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How to get the best from a mobile workforce

How to get the best from a mobile workforce

Many businesses are in danger of missing out on the benefits offered by mobile workers through the recruitment of inappropriate personalities, poor management and failure to provide adequate communications resources.

Mismanagement in particular can have serious implications on the success of a mobile worker - with under and over communication both having a negative impact.

A lack of regular communication can lead to increased levels of stress and feelings of isolation, whereas micromanagement can undermine trust.

This is important considering mobile workers will account for one quarter of the world’s working population by 2009, according to IDC. 

The Cisco study, “Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce”, carried out by occupational psychology specialists at Pearn Kandola, examines the business and interpersonal challenges of mobile workers.

The study reveals the dominant personality characteristics of effective mobile workers, examines cultural influences on mobile working and highlights management best practices, addressing the specific challenges that mobile workers face.

Occupational psychologist at Pearn Kandola and author of the report, Stuart Duff, said, “As the mobile working phenomenon continues to grow, organisations must ensure that they have suitable leadership in place to manage teams of mobile workers.

 “Managers must not fall into the trap of treating mobile workers in the same way as office-based employees.

He added, “They need to be effective communicators and relationship builders with an adaptive management style that they can tailor to the personalities within their team.

“Organisations must also ensure that the right tools and resources are made available to mobile workers, giving them the same connectivity as office-based workers.”

Workers that flourish and succeed within mobile roles are typically self-motivated, resilient, extrovert and independent, so when recruiting, organisations must rigorously test for these attributes.

There are several personality profiles that could be successful in a mobile working environment. These are as follows:

 - Stimulation Seeker - extroverted, motivated by contact with people
 - Tough Survivors - emotionally stable, low levels of neuroticism, resilient under pressure
 - Curious Explorers - creative, open to new ideas, enjoys variety of experience
 - Independent Decision-Makers - maintain independent mindset, appreciates being trusted to work without supervision
 - Disciplined Achievers - conscientious and self-motivated

A successful manager needs to trust their mobile teams and enable them to manage their own workload, and emphasise deliverables rather than activities.

Managers must also play their part in establishing a mobile work ethic within their organisation and regular communication with mobile workers is vital.

To this end, it is imperative that managers give mobile workers the same access to communications resources as office-based workers.

To avoid isolation and demotivation, managers need to promote visibility of mobile workers within the organisation. 

Providing forums for social interaction between colleagues is also important.

For example, instant messaging and presence tools are a good way of building a mobile workers’ sense of inclusion, and video facilities can reduce feelings of separation by giving them visibility and access to team workers who are working remotely.

Geographically, the report addresses five regions, which include Western Europe, Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States; Central and Eastern Europe; Middle East and Africa; and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Culturally, the distribution of mobile workers varies greatly across Western Europe. For example, there is a significant difference in adoption of mobile working between the north and south.

This ranges from 46 per cent in the Netherlands and 45 per cent in Finland, to 17 per cent in Spain and 8 per cent in Portugal.

Although this can be explained to some extent by a country’s degree of ‘networked readiness’ (the propensity for countries to exploit the opportunities offered by information and communications technology), cultural differences play an important role.

In emerging or developing countries where mobile penetration is outstripping fixed line communications, there is a fertile environment for the leapfrogging of legacy technologies and introducing mobile working practices.

However, the study found that whilst the Middle East and some African countries were capitalising on the work-life balance benefits of mobile working, others such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, which have highly dialogue-oriented cultures with a strong preference for face-to-face communications, have been slower to adopt mobile working.

Only larger companies and multinational organisations provide the required support in these countries.

Directly related to geographical acceptance of mobile working, the study also cites two cultures where mobile workforces thrive.

‘Feminine’ cultures are more pre-disposed to men and women sharing childcare responsibilities and therefore tend to accept more family-friendly practices, such are mobile working.

Data-oriented cultures tend to emphasise productivity and efficiency and, as a result, are more likely to promote autonomous working, brief communications and the use of technology, which has a close fit with mobile working styles.

Director of Unified Communications, Cisco, Clive Sawkins, said, “This study highlights the need for businesses to address a number of issues in order to make their mobile workforce as productive as possible.

“Making sure mobile workers are suitably equipped with appropriate communications technology is important.”

He added, “For example, presence and video can help reduce the feeling of isolation by giving mobile workers access and visibility of their team members who are online.

“In addition to this, organisations must also focus on developing skilled managers, select the right candidates and provide the right resources and support to create a successful mobile workforce.”


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