus is therefore worthwhile.

As well as providing much-needed familiarity, it helps to have an occasional setting where staff can work in the presence of others in order to offset the isolation they might sometimes suffer from.

A flexible and fluid approach to the wellbeing of mobile and remote workers can create huge potential for a business’s outlook, as the freedom this allows can drive higher levels of efficiency, innovation and job satisfaction.

However, addressing the risks that lie within this drive is equally important to having such a policy in the first place.

Stress, anxiety and isolation can take their toll on staff working remotely and without appreciating that it is the employer’s responsibility to address this, business owners are likely to suffer from lower productivity, as well as retention levels.

Nigel Crunden

Nigel Crunden

is a business specialist at Office Depot