Why your workers are on the move – and how to plan for it

The idea of a ‘traditional workspace’ is quickly becoming a thing of the past as our global workforce becomes increasingly mobile.

In 2015, more than one third (37%) of the world’s workforce were considered “mobile” – or of no fixed location – according to IDC. By 2020, IDC predicts a staggering 73% of the same workforce will be mobile.

What’s driving this enormous shift towards mobility and how can employers prepare for it?

Improvements in workplace and personal technology are a core reason for the change and are allowing people to work in completely new ways. Around 90% of the workforce now has smart devices. This means workers can operate, communicate and check-in with their employers and work colleagues from almost any location on earth. These devices also give employers the ability to better manage and minimise the risks associated with a workforce on the move.

Another factor increasing mobility is globalisation. Businesses of all sizes – from the large to the micro start-up – are now planning to enter global markets. As teams set up in new and remote locations, this means more disbursement of staff resources, more travel for staff and more ‘virtual offices’. Millennial workers are also awake to travel opportunities and many have an increased desire to satisfy their travel urges on the job.

A shift towards greater workplace flexibility is also on the cards. The new generation of employees, often referred to as millennials, have a significantly different attitude towards work and workplace flexibility. ‘Knowledge workers’, in particular, understand that most work can now be performed anywhere, and they expect (and in some cases demand) a flexible work set-up from their employer. Increasingly they make career decisions around a future employer by the state of their communications technology.

Parts of the workforce has always been ‘mobile’ – in particular, manufacturing, construction, retail and with healthcare workers inherently more mobile than any other sector. Healthcare workers represent the largest segment of the mobile workforce, with many health and community workers operating in remote and isolated environments. Having worked with these early adopters of workforce mobility for many years, there are a number of best-practice principles we can learn about how to manage and support mobile workers. Here are my top five tips:

5 Lessons for Employers of a Mobile Workforce

1. Plan for mobility. If we have learned one thing from the past five years of technology disruption, it’s that future technology is coming whether we like it or not, and even faster than we imagine. Employers must now anticipate and plan for an increasingly mobile workforce in the next three years and make sure the appropriate communications technology is in place to transition from fixed location services to management-on-the-go services.

2. Increased mobility increases risk. Occupational health and safety is hugely important in any workplace and often involves years of careful workplace planning and compliance to ensure the environment is up-to-standard for employees. But what happens when our teams are working in locations we have little understanding of or control over? This issue is particularly acute when our teams are working from remote and potentially dangerous parts of the world.

It is critical that we work closely with our staff to understand and assess any on-the-job risks within their new work environments and to take steps to minimise these. For example, global or regional travel can increase the risk of car accidents and fatigue-related accidents. It also opens our workers up to other safety factors within countries or areas that are not as peaceful as our own. Understanding the potential risks allows us to take active steps to protect our teams, including fatigue management programs and active check-in technology. The adoption of GPS technology is improving safety and emergency response times if there are any issues.

Globally, the resources and construction sectors have led the way in implementing travel risk management strategies, defined as Journey Management, to protect and manage the effects of fatigue primarily associated with the distance of travel to and from work sites. JESI works closely with workers in this area.

3. Out of sight does not equal out of mind. Knowing where workers are at any point in time and if they are safe is a significant problem for organisations globally.  With the increase in worker mobility and associated travel accidents, personal attacks, missing persons, terrorism and global catastrophes, organisations have a duty of care not only to their workers, but to their workers’ families.

With less control over where and when our staff are working, performance (or output) based management becomes critical. There are now some great options for staying connected and up-to-date on work and work milestones, including travel movements. For example, JESI is a mobile workforce solution that supports the safe movement of workers’ tracking and reporting time, date, transport type, local trips or travelling nationally or international. This is often referred to as “journey management.”

4. BYO device – have a plan for that.  Connected devices are delivering significant benefits to workers and employers on the job, however, it’s important to acknowledge that when an employee uses a personal device at work some boundaries need to be in place around the use of that device. Who pays for work-related phone calls on a smartphone? How is work related information being stored and how secure is it? Does your team member have back-up charging devices? If the device is considered critical to the job, you may wish to consider replacing it with a company product to allow holistic control over how that device is used in the workplace.

5. Work within the letter and the spirit of the law. As an employer, you are responsible for workplace safety wherever that “workplace” may be.  Increasingly, this obligation is now law. Since 2014, many western countries have, and continue to, enforce Health and Safety at Work Laws that mitigate the risks for workers who operate in remote or isolated environments.  The introduction of Australian WHS Legislation in January 2014 Managing Remote and Isolated Workers has required organisations to review and implement solutions to achieve compliance.  

As an employer, it is essential to stay up-to-date with any legal or compliance issues regarding your workplace team. Regardless of your legal obligations, best-practice employers are always looking out for their team members’ safety and wellbeing on the job.

Joe Hoolahan is Co-Founder and CEO of JESI. JESI is a mobile workforce solution that supports the safe movement of workers tracking and reporting time, date, transport type, local trips or travelling nationally or international.

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