While mobility is today at the core of organizational IT across the board, we continue to field questions from clients regarding operating strategy. Specifically, given that mobile IT enables location-independent access to computing and information resources, what management policies and procedures are most important in optimizing a mobile workforce?
As it turns out, there are two key components involved in answering this question. The first of these is a mobility strategy. The key considerations and objectives here relate to how a given organization benefits from mobile IT in the first place, along with the costs and ROI expected. Among the most important elements for analysis are:
- The alignment of mobility with the objectives for IT overall (with these, of course, also aligned with organizational mission and objectives)
- A financial analysis of both the capital and operating expenses involved
- The creation and application of appropriate organizational policies and procedures
- Regular analysis and operational reviews, along with the development and deployment of any indicated improvements in any of the above
Of equal--and, perhaps, even greater--importance is the second component in determining how to optimize a mobile workforce: a management strategy for optimizing the return on investment in mobility and for managing a mobile workforce. Many managers--and, really, many organizations--have a problem with human assets that are out of view much, or even all, of the time. This is despite the fact that many jobs--like sales, field service and consulting--are often, if not usually, conducted outside of the traditional office, and that any personnel-management activity must be based fundamentally upon mutual trust if not commitment. With increasing numbers of staff members working in the field, from home and otherwise out of sight, an appropriate management attitude and corresponding style are essential.
The approach that we usually suggest here is known as management by commitment (MBC), and consists of task-specific agreements between management, who allocate resources seeking optimal returns, and staff, who create the goods and services that the organization provides. This agreement specifies timeframes, expected results, schedules and milestone review points, as well as budgets and resources, with staff then having significant leeway as to the location and day-to-day scheduling of the required effort. Milestone reviews enable quick visibility into problems and enable rapid corrective action as may be indicated. But note that this methodology also works quite well in traditional office settings, meaning that mobility itself becomes transparent when the proper management techniques are applied.
A few more elements, however, must come into play in order to make all of this work, as follows:
- Agreements, objectives, and expectations: MBC requires honest and open dialog between management and staff, and a recognition that management is there to provide goals and objectives, required resources, and support. Management is not there to specify how a given task is accomplished. We’ve used this technique ourselves with hundreds of contractors throughout the entire history of Farpoint Group, and only on rare occasions have we had to dismiss a contractor due to underperformance. Written agreements are desirable here, even if they might be somewhat informal.
- Resources: It’s always management’s job to make sure staff have what they need to get the job done. Management must address the details, ensuring in the process that corporate policies are observed and that shadow IT isn’t creeping into the process due to inappropriate tools and/or methodologies, unresponsive management or outright bureaucracy. In other words, management must make mobile IT easy and even transparent for users.
- Resilience: Managing problems as they occur is of course part of the job, but avoiding problems at every opportunity is clearly the preferable alternative. This means assuring that backup (of all IT resources, not just data), disaster recovery and continuity--including having backup human resources for all critical activities--are in place is essential to mobile success.
- Visibility, analysis, and analytics: Management systems that are likely already in place--for scheduling, project management, finances and more--are increasingly valuable in providing the visibility necessary to manage any workforce, mobile or not. Mobility really doesn’t add any additional burden here, as long as appropriate communications channels are open and available.
Attitude: Perhaps most important of all, trust and respect go a long way toward effective mobile IT. Many managers assume staff that are out of a traditional office environment simply aren’t getting their jobs done, and, yes, this can indeed be the case. But MBC--coupled with a positive attitude, listening, support and reinforcement as required--helps address any issues quickly. Remember: Management exists to make users productive, and not the other way around.
The bottom line in managing a mobile workforce, then, is for management to see itself as a resource allocator, coordinator and enabler, and not as what we might think of as the traditional “boss”--telling people what to do and how to do it. To be sure, management sets goals, defines strategies and monitors progress, but it also and even more importantly must carry water for those getting the job done. As we noted above, it’s all about trust--in both directions.