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The mobile workforce comprises 2.7 billion employees globally, and includes those who do not work at a desk as part of their role. Deskless workers include taxi drivers, nurses, utility workers, forestry workers, truck drivers, emergency responders, and others who do crucial work without working from one central location.
Mobile employees can help companies improve customer satisfaction by bringing services to clients, and can allow for the completion of tasks that simply cannot be done from a central location. However, like all workforces, deskless workers and their managers need the right management tools. In fact, because deskless workers may not have access to the resources of a traditional office all the time, strong mobile workforce management tech and solutions are more important.
What Is Mobile Workforce Management?
Mobile workforce management (MWM) refers to the tools, tech, and approach used by companies to manage field teams, fleets, and deskless workers. It can include mobile workforce management software solutions, apps, services, and other solutions designed to help managers, leadership, and mobile workers communicate and work together effectively, even across distances.
The Big Mobile Workforce Management Challenges—And the Solutions
The deskless workforce needs a different approach, yet many Silicon Valley companies have disproportionately focused on office-based workers when developing team management and task management solutions. These options do not work for mobile and field service management, because deskless workers are often away from managers. While deskless workers may have more autonomy and freedom in their roles, they still require reliable communication, access to databases and information to do their jobs, and additional management support.
Mobile teams also face unique challenges that require their own mobile workforce management solutions.
The challenge: disengagement
Mobile workers may not have as much social interaction in the workplace as office-based employees, making it harder for them to feel like part of the team. This can lead to high turnover, which is expensive—companies spend the equivalent of 70% of a worker’s annual salary, on average, to replace a team member. Companies with disengagement are also outperformed by highly engaged workforces by about 20%.
- Make your workplace mobile: Use a mobile app to keep your mobile team engaged instead of asking workers to use a PC or to complete tasks in an office location (such as clocking in) that can now be done remotely.
- Create social spaces online: Use technology to create virtual committees or social chat groups online. Giving workers a space to socialize online through text or video chat helps them get to know each other, which is especially important if your team rarely gets to meet in person. Getting to know the larger team helps workers feel like they are part of something bigger, and helps you recreate some of the camaraderie that can come naturally when working face-to-face.
- Recognize employees: Everyone likes to be acknowledged. In one poll, 40% of workers said they would put in more effort if they were recognized at work more often. With mobile workers, it is important to use mobile workforce management or another system to make sure you publicly recognize good work and don’t overlook workers who may not be in the office or whose work you may not see everyday.
- Create opportunities for workers to meet in person: If possible, create events where workers can meet in person regularly, both for social interaction with their peers and for professional development. It can be invaluable for culture and connection to have your workers meet for regular after-work drinks or dinner, holiday celebrations, all-hands meetings, company retreats, and other events. Going offline some of the time helps your team feel like a team.
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The challenge: information access
Mobile workers need information to do their job, but unlike office workers they don’t have access to a central company bulletin board, filing cabinet, or even other workers they can ask for information. Good mobile workforce management means making sure your workers can easily access what they need for their work tasks, and that starts with good tech or a powerful app that can hold all the documents, checklists, templates, forms, and any other tools your workers need.
- Create a knowledge base: According to one survey, workers can spend up to 19% of work time looking for information. For office workers, this means sitting at a computer in comfort indoors. However, for mobile workers this can mean more time outdoors in various types of weather, more time in the field, and considerable frustration as they look for information on their mobile devices. Have one online, encrypted space that allows mobile workers to access task-specific documents, the employee handbook, procedures manuals, company policies, forms, and more.
A tool like Connecteam’s Knowledge Base can be useful because it is designed for deskless workers specifically, and is ready to be populated with your documents while being fully customizable. You can set permissions so teams can access the documents they need without having to scroll through irrelevant information, and you can organize the documents so they’re easy to find.
- Task and work order management: When your workers are in the field, use a task management feature on your mobile workforce management platform to assign tasks, attach necessary documents for each task, set deadlines, and more. You can get status updates and communicate about tasks, allowing workers to stay organized and on track.
- Scheduling management: If your workers aren’t coming into an office, you may be wondering how you can know when they’re available to work and when they’ve clocked in. Equally, employees need to know when their shifts should begin and what is expected of them. A platform like Connecteam solves this problem. Create and share schedules online, verify they’re not overlapping, and even create “open shifts” for your workers to claim.
