19 Ways to Stay Ahead of the Needs of the Modern Mobile Workforce

By David Spark, CIO

Our work lives have evolved. We’re no longer fixed in time and place. In fact, according to Forrester, one-third of all employees are considered “anywhere/anytime workers.”

“Today, a ‘modern’ workforce often equates to a ‘mobile’ workforce,” said Steven Luong (@StevenTLuong), senior product manager at CommVault.

Even though we accept and often embrace the modern mobile workforce, many companies have not really sat down and thought about the needs of their employees and how they can capitalize on what is now a rather unique opportunity. This is where IT can play a strategic role.

“With technology adoption and supporting processes being typically slower in the enterprise, IT must work with their line of business owner peers to implement a company-wide mobile strategy,” advised Steve French (@SteveCFrench), global vice president, product management & marketing of Amdocs’ OpenMarket division.

How will your IT department meet these growing needs of your modern mobile workforce? Here are 19 tips to get you started.

1: Make sure everything has a mobile component

“Email, contacts, and calendar used to represent a reasonable set of mobile tools,” said Chris Silva (@802dotchris), research director for Gartner. “Increasingly there’s a need for purpose-built mobile tools for every task.”

For many individuals, mobile is the primary means of access. A “mobile version” can no longer be viewed as a nice addition or afterthought. “IT can positively impact the business by ensuring mobility is a key requirement for any new service roll out,” said Leo Reiter (@VirtualLeo), CTO of Nimbix.

Mobile is important, but individuals must have access wherever they chooses to access information, even when they’re not mobile.

“Apps used by enterprise workforces need to carry tasks across from mobile to desktop and back to mobile,” advised Sean Bowen (@seanatpush), CEO and co-founder for Push Technology.

2: Increase employee effectiveness with apps that serve “moments of need”

“We can finally deliver tools that are contextually relevant to someone in their moment of need,” explained Christian Kane (@ChristianKane), analyst for Forrester Research. “We just need to better understand how that person works and what is relevant to them.”

Organizations realize they’re sitting on operational gold. Many are just at a loss as to how to connect anytime/anywhere employees with relevant “just in time” data.

“You have vast pools of information with the power to improve employee effectiveness. What’s missing are ways to tap them on the go,” said David Johnson (@david_kjohnson), principal analyst for Forrester Research. “Employee mobile moments are the new focus of enterprise mobile app development.”

When information is delivered to staff in a self-service model, “employee mobile moments create a bias toward direct action,” continued Johnson. “Firms that instead favor investments in autonomy and improving information access on the go will have the advantage by increasing employee motivation and performance.”

3: “Consumerize” your enterprise apps

If you want usage and productivity, you need to focus on the user experience. This requires making applications so simple that they can be used immediately, upon launch. If you develop an app your employees want to use, they’ll actually use it, and that will translate into both productivity for your workers and cost savings for the company.

Reid Lappin (@ReidLappin), CEO of VOKAL, recommended that “enterprise apps be ‘consumerized’ so they have the same productive and predictive capabilities as consumer apps.”

“The trick is to make apps highly reliable, responsive, and user-friendly so employees don’t revert back to their preferred, but less secure, alternatives,” added Push Technology’s Bowen.

“To return control and maintain the protection of sensitive enterprise data, security teams should concentrate on the user experience for a mutually beneficial experience for individuals and IT,” said Kurt Roemer, chief security strategist for Citrix. “That requires enabling single sign on (SSO) for all apps and securely containerizing apps and data.”

Tyler Shields (@txs), senior analyst with Forrester Research added, “Mobile security must be invisible, contextual, and simple to be successful.”

4: Don’t dictate. Be responsive to users’ needs.

Employees can often find a substitute to an IT mandated application. When the IT department dictates what individuals can and can’t do, it causes a division between IT and the rest of the company.

“Tools should support the process, not the other way around. Far too often a department or company will get a shiny new tool (or have one mandated to them) and will shoehorn it into their operating practices,” said Mark Herschberg (@madisonlogic), CTO for Madison Logic.

“Make the IT group a service organization that is totally responsive to user needs, and not a dictatorial infrastructure burden often getting in the way,” said Jack E. Gold (@jckgld) principal analyst for J.Gold Associates. “‘Because I said so’ doesn’t work with your kids, why do you think it will work with your workforce?”

