It is underpinned by building a runway to the cloud based on synchronicity
Buzzwords and catch-phrases gain momentum quickly in the world of technology. Workplace mobility is no exception, but the phrase does more than merely describe a remote and hybrid workforce. Striving toward workplace mobility is a strategy that companies pursue for a host of business reasons, including an empowered and productive workforce.
The shift to a mobile workforce started before the global pandemic. There were frontrunners and those dabbling here and there. The difference is that legislated social distancing forced companies to move quickly and obviously those that were further along their cloud journeys found the transition to remote and hybrid working easier. Recurring waves and lockdowns put paid to any illusions that things would go back to how they were any time soon. Instead, companies – both large and small – are forced to invest in technologies that enable a smooth transition to remote and hybrid working.
A mobile workforce brings many benefits to a business because staff can be productive from anywhere, cutting out stressors such as traffic and business travel, while employees can access all the resources they need through enabled devices meaning there is no disruption. Employers can hire the best talent, irrelevant of where they are based, and as productivity soars, so too does the trust between employers and employees.
However, a workforce can only enjoy the benefits of working from anywhere if it has the same access to systems as it would if it were working from the office. For this to occur, there must be synchronicity between devices, systems, and platforms. In an office-based culture, face-to-face interactions were what Bill Gates recently referred to as the former gold standard. In a mobile workforce, the new gold standard is synchronicity.
Synchronicity is enabled by the cloud. It is exponentially more difficult if there is no cloud strategy, and if systems are not able to be securely accessed from anywhere, then the business isn’t out of the starting blocks with its mobile workforce strategy. This is the reason so many businesses, both large and small, are in a race to get their systems into the cloud, such as storage in Amazon Web Services and Azure for office applications, for example.
Systems and processes will follow on the understanding that being in the cloud allows for a level of integration and synchronicity that was not possible before. However, a business needs a runway to the cloud, and this is built through fast, reliable internet and the right devices- when 5G is finally rolled out across the country, near real-time multitasking is going to reach new levels but this reality depends on spectrum being allocated and devices being 5G-enabled.
Cybersecurity is more important now than ever. A good analogy is to see each device belonging to each distributed worker as another door into the business. Just like in the real world, these doors need to be secured and so chief information security officers are at the forefront of cloud and digital strategies. Networks of cybercriminals mean that anyone could become a target of ransomware or data breaches, resulting in downtime, financial losses, and reputational damage.
Security needs to become part of the company culture so that the workforce doesn’t fall into bad habits such as lazy password traps and actively use two-factor authentication for every app they access while practising good digital hygiene such as not opening suspect links.
Factors that support a mobile workforce
Those of us who have been in the world of work for some time will remember when it was quite normal to hop on a dawn flight to get to an 8:30 am meeting in another city. It’s just the way it was. The pandemic showed the whole world a new way of conducting business. While some business travel will remain, and while important team meetings that require in-person collaboration will return to the office when it’s safe to do so, a mobile workforce means many more meetings will happen online. The younger generations will find this transition easier as they’ve had one foot in the digital world for all, or most, of their lives.
Devices are integral to a remote worker because, as discussed, the success of a mobile workforce comes down to synchronicity. The company must ensure that employees can seamlessly interchange between their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop machines while using any applications. In other words, an employee should be able to use Microsoft Teams or Telviva One on whichever device is the most convenient at that time. Old devices will become a hindrance.
Some areas in South Africa don’t have fibre networks, or they have networks that are unstable. Much like existing HR policies for things such as company mobile phones, businesses need to develop processes for a differentiated approach to dispensing various tools to different employees. Where a staff member is unable to connect to a secure broadband network, a mobile LTE solution, for example, could be the difference between them being productive or not.
Key features in the devices themselves are also important, and different features are more important than others, depending on the industry and job description. Beyond ensuring they have the processing power required to perform important functions, things such as cameras and microphones are vitally important for a distributed workforce.
Most laptops will have built-in webcams with microphones, but many don’t have sufficient echo-cancelling functionality which can spoil a presentation, or lead to disruptions asking people to mute themselves. Staff that would be required to partake in meetings would do well to have access to devices with quality built-in software in the latest IOS or android devices, or external cameras and microphones. The subtlety of being able to filter out background noise while focusing on the user’s voice is as effective as a virtual meeting user blurring out their background or using pre-set background to minimise disruptions. It adds a layer of professionalism.
The last piece of the puzzle in an organisation’s quest towards workplace mobility is keeping what makes us human alive. It is quite easy to become lost, or invisible, in a virtual environment. Technology cannot replace the need for humans to collaborate and contest ideas for magic to occur. There will always be a place for face-to-face interactions, but for those times where work happens remotely, businesses would do well to develop processes that ensure the human nature of work is not lost.
Rob is an ICT heavyweight and internet specialist and has been involved in the industry for over three decades, with extensive experience in general management, as well as driving new business development in South Africa and the broader African continent. His lifelong interest in technology has contributed to an in-depth knowledge of internet markets, technology and products. He co-founded Connection Telecom - now Telviva - with Stephen Davies in 2003.
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