Why a Mobile Workforce Strategy is Essential to Growth
Working on the go is commonplace these days, with the availability of communications technologies and an ethic that allows and encourages us to bring the workplace along wherever we are.
For companies the mobile economy presents challenges, from which businesses can be movable and where to move them, as well as how to provide security and how to maximize impact. Developing a mobile strategy is critical to taking full advantage — and mitigating the downsides — of being mobile, experts say.
“It needs to be thought through and planned for,” says Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of communications research at IDC Canada Ltd, an information and communications technology research firm in Toronto. “There are some quite deep, fundamental questions that need to be recognized.”
IDC has forecast that Canada’s mobile worker population will soon number 14 million, or 73 per cent of the workforce — an increase from 12.5 million in 2014. Much of that increase is attributable to the rise in the number of millennials on the job, says Mr. Surtees, and according to Statistics Canada, millennials now make up the largest demographic among the country’s workers.
Mr. Surtees notes too the finding of a recent survey, that half of millennials would be willing to accept a cut in pay for the ability to be more mobile in their jobs. “That’s how important [mobility] is to them,” he says.
The issue is especially critical to small businesses, which make up 97 per cent of all companies in Canada. These include an increasing number of solo companies, or extensions of companies that operate on the go in vans and vehicles, ranging from what he calls “break-and-fix” contractors to “pop-up” retailers and businesses that operate 24/7 and are continuously mobile. “It truly is for them anywhere, anytime,” says Mr. Surtees.
Karen Fischer, a partner at RK Fischer & Associates, a business coaching and consulting firm in Uxbridge, Ont., says that small businesses increasingly ask if a physical presence actually makes sense. Indeed, her own company has given up its office and is now working virtually, meeting clients at their places of business.
A mobile strategy should include everything, Ms. Fischer advises, from understanding the needs of your clients and target market to having the right policies and procedures in place to do your job. “It sounds good to be mobile,” she says, “but is that something your customers want?”
According to Barry Sharp, CEO of AMA Management, a small business consultancy in Vancouver, mobility can be built into a company’s business plan up front. Knowing who your customers are and how to reach them is essential, and often a fully mobile strategy is the way to go. “It’s insane to have a fancy downtown office if the customer is never going to visit it,” Mr. Sharp says.
He points out, though, that having a mobile website is particularly critical to today’s businesses, as 50 per cent of Internet searches are done on mobile devices. “Without a mobile-friendly website, you’ve lost half of your customers. Technology certainly helps you become mobile.”
Mobile workers today espouse the “bring your own device” (BYOD) philosophy, meaning employers don’t have to provide them with phones, tablets and computers. Companies must establish policies and strategies that take into account such practices, Mr. Surtees advises, noting that Canadian firms lag behind in this regard, with only half of companies having such policies in place.
A BYOD policy should deal with essential issues, such as whether an employee has the right phone and plan, who pays for it, how it will interface with the company’s other systems, apps and productivity tools and ensuring there is control and security in place.
“Technology by its nature and definition is an enabler, but the degree to which it can enable and help us is a function of how well we think about it,” Mr. Surtees says. “It’s really [about] asking simple things: What you need to do and what can make that more effective, easier, better?”
Going mobile can often be a “growth model” for small businesses, according to Ms. Fischer. For example, it can extend the hours that your product or service is available and reach new or wider groups of consumers. This can include older people who are less mobile, as well as young people, the so-called entitled generation.
Millennials typically want things to come to them, says Ms. Fischer, and so, offering customers greater convenience is always good selling point. “I would hazard to guess that if somebody comes to me and makes it easier to buy, I’m probably going to buy more.”
Operating such businesses using the latest technology is also essential, notes Mr. Surtees. Wireless is a “must-have” for today’s mobile workers, he says, but how to achieve it is often an afterthought for companies. “If it’s not properly planned at the beginning, people will encounter the flaws later, and they‘re harder to deal with.”
This is still early days, though, and future generations of wireless are promising broadband access and speeds as good as or greater than current Ethernet connections. “The business enterprise opportunities will increase exponentially,” Mr. Surtees adds, noting that the trend toward the “Internet of things” (IoT) will allow us to do everything in a mobile way, from tracking our movements to monitoring goods.
His advice: “We have to be ready for it.”This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.