The trick is to “figure out your process and then source tools to support it,” said Madison Logic’s Herschberg. “Make sure to get input from the actual various individuals who will be using the tools regularly, not just the leadership team.”

5: Reassess tools and process

Overall, much of the discussion of managing the modern mobile workforce centers around finding new tools for collaboration, and driving the business forward while also making employees happy and eager to work wherever and whenever they choose.

That discussion doesn’t mean anything until you truly assess what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve. Once you understand your situation, combine that with the knowledge of what’s possible via new tools and processes, and then make a decision, implement, measure, reassess, and repeat.

“In today’s world things change fast, but sometimes even fast change can happen almost imperceptibly,” said Madison Logic’s Herschberg. “Everyone should spend a little time on a regular basis stepping back and asking questions such as, ‘What’s working well?’ ‘What’s not working well and how should we change it?’”

6: Keep a virtual chat room open to all employees 24/7

Andrew Auderieth (@datarealm), president of the web hosting firm Datarealm, manages his anywhere employees through an “always on” company IRC channel.

It’s become a boon for customer service, said Auderieth.

When a client calls the Datarealm help desk, the technician may be hit with a question they can’t answer, explained Auderieth. In such cases, they’ll reach out to other techs or developers available on the company IRC channel. The technician stays on the line with the customer until the problem is resolved.

“The IRC chatters could be helping multiple people and simultaneously solving several different issues at the same time,” said Auderieth.

7: Maintain person-to-person communications

“Because our modern, virtual staff isn’t located in the same place, it is vital to preserve person-to-person communication to maintain high morale within the company and ensure clear focus on achieving goals,” said Christopher Stark (@cetrom), CEO and president for Cetrom Information Technology, who believes management should have regular phone conferences with staff to maintain personal contact and better understand the status of various workloads.

“Mobile and other distributed teams need to find ways to remain connected with each other and their work. One of the most successful ways to do this is though real time communication – both online and through video – so employees feel like they are constantly part of something bigger,” said Natalie Lambert (@nflambert), senior director, integrated product marketing at Citrix.

Andrew Storms (@st0rmz), vice president of security services at New Context, highly recommends investing in an enterprise social network for fast paced one-on-one and one-to-many communications.

“DevOps teams, for example, usually require these kinds of chat and messaging systems to be effective in their fast paced world,” said Storms.

8: Leverage application-to-person (A2P) SMS messaging

A2P SMS messaging is a form of information sharing that is initiated by a business application, not an individual’s mobile phone.

“With a heavy emphasis on quick communication, A2P messaging is a highly effective tool for internal communication with today’s modern employees,” said OpenMarket’s French.

A2P SMS has been used for engaging with employees via personalized welcome messages, emergency notifications, timesheet reminders, loyalty programs, wellness program enrollment, and two-factor authentication for internal systems containing confidential data.

Financial institutions have been using A2P SMS for more than 15 years, but with the rise of IoT, plan on the opportunities for A2P SMS to expand exponentially.

9: Focus on improving access to apps and data

“The mobile workforce has really only one requirement… continued access to the applications and data to get their job done,” said Edward Haletky (@texiwill), managing director of The Virtualization Practice.

Citrix’s Lambert agrees adding that “individuals are not going to take the time to think if an activity requires a certain device – they want to focus on their work, not on how to get it done.”

“This need has not changed. However, what has changed is how IT provides for that need,” continued Haletky.

Step one is to make sure they get access to that data, the second step is “making sure that the workforce is working from the same real-time data,” said Peter Oehler (@Peter_Oehler), COO of Lookeen/Axonic. “That’s key to ensuring the optimum productivity of any modern company.”

10: Shift email communications to collaboration and knowledge spaces

“Since email is used widely today for information sharing, it is at once both useful and frustrating, because it was never meant to manage work, projects, or knowledge,” said Tony Lopresti (@IntellinoteInc), CEO of Intellinote. “CIOs would do well to introduce applications that cleverly complement and leverage email (as opposed to abolishing email), so that the information contained in there is actionable and useful. Such applications will significantly reduce widespread frustration with growing email volume, boost engagement, and drive productivity.”