The clock-in feature lets workers clock in when they arrive on site, even if they’re working away from your main offices. You can even set up geofenced locations, get notifications when workers clock in, and set limits to control overtime so you can save company money.
The challenge: access to technology
In one survey, 75% of deskless workers polled reported that they use technology at least half of the time they are at work. However, 80% also reported receiving laptops from their workplaces instead of more appropriate technology, such as mobile devices. In some cases, employees worked on securing mobile technology on their own so that they had the tools they needed to do their job.
- Consider offering company tech: Buying quality smartphones or tablets for your mobile team ensures everyone is using secure, modern tech. You can also ensure your team members all have the technology at hand to do their job and run your mobile workforce management platform.
- Let employees use their own tech: Some companies allow workers to use their own mobile devices. While this can raise additional security concerns, it can help control costs. If workers are using their own technology, using a secure mobile workforce management app is important to ensure company data stays safe.
- Update regularly: Make sure you are running the latest mobile workforce apps with the current updates. If you offer company devices, such as tablets, update them regularly so workers have reliable tools in the field and on the go.
The challenge: fleet management
If you have a deskless workforce, you often don’t just need to manage personnel. You also need to manage your fleet and the customer experience provided by your mobile team. Depending on your business, this may mean dispatching your team to urgent or requested tasks, tracking shipments and personnel, keeping vehicle maintenance schedules, and more. Being able to complete these tasks effectively can save your company time and money and can improve customers’ experiences.
- Use a GPS tracker: A GPS tracker, like the one available with Connecteam, lets you see where your fleet is in real-time and tracks speed and distance. It even allows you to replay the routes drivers have taken on specific days and helps you stay compliant with Hours of Service rules by managing driving hours.
- Use an employee app for dispatch: An app like Connecteam lets you schedule shifts, but it also lets you re-dispatch trucks or make last-minute changes as needed. Since it’s combined with a chat feature, you and your teams or drivers can easily stay in touch when you need to make adjustments.
The same system lets you easily locate the nearest team member when a request is made and dispatch them to any urgent jobs. It even lets you coordinate teams, so you can dispatch different types of emergency responders to a scene or send both technicians and a delivery team to the same address, for example.
- Create a system for inventory management: Your fleet is not the only thing you need to manage. You may also need to ensure that tools and work equipment are returned on time and in good condition.
A management platform can help you create checklists for task-related tools and inventory, and even allows you to gather employee electronic signatures when tools and equipment are returned. If equipment is damaged, a good mobile system lets workers upload images of the affected equipment so it can be repaired before it’s needed again.
The challenge: communication issues
Workers in the field may not always have internet access and may be far from teams, working solo or with clients. Communicating with others in the workplace is more challenging and requires more layers of communication.
- Make communication asynchronous: For workers who are in the field, engaging with a customer, or out of range of a cell tower, asynchronous communication allows them to do their work and then check and return messages once they are able to. When holding meetings or sending messages, keep in mind that some members of your mobile team may get these messages later and build in extra time for replies.
- Offer one space for all communication so nothing gets missed: A mobile workplace management platform like Connecteam is mobile and allows workers to access documents, forms, policies, chat groups, and all forms of communication in one place. This way, employees don’t have to wonder where an important checklist is housed and don’t have to send instant messages and chat requests through multiple platforms. With one system, it’s clear where everything is.
- Use a mobile-first system: It’s important that your mobile workplace management platform or app doesn’t just support mobile communications but is designed with mobile devices and deskless workers specifically in mind. A good app can allow workers to reach out to head office or a manager or coordinator in real time, without needing to know their contact information.
A real time chat feature can offer one of the fastest ways to get help, while a company directory can help workers find the team members they need to contact. A feature like Connecteam Updates is also useful. This social-media-like feed lets workers see company-wide updates in real time, with or without videos and images.
The challenge: oversight is harder
How can you manage someone you can’t see, who may be on the job miles away from their manager or supervisor? Are your mobile workers “out of sight, out of mind?” Are you able to provide the oversight and support your workforce needs?
- Use a strong fleet management tool: Fleet management tools like Connecteam make it easier to coordinate the unique complexities of a moving team. With fleet management, you can see where everyone is, who’s closest to a requested job, and where your team members need to go next. You can even see where someone is heading, whether they’re on a worksite, and more information managers may need to fully support a team.
