Today’s office would be a foreign world to a worker of the past. The cubicle walls have fallen, replaced by open floor plans. Laptops, tablets, even cell phones are now essential tools in the digital workplace.
A