Many enterprise collaboration applications cannot exist in their own communications bubble. Our addiction to email forces these tools to keep a door open for email as a possible communications interface. Even when email is used, the real value of an enterprise collaboration tool is its ability to centralize information for coordination and knowledge sharing.

“By keeping our communication in a central location, we’ve been able to desegregate departments and remove hurdles to team communication,” explained Dan Schoenbaum (@djschoen), CEO of Redbooth.  “We use collaboration tools to map every step of the workflow: the people responsible, deadlines, and priorities. By improving accountability and opening up communication, we’ve seen better execution on company goals.”

11: Demonstrate you trust telecommuting employees

“If you are going to allow employees to telecommute, make sure they know that it’s based on your trust in them,” said Charlie Harary (@CharlieHarary), CEO of H3 & Company. “By them understanding that you trust them, they are less likely to break that trust.”

Trust requires you to “be as transparent as possible with remote employees about company decisions — and even mistakes — in order to lay the groundwork for open communication and to cultivate a sense of loyal rapport,” explained Maren Donovan (@marenkate), CEO of Zirtual.

Dr. Sunil Wattal, associate professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, recommends, “leveraging social and collaborative tools for redefining the employer-employee relation from one of command and control to that of empowerment and mutual synergistic growth.”

12: Let virtual employees take ownership

“It is hard for some managers not to have employees in their line of sight or even ‘under their thumb,’” said Greg Arnette (@Sonian), CTO and founder of Sonian.

“You want to remove those boundaries and have the team take ownership over their work, especially if they’re not located at headquarters,” said Redbooth’s Schoenbaum.

“Remembering to include remote employees in every office activity has helped to make those outside our walls feel that they are still in the fold,” added Arnette.

“We installed Google Hangouts stations with high-quality audio and video connections in every conference room, as well as the cafeteria, and ‘sales pit,’” said Arnette. “This has meant that employees on separate continents can share lunch online as well as share code.”

These are not just ‘nice things to do,’ warned Matthew H Podowitz (@mpodowitz), senior director operations and technology advisory services for Pine Hill Group. “Without taking the time and effort to govern the virtual workforce (sanctioned or otherwise), the company faces the risk of a loss of control, a decrease in employee performance, and increased turnover.”

13: Create two networks: one for mobility and social networking, the other for information security

Dr. Mike Lloyd (@dr_mike_lloyd), CTO at RedSeal, tells the story of a major unnamed financial institution who wanted to honor the mobility of its workforce, while also maintaining the security of its customer information in light of employee devices continually connecting to both work systems and social media tools.

“The firm decided it’s effectively impossible to ‘police’ how users interact with social networks – control is expensive, and social networking sites are so compelling that users are likely to end-run around anything too ham-fisted that you put in place,” said Lloyd. “So they went to the other extreme – no desktops, 100 percent bring-your-own-device support, and two totally segmented networks. One network has open access to the Internet, but absolutely no corporate apps or internal resources of any kind. The other network has all the corporate data, but none of that data ever ends up at rest on the employee phone, or tablet. All company work is done via a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).”

14: For better control, monitor application behavior

A traditional view of information security requires constant monitoring of network activity. But as we’ve seen, “the network” of a mobile modern workforce can have infinite connections. What’s often more important to understand is how employees (or possibly non-employees) are using your applications.

The Virtualization Practice’s Haletky notes that “you cannot control all endpoints, but you can implement tools to audit and track what SaaS solutions your workforce is using. Once you know which applications are in use, apply some form of control using tools such as Adallom, SkyFence, Elastica, or SkyHigh Networks, which provide visibility into SaaS applications.”

That application insight is not only helpful for security purposes, but it also delivers valuable business information for marketing, competitive analysis, employee management, and business development.

“By using the right balance of enterprise app management and analytics, and leveraging the inventory of enterprise mobility management (EMM) and business intelligence (BI) solutions, enterprise organizations can gain better visibility into their environments to better understand how the technologies in their environment are being used to achieve success,” said Jason Stanaland (@JAMFsoftware), product marketing manager for JAMF Software.

15: Ensure mobile app security before you purchase

“Mobile applications are an essential part of the highly modern workforce, and many firms are going to third-party developers to get their apps developed and rolled out quickly. But ‘third-party’ and ‘quick development’ often translates into security getting thrown to the wayside,” warned Michael Farnum (@m1a1vet), practice principal for HP. “Create a policy stating that any third-party developer you use must ensure the security of the application before you purchase.”

Given that new vulnerabilities are always being introduced, Farnum also recommends getting your app testing done on a regular basis.

16: Alternative to BYOD is COPE mobile deployment

Bring Your Own Device or BYOD has become the new standard for device integration within corporate networks. Its adoption has resulted in increases in productivity, and in some cases a reduction in capital expenditures.

While popular and valuable, that flexibility of device usage doesn’t have to be isolated to just a BYOD model.

“Too many organizations and employees turn decisions about devices into a binary decision – either I own everything, or the company owns everything – however the decision should be all about balance,” recommended Steve Workman, vice president of corporate strategy & planning at LANDesk. “Many corporations are finding the approach of company owned, personally enabled (COPE) devices strikes the right balance by providing the best of both worlds. The employee feels like it is BYOD because they select their device, the applications and programs. For IT, COPE provides the benefit of knowing the hardware, having greater control over corporate data, and improving efficiently.”

“People want choice – device choice, app choice, location choice,” said Citrix’s Lambert. “COPE is a great alternative for BYOD as employees get the opportunity to make a personal decision about how they work, which will increase satisfaction. In the meantime, it gives IT the ability to ramp up on mobility tools and policies needed to support a broader BYOD initiative in the future.”

17: Be wary of the impending connectivity rebellion

Today, the 9-5 workday is an ancient relic that barely any of us can remember.

“The New Year will see an increase in this rebellion against being always connected, always on,” prophesized Heinan Landa (@optimalnetworks), CEO for Optimal Networks. “Businesses will put hard working hour stops in place and provide tips to improve work-life balance, effectiveness, and productivity.”

“Managers should clarify expectations regarding after-hours communication and encourage teams to develop daily routines that respect work and personal boundaries,” advised Jim Link, chief HR officer, Randstad North America. “Imbalance can easily lead to stressed and disgruntled employees, negative health and morale issues, and diminished worker productivity.”

One such place to start is with vacations. According to a June, 2014 study from Randstad, 42 percent of employees feel obligated to check in with work while on vacation and more than a quarter feel guilty using all their allotted vacation time. Yet, 67 percent of workers report feeling more productive after returning from a vacation.

18: Send your robotic self to the office

“One of the most effective ways to feel like I’m in the room (even if I’m a continent away) is by using a robot from Double Robotics,” said Tomas Gorny (@nextiva), co-founder and CEO of Nextiva, of his mobile telepresence robot affectionately called ‘Double TG.’ “I can participate in meetings from anywhere, and walk through the office even if I am in a different part of the country.”

While Double TG was initially startling, like something you’d see in a movie, Nextiva employees eventually warmed up to his in-office presence.

19: Enhance business processes by measuring behavior

“We often see how performance and activity analytics are transforming sports teams and personal health. The same ideas can be applied to software and IT teams,” suggested Jonathan Alexander (@VonageBiz), CTO for Vonage Business Solutions. “Surfacing more data is useful when managing virtual teams and teleworkers.”

Alexander recommends gathering and sharing all the granular data you can such as number of emails and time in meetings. The results will lead to new insights on how managers can improve teams and how individuals can improve themselves.

Office behavior measurement extends to wearable tech as well. According to the State of the Workplace 2014 study by Cornerstone OnDemand, 71 percent of wearable tech users say that it has helped them to be more productive. And even though only 12 percent surveyed used wearable tech for work, 66 percent would be willing to use wearable tech if it helped them do their job better.

Conclusion: Managing the modern mobile workforce requires taking some risks

There’s no doubt that mobile access has disrupted the physical, communications, and operations structure of work. The days of demands and control over what employees can and can’t do are long over. The new model requires offering choices, accessibility, and simplicity, with an overall ability to manage usage.

“Companies have to be willing to experiment and take risks not only with new technologies and strategies, but with how they manage their workforce,” said Rob Bellenfant (@Technology_Adv), CEO for TechnologyAdvice. “It’s important for managers to play a leading role in creating and tracking goals, but it’s just as important for them to allow their team members some freedom in how they achieve them.”

By providing structure and choice, business and IT can work together to empower their workforce while also meeting the needs for business and security.