With lots of talk about how work will continue to evolve this year (and beyond) as the pandemic carries on, we talked with Joe Boyle, CEO of Truce Software, about the role of mobility as an enabler of productivity for the workforce spanning categories including remote, office-based, deskless and essential. It’s worth noting that many jobs (think: pharmacist or grocery store clerk) that would be considered essential are also deskless.
Deskless employees – or workers who don’t sit at a desk to do their jobs – account for a 2.7 billion-person strong portion of the global workforce. Whether these employees are using company-issued or personal devices, one thing we know for certain is that mobile has bled more and more into our daily work lives in recent years, blurring the lines for workers between their work and personal life. At the same time, this blurs the lines for employers regarding what appropriate use looks like.
Here we dive into considerations for both the employer and employee regarding how to use mobile to the workforce’s advantage.
Gary Drenik: What should companies be thinking about as they consider the role of mobility in enabling the workforce to be as productive as possible, especially for those in roles deemed essential?
Joe Boyle: Essential or not, we know mobile devices play an important role for the workforce. Simply saying ‘no phones allowed at work’ is becoming less realistic and more difficult to enforce. Companies must find a way to incorporate mobility into the workforce because there are so many ways they enhance productivity. So the question becomes, how do we put policies in place that embrace mobility at work while also ensuring both the privacy and productivity of employees?
Mobile device policies and management have not traditionally taken into account what I consider to be the human aspect of mobility. That is, who is using the device, where are they located, what are they doing, how is their environment changing throughout the day and so forth.
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Companies are best positioned when they have a contextual element to their mobile device management policies that can account for these factors. This enables employers to more dynamically manage what’s being used, by whom, where and how without infringing on the employee’s privacy through traditional monitoring.
Drenik: How can employers walk the line between enforcing appropriate use while not overstepping their bounds when it comes to employee privacy?
Boyle: The importance of respect for employee privacy cannot be overstated. Privacy is a fundamental right for every worker and must be at the core of any mobile device management policy.
This is where the contextual element of an MDM solution holds such incredible value. When the employee is not at work, the solution turns off. It’s as simple as that. It does not track where the user goes, what they do or the apps they use. In fact, there are solutions out there that don’t track apps, see photos or messages, or monitor browsers and searches at all.
When an employee is at work, it’s important that businesses make clear what their company policy is pertaining to mobile usage so workers understand what’s considered appropriate or not.
Drenik: Are there any companies that come to mind that are getting enterprise mobility right?
Boyle: Terminix is one that comes to mind. They’re a leading provider of residential and commercial pest control services with more than 10,500 teammates and 2.8 million customers. On any given day, Terminix employees visit more than 50,000 homes and businesses with nearly 8,000 team members on the road.
As a distributed service organization, the workforce needs to be working at full capacity in as safe and productive a manner as possible. A large part of that comes down to their use of mobile while on-the-go throughout the day.
Terminix has spoken publicly about its use of an enterprise mobile device management solution to demonstrate their commitment to safety as they strive to be a best in class performer for the service industry. They’ve estimated their employees are 2.5 times less likely to have an accident with the technology in place. According to the company, that equates to a roughly $1M cost reduction from avoiding incidents.
Drenik: We’re all familiar with the concept of distracted driving and the dangers of texting while driving, but what other risks should employers be aware of when migrating workflows to a mobile environment, especially those outside of a vehicle?
Boyle: Yes, when we think about workplace safety and mobility, one of the first industries where we see potential concern is transportation and delivery. And this particular period of time where at-home deliveries have drastically increased with people staying home, that risk seems especially present. A recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey looked at how people have changed their shopping behavior as a result of the pandemic. From March of 2020 to February 2021, respondents who said they’re shopping more online more-than-doubled from 17% to 44%. The percentage of people utilizing grocery delivery services increased over 50% during the same period of time, so those concerns seem warranted.
Some of the considerations employers should be mindful of when migrating workflows to a mobile environment include where employees will be when they are using the workflow apps, what might be going on around them and whether there are times the employer wouldn’t want them to have access to certain apps or content. It’s also worth thinking about the embedded functions on a mobile device such as a camera. Are there times when this should be disabled so sensitive information can’t be recorded?
However, going back to what I mentioned earlier regarding contextual mobile device management, employers even in fleet-based industries like delivery services can deploy solutions that take into account what the user is doing, where they are and other contextual elements. The settings on their mobile device adapt in real-time, automatically as their movements change throughout the workday, so behind the wheel, potentially distracting apps like text messaging are temporarily disabled.
Drenik: Work and workers are being more enabled to do their jobs through mobile tools and apps with employers moving to a more mobile environment. Based on what you’ve seen, how has that impacted the attitudes of employees regarding the need to always be “on”?
Boyle: At TRUCE we recently polled 1,500 U.S.-based working adults on this very topic to see if 1) their mobile device usage at work has increased over the past year, and 2) if that has blurred the lines between their work and personal lives, making them feel tethered to their employer. Over a third (about 36%) said their mobile device usage at work has increased more or significantly more than a year ago.
It should come as no surprise, then, that most people surveyed also noted they believe the lines between work and personal life are being blurred. Forty-six percent acknowledged this to be the case, with 23% stating they wish they could find a better balance.
At the same time, the research found that employees largely believe mobility is a key enabler of productivity. At nearly 62%, a significant majority of those surveyed said they agree mobile phones or tablets play a key role in helping them be productive at work. There’s always going to be give and take. While we don’t like to see that employees are feeling more tethered to their employer due to the increased connectivity, we’re encouraged to know they believe mobility aids in their productivity. We urge businesses to set boundaries for their employees to help achieve work/life balance and to be vocal when finding that balance becomes a struggle.
Drenik: How do you see the role of workforce mobility having evolved over the past few years, and where do you see it going?
Boyle: Mobility has become an essential part of work, especially with the pandemic completely turning our concept of ‘going to work’ on its head for so many. And it’s not only how we worked that’s changed. The duration of our work days has, too. In the same study I mentioned previously, 40% of respondents said they’re working more than they were a year ago. That’s not to be taken lightly.
Consider the construction crews utilizing apps to guide their work on a road side project. Or the retailer checking out customers on a mobile device at a pop-up check-out station instead of at a traditional cash register. Or the doctor logging patient information on a tablet.
There are countless use cases where we’ve seen mobility take center stage at work, regardless of where that physically is. We need to continue to refine our focus on working smarter and more efficiently through the use of mobility in order to adapt to these shifts. That looks like less of a one-size-fits-all approach to mobile device management and more emphasis on the human element (who is using the device, for what, when and where, and the ability for MDM policies to pivot as the worker’s environment changes). It looks like greater respect for employee privacy and more transparency surrounding what’s considered appropriate use so employers and employees are on the same page. It looks like mobility playing a more central role in helping businesses achieve greater operational efficiency, leading to improved performance and better business outcomes.
Drenik: Thanks, Joe, for your insights on not only how workforce mobility can best work to the advantage of businesses across a broad spectrum today, but also on how much more there is to it than simply the workforce using apps on a mobile phone. We appreciate the perspective.