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Four Challenges to Managing a Mobile Workforce

By: Carrie McFarland on July 9, 2020


Employees who don't sit at a desk with a manager hovering at their shoulder have to be self-motivated and highly independent to be successful. This creates inherent challenges for the manager who is charged with uniting these employees who are on-the-move into a productive and efficient team.

Turnover among deskless employees is high and job satisfaction is low. According to a Forbes Technology Council post by Ryan Chan, turnover in the food and restaurant industry is 100%. Deskless workers want to feel that their efforts are valued and are contributing to the company's success. But instead, they can feel alone at the frontline, uninformed and out of touch.

According to an Emergence Venture Capital report by Keven Spain, the key to bringing these workers together into a productive and efficient team is technology. The report states that, "Although software can't solve every issue, it can go a long way toward helping employees get their jobs done on time, allowing them to enjoy their jobs more, and enabling them to better understand the impact of their work."

Frontline workers have busy hands and a distracting environment, so its critical that technology solutions are tailored to their unique needs--which are totally different from desktop software. A mobile workforce management system is designed with this in mind. This system can include onboarding and training, information management, corporate communication, and evaluation based on operational checklists, all delivered to a mobile device.

Building your mobile workforce team

The first challenge is finding, and then keeping, the right people. A study by Cisco Systems identified the characteristics of successful mobile workers. They are outstanding communicators who are focused, organized, flexible and adaptable. They are self-motivated, independent and results-driven. To set this group up for success, it's important to have an onboarding and training process to match those characteristics. Our guide outlines the steps to accelerating time to competency so that new hires can meet productivity goals faster.

Mobile employees do not have an experienced coworker standing next to them, so they need information at their fingertips, when and where their work is happening. Staff development needs to be a major focus, because remote workers must be knowledgeable and self-confident as they interact with job tasks, inventory and customers throughout the store. If you're still using over-the-shoulder training and outdated videos, it's time to change. Modern eLearning is tailored to individual learning preferences and schedules, and delivered through a mobile device at the point of need.

The Mobile Workforce: Ramping Up Your Organization for Success

Accessing up-to-date information

The next challenge is information. Your mobile workforce needs immediate access to reliable information, same as they would if they were sitting at a desk. Their positive and efficient interactions with customers are what drive your business success. So they need technology that works reliably and solid training to feel confident using it. Ideally, information should be accessible on a highly portable mobile device they already feel comfortable with, such as their phone or tablet. They will feel empowered and focused when they know they have the information they need for every job task or customer engagement right at their fingertips.

This information is their link to their manager and team. But since they aren't working side-by-side, it has to be adaptable to the work environment, mobile device, shifting schedule and changing needs that mobile employees find themselves in.

And the information has to flow both directions. Because managers can't look over their employee's shoulder, they rely on what their team tells them and what data reports say. To assess productivity and efficiency, managers need real-time information from their mobile team.

Staying connected with a mobile workforce

Another challenge is battling isolation. Frontline employees may feel that they have no support or communication from their team. Establishing clear procedures and accessing operational checklists will help employees engage in standardized business process and focus on productivity, which is critical when managing employees you don't see.

A mobile workforce can also avoid isolation by communicating with each other. They can share lessons learned, tips and successes, and create personal connections as a team. In work environments that perviously relied on mouth-to-mouth communication, this is a tremendous benefit. Teams that work in different areas or on alternate schedules can receive consistent information and follow standard processes. 

Ideally, managers should offer brief communication every day that aligns with company core values. This focuses mobile teams and keeps them working toward the same goals. A variety of formats such as videos, documents and checklists will engage employees best.

Evaluating progress of mobile workers

Defining productivity of mobile workers can be challenging. Be aware and sympathetic to the uniqueness of being a mobile worker. These frontline employees deal with distracting noise and action, different personalities, frequent interruptions and unknown demands.

It's difficult to judge a mobile worker's time and impossible to micro-manage their activities. You have to rely on trust. Allow your mobile workforce to manage their own activities, while you focus instead on completed tasks, procedures followed, and operational checklists. Define good performance, how it will be measured, and its rewards.

Managers who support their team with strong systems to train, share information, communicate, and track progress can trust their mobile workforce to get the job done. It's this trust and empowerment that allows a mobile workforce to do their best. And because autonomy and empowerment are essential to job satisfaction, this creates greater commitment to the organization.

Managed correctly, it's a win for everyone.

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