Al Sargent, Sr. Director of Product Marketing at OneLogin, defines and explains the mobile workforce in this Tech Express.
EB: What is the mobile workforce?
AS: As every phone is now mobile, so is every worker. Just the act of taking and making work calls on the move has effectively expanded the boundaries of our working environment.
Whether we are responding to work emails out in the field, or picking them up in the office canteen, we are now mobile, and considerably more productive as a result. But the mobile workforce is as varied and as sophisticated as the mobile technology it uses.
The objective is to make employees as productive outside of the office as they are in it – so they can remotely access the same software applications and computing powers they can on office-based networks.
More than this, their newfound mobility can bring even better results, through field-based communications, work-life balance, and wider access to expertise.
EB: What are the main benefits of having a mobile workforce?
AS: A progressive mobile workforce strategy has several benefits.
Enterprises can improve workforce productivity and satisfaction, both of which can improve employee retention.
A mobile workforce can reduce office space expenses, which are skyrocketing. For many organisations, especially start-ups, it is debatable whether it even makes sense for employees to have fixed desks; they are adopting a ‘deskless’ policy, where employees are not tied to a single desk, but have the tools to work remotely.
Increasingly, employees want and need flexibility of movement, whether routinely or ad hoc – to work in the field, because the job demands it, to work from home, because of family or commute distance, or to tour around offices, as their services are required.
It means employers can cast their nets much wider in pursuit of the right talent because their whereabouts becomes almost incidental to their qualifications. And increasingly, a new generation of young talent expects and demands this kind of workplace flexibility.
In the end, such an enlightened approach empowers staff and, ultimately, stimulates productivity. Levels of communication and collaboration improve, because employees are more accessible and responsive – and often better positioned, and sometimes even better rested, for work purposes.
This last point sounds like a fluffy one, but workforce mobility is a good deal for both sides, and staff churn invariably reduces with it.
EB: What are the main challenges facing businesses in regards to the mobile workforce?
AS: There are considerable challenges – just because you are putting people, programmes, and information way beyond the confines and controls of your regular office environment, and office network.
This task to make the workplace virtual, given a vanishing corporate perimeter, is extraordinarily complex. Organisations are rarely similar. Their technological requirements are unique, because of the combination of applications they make available and the security protocols they protect them with.
They must ensure the right employee has access to the right resources, in the right places, at the right time. This comes down to access management, which must be a top priority for a mobile office, and can become a tangled mess if it is not handled deliberately, and with real expertise.
Alongside, enterprises must de-risk the new communications lines they open up with remote devices, so they match the integrity of office-based units. This is complicated by the rise of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, where employees are entering often-unsecured personal devices into frequently sensitive corporate communications.
The same security blanket, with the same seals and stitching, must capture all office communications, wherever they take place – even when they’re nowhere near the common workplace.
Ultimately, organisations require mobility solutions that allow both extreme flexibility and total security. These are the twin challenges for which security teams must strike the right balance.
EB: Are security risks inherent in a mobile workforce?
AS: Well, yes and no. It comes down to semantics.
As a rule of thumb, the least secure corporate communications happen off grid, as it were – away from the most secure in-house communications networks. A company’s mobile workforce tends to be its weakest link, when it comes to protecting confidential data.
That link is being stretched, as flexible and remote working becomes more widespread.
At the same time, software and expertise are available to strengthen that link. Security risks are not inherent; they are just less well understood. Many employees have robust security software on their devices, and yet most are bypassing even the simplest of security procedures – password protection and sharing.
There is a fundamental lack of knowledge, training, and compliance, which must be addressed. Our research says over a third of UK employees (35 per cent) would readily share their passwords for work-related technology (devices, apps, and emails) with their close friends and family, and nine per cent would do so with colleagues, giving automatic access to sensitive corporate data.
These are shocking stats. Network and device security is an escalating threat for UK businesses. It is paramount they get the basics of mobile access management right, and get employees trained up, if they are to make the most of mobile working without leaving themselves open to fraud.
EB: What is the future of the mobile workforce?
AS: More and more businesses need to embrace mobile working practices to remain productive and competitive. That much is clear; the march of technology is gathering pace, and employees’ expectations of flexible working are higher than ever.
Although this brings with it concerns around security, there are solutions out there that can smooth the way for businesses, such as Identity Access Management (IAM) and single-sign-on technology, which will allow employees to work effectively, anywhere, on their own devices.
Ultimately, mobility will be the backbone of the modern workplace, baked into business strategy, so progressive organisations can accommodate the needs and desires of their workforces, and develop a competitive edge that raises them up, and propels them forward.