Out (of the office) is the new "in"

September 10, 2009: 10:00 AM ET

How technology is aiding - and shaping - the growing mobile workforce

By Greg Harper, president of Runzheimer International

Harper says GPS and web-based technologies help mobile workers. Photo: Runzheimer International

Harper likes GPS and web-based services. Photo: Runzheimer Int'l.

A couple of decades ago few CEOs would advocate for empty parking lots and vacant office cubicles. Today, that has changed. Currently, more than 50% of the workforce is mobile on any given day, and IDC predicts that number to reach 73% by 2011.

While employee mobility offers tremendous potential for cost savings, improved organizational agility and better customer relationships, organizations must rely on technology to strategically enable an anytime, anywhere workforce--or risk throwing the cost savings and improved efficiency benefits out the window.

Our company specializes in helping corporations manage their mobile workforces, and we've found there are countless technologies that promise to make life easier for road warriors, telecommuters and relocating workers. Here are the tested technologies that really matter:

GPS devices
GPS technology can be a great way for employees to plan their routes and get familiar with new geographic areas more quickly. It can also help companies locate where their mobile employees are at any given time, which can add a level of safety. For companies with service employees in the field, a GPS program helps provide better customer service, as employees can adapt to appointment time changes quickly and give customers a more accurate idea of when their technician will arrive. Finally, GPS systems are important for a mobile workforce because they make a tedious task –- reporting on expense submissions – easier, and provide more accurate data for business reimbursements.

Portals
Many companies with mobile employees are creating central portals that are optimized for mobile browsers to make it easier for those employees to access key corporate information from one location on the Web rather than logging in to multiple sites.

The problem with disparate corporate sites (when scheduling a business trip, some employees use one system to purchase airfare, a completely different system to report expenses; and still another to report mileage.) is that they are highly inefficient for remote and non-remote employees alike, and can create inaccuracies. Installing a system that allows for single sign-on makes life easier for everyone involved, from employees to human resources to accounting and finance, and provides added security.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
Hosted software, which is accessed over the web (rather than being installed on each employee's computer) is not a new concept, but is continuing to expand and offer new opportunities to support mobile employees. Solutions built on a SaaS platform can benefit mobile workers and provide cost advantages to their employers by ensuring software is always current, eliminating the need for hands-on installation, providing anytime anywhere access to applications and data.

Of course, when considering the use of technology for a mobile workforce, other areas must also be considered which include security, enhanced IT support capabilities, collaboration tools and even training plans to name a few.

The mobile workforce is here to stay, and technology can help -- or hinder organizations' ability to keep those workers happy, safe and efficient.

Harper is president of Runzheimer International, based in Waterford, Wisc. The company helps corporations manage mobile worker programs, including business travel, business vehicles, corporate relocation and virtual office.

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