Best Practices for Managing a Mobile Workforce

Working from mobile devices creates challenges in the enterprise – here’s how to overcome them.

By Mike Scrutton

Everyone has a different idea of what “work” comprises – for some, it’s digging ditches, and for others, it’s raising children. For enterprise employees, however, the idea of work has changed drastically in the last couple of decades.

It wasn’t so long ago that “work” was something done exclusively in an office. In many industries, an employee arrived at 9 in the morning; logged into a computer station and began going through his or her tasks; switched off at 5 p.m. and went home; and did no additional work until 9 the next day.

This idea of work taking place only at a workspace now sounds as simple and archaic as the days when we grew our own food and hauled water from a well, and technology has been the great enabler in helping move employees out of working solely in a designated office space. The modern workplace is mobile, and work can be done on a laptop in an airplane, from a smartphone in the grocery store check-out line, on a tablet at the dinner table or – really – from anywhere.

In fact, this isn’t considered “mobile” or “remote” working anymore. It’s just plain “working.”

The Work Foundation anticipates that 70 percent of managers and organizations will have adopted mobile working practices by 2020. While being able to work from anywhere and everywhere is a good thing in theory, organizations adopting these practices need to be cognizant of certain challenges as well, especially around security and access.

The Challenges of Mobility

Some enterprises may never have officially decreed a remote/mobile work policy for their employees, yet one day realized that people had set up their work email clients on their personal mobile phones, tablets and laptops. Others, especially certain industries, have become accustomed to their employees being available all waking hours, but haven’t considered how employees’ devices will function once outside the workplace, whether the employee is at home or travelling.

Either scenario creates risk for an organization. Unless an IT department is going into every employee’s personal devices and setting up a substantial amount of controls, letting people access work applications from any device, anywhere, creates real security hazards.

On the other end of the spectrum is lack of access. An employee might be able to work from anywhere in the office using the smartphone an employer has given her – with a single mobile device, she can access the server, a task management site like Basecamp, office printers, etc., from her own desk, a conference room or a collaboration area.

But when the employee goes home and tries to work after dinner, she finds it’s impossible to access her work server or print to her home printer from her work phone – because the server blocks access, or the phone uses different software or protocols to talk to the office printer than the consumer-class printer at home.  

There’s a fine line between balancing security and access, and any organization that allows its workers to be mobile, or knows/expects they will be checking on work tasks from anywhere, must walk that tightrope very carefully. Employees don’t want to go through a complex process for a simple task like printing, and it can be frustrating to try to be productive on the go and get hung up on something so mundane.

A few best practices can help tread that fine line and ensure that organizations with mobile workers are set up for success.

7 Best Practices for Mobile Workforce Management

  • Consider a mobile device management (MDM) solution to ensure proper management and security of employees’ mobile devices.
  • Even with an MDM, mobile devices create risks, because they can be lost or stolen. Ensure data remains encrypted and unreadable without multifactor authentication, so only designated people are accessing protected information. Create a hierarchy that separates data that is allowable on mobile devices from data that should never leave the protected network. Use applications that back up mobile device data to a server regularly, and consider implementing a solution to remotely wipe a lost/stolen mobile device.
  • Educate employees on security awareness when working from a mobile device, such as the proper use of removable media like USBs or SD memory cards, and the hazards of public Wi-Fi. Set boundaries based on data hierarchy to govern public network use.
  • Use employees as a human alarm system by setting up automated alerts that are triggered when someone logs in from a new device or changes a password. Employees can immediately see if someone has hacked their account or device, and contact IT.
  • Look for a mobile print service that provides both enterprise-grade support at the same time as compatibility with consumer printers that can be set up on employee devices. This will give some reassurance of security while also enabling employees to print from anywhere, because data that goes from a phone to a printer is encrypted.
  • Ensure that employees know what equipment is compatible with mobile-friendly technologies and services like mobile print and the organization’s cloud provider. By creating a list of supported and accepted devices and equipment, employees will understand their options for logging on from a mobile or remote device.
  • When employees are sharing documents with each other to print or review, encourage them to use a portable document format (PDF). PDFs are trusted electronic documents that retain the same quality as the original document format while being viewable/printable from any device or operating system. This can eliminate some frustration for mobile workers, who will be able to read and review a document from their phone or tablet in the same format as someone sitting at a desktop computer. PDFs can be further protected by encrypting them using passwords or certificates, adding another layer of security.

Don’t Forget the Human Factor

Two final best practices have nothing to do with security protocols or tech practices. Instead, they deal with an organization’s most important asset: their employees.

Recognize that people are working from anywhere, at varying times of day or over weekends, and allow flexible work hours to accommodate this. As work and personal life become increasingly intermingled, it’s important for organizations to give people the time they need for their personal tasks and fun. If an employee’s kid has a soccer game in the afternoon, letting them leave early to make it doesn’t mean the office has lost a few hours of productivity – because they’re likely checking work email between plays and may plan to log on from home later in the evening to finish up pending tasks.

Encourage people to take time off – and really be “off.” Now that employees are expected to be connected constantly, any time off for vacation or personal time should be sacred. Make it clear no one expects them to dial into calls, check email or handle work-related tasks when they’re off. Giving people time to recharge away from the work environment will keep them refreshed and productive when they’re back in the office.

Constant connectivity and mobile devices allow us to remain tethered to the office from wherever we are, because our mobile devices are an extension of our office that we can take anywhere. Yet ensuring security and access remain equally paramount for any enterprise with employees who use work applications off premises and from a mobile device. By implementing a few best practices, enterprises can ensure their employees remain productive from wherever they are, and enterprise data remains locked down and secure.

Mike Scrutton is Director of Print Technology and Strategy for Adobe and Steering Committee Chair for the Mopria Alliance.

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