- Offer plenty of tools and resources: Custom training can help workers feel confident in their job and provide them with the skills they need to work autonomously—with appropriate support, of course. Connecteam allows you to create quizzes so that you can test workers on what they have learned.
Systems, checklists and detailed job requests help workers know exactly what is expected of them, allowing them to work efficiently with more independence. Checklists and other tools in a system like Connecteam also offer managers information about work being done, so they can effectively manage teams and tasks in real time.
- Offer easy documentation support: It can affect the customer experience if a mobile worker can’t find the correct form to complete a task. A good platform has documents organized so they can be found in minutes, and regularly updates documents so workers can access the correct versions of the files and forms they need.
- Conduct regular surveys: It’s easy for leadership to think they know what support deskless workers need, but the best way to find out is by asking. Using a feature like Connecteam surveys and polls lets you evaluate how well tech is working for your mobile workforce and whether additional resources are needed.
The challenge: mobile work can be unpredictable
Workers in the field may need to deal with clients on their own or may encounter weather conditions or other situations on the ground that they need to react to. Mobile work often happens in an unpredictable environment, and workers in construction, transportation, emergency response, and other fields can encounter unique and emergency situations.
- Have emergency contact systems: Make it easy for workers to contact you in an emergency and use a platform or app with push notifications, so you can alert your team of incoming storms or other dangerous conditions. Have safety policies and emergency procedures in place so your team knows what to do when the unexpected happens.
- Think offline: Having some written material employees can carry with them, especially for emergencies, can be useful if power goes out during a storm or if a worker in the field is in a dead zone. An emergency contacts list or a small, printed emergency guide gives workers something to reference if their mobile devices are not accessible.
- Offer flexibility where possible: If the work allows it, give workers freedom in how they complete tasks. When assigning a task explain what the work involves, when it needs to be completed by, and what the goal of the work is. If you can, allow the worker some freedom in deciding how to accomplish that task. For example, your employee may see conditions on the ground that mean adjustments to the usual process may need to be made in order to complete a task.
Best Practices to Manage Mobile Workers and Their Work
When you’re choosing a mobile workforce management system, there are two main factors to consider. First, you need a powerful management app built specifically for deskless workers, offering an all-in-one solution to operations, scheduling, HR, and communications. Second, you need a management approach that addresses the needs of mobile workers. The following are best practices to introduce when rolling out your management system:
- Make mobile workers feel part of the team: Make sure celebrations, company events, big announcements, and opportunities are available to mobile workers equally. If you’re having a meeting where some workers are joining via video from the field, for example, make sure any activities or icebreakers can include them.
- Measure mobile worker progress and engagement: Create a “recommendations” feature online where mobile workers can share what is and isn’t working. Bring these ideas to leadership and work to implement them if they are possible. If an idea is not possible, it can be useful to share why and to offer alternatives. Regularly conduct employee reviews using data from your mobile workplace management platform, so you can support workers in improvement and growth.
- Ensure communications are mobile-first: Encourage mobile workers to check in and schedule one-on-one meetings to discuss how each worker is doing. While in person meetings are an excellent way to connect, when this is impossible mobile chat, video chat, and other forms of mobile communication can ensure conversations with workers continue. Create direct communication between mobile workers and leadership by creating group chats and regularly-scheduled check-in meetings so deskless workers feel seen and heard.
- Create mobile resources: Employee resource groups, virtual culture committees, and group chats give mobile workers a chance to get to know each other and others at the company. This helps you to get to know the mobile workers on your team, so you know how you can work with their unique personalities and potential contributions.
- Offer mentorship and growth opportunities: Professional and personal development opportunities can help empower mobile workers to shape their roles into the positions they want. These opportunities also let them develop new skills they can use on the job, and the possibility of growth within a role can encourage workers to stay.
- Use data to manage your deskless workforce: Looking at hours worked, customer reviews, inventory management spreadsheets, customer survey results, and other metrics can give you a sense of how mobile workers are doing. Make it a priority to occasionally review company data and individual worker metrics to make sure everyone is supported.
Mobile Workforce Management is Workplace Empowerment
Managing a mobile or blended workforce means working with employees who are more independent. When your workforce is in the field, in customers’ homes, or in other remote locations, the right tech can give workers everything they need to thrive. It also empowers managers with the tools and data they need to provide full support to workers and leadership.
Robust mobile workforce management tools offer real solutions and allow you to handle the complexities of your workplace while offering practical solutions to your biggest challenges.
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