The next time you see someone peering intently at the screen of their smartphone while waiting for the train, don’t necessarily assume they’re catching up on social matters or chatting with friends.
They are just as likely to be engaged in paid employment, thanks to the growing practice of employee mobility.
The number of organisations that allow staff to use mobile devices to access company information systems and engage in work while away from the office is on the rise. According to the Sage Australian Business Index 2013, half of all Australian businesses now say it is possible for staff to work away from the office.
Whether a business introduces mobility or not, however, may depend on the gender of the CEO. The Index found that women are more likely than male decision makers to embrace the idea of staff mobility (99% versus 83%).
Among the organisations that have introduced staff mobility, almost two-thirds believe the policy is delivering business value, citing benefits ranging from a tangible return on investment (ROI) to intangibles such as improvements in staff satisfaction, morale, a reduction in absenteeism and improved productivity. Interestingly, female business owners are far more likely than males to report experiencing tangible ROI.
While email is the most commonly used application, mobile workers also report accessing files, drives and servers, knowledge management and collaboration tools, accounting systems and customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
Given the sensitivity of information in many of these systems, it would seem natural for businesses to insist on strict access, device and security policies for mobile workers. But once again, the Sage Index found differences in the approach of male and female decision makers, with women much more likely to have enacted a staff mobility policy (49% versus 39%).
Disappointingly, less than one-third of all organisations that allow mobility have in place a formal mobility policy, and six in ten rely on informal policies.
Australian management needs to quickly realise that along with the benefits, staff mobility brings risk – the risk due to loss of devices, unintended sharing of data and the lack of compliance when handling sensitive financial or personal data. Unmanaged mobility can also result in less supervision of employees, raising concerns about productivity, workplace health and safety, and declining employee engagement.
If employees are to be allowed to work outside the four walls of the office, it is essential that the business give thought to how the process is best managed. This calls for a carefully formulated mobility policy that spells out the expectations, responsibilities and requirements of both mobile workers and the business.
Although mobility is enabled by technology, the policy is far from an IT issue. It’s a task that requires the input of managers across the business, and it is a responsibility best led by HR.
There are many considerations that could be included. What’s important for your organisation will depend on the nature of the business, the kind of mobility you wish to allow, management style, current work practices and the employees themselves. Following are a few suggestions to get you started:
Many roles involve tasks that simply aren’t possible away from the office. Managers are also unlikely to allow poor performers to work on their own. Therefore the policy must define eligible roles or perhaps hierarchical levels, and any prerequisites such as performance standards or review results.
What kind of mobility is the business willing to permit? Will staff be allowed to work away from the office on an ad hoc basis, and if so, are there limitations to the frequency? What about on a regular basis, such as once per week? Or will staff only be allowed mobile access to systems after working hours, thus enabling staff to working from home or keep in touch during evenings and on weekends?
The manager and employee before mobile work practices begin must take what steps, if any?
Do you need to put in place some way of measuring the effectiveness of mobility? How will the manager know if mobility is working, and that employee performance hasn’t faltered? This may be as simple as regular updates from employees or more frequent employee appraisals.
Compliance and risk
Are there any ramifications for other policies? Will mobility impact workplace health and safety, compliance, social media or IT acceptable use? Is the employee covered by business insurance when working from home or when out and about?
What mobile devices can employees use to access the corporate network, and to carry out work-related tasks? Can they provide their own equipment or must they use company devices? What security should be used and who is responsible for providing and maintain it?
Thirty years ago few executives were open to the idea that an employee could carry out productive work while having a coffee at the local café. Now we operate in a far more flexible environment, with businesses equipping staff to work wherever and whenever they like.
To date, most organisations have easily accommodated the change because they have only been dealing with a small number of mobile employees. However, as mobility gains in popularity and greater numbers of staff seek to take up the opportunity, the business risk of mobility will grow. Before that happens, do your organisation, your clients and your employees a favor. Place some controls and security around the practice by instituting an employee mobility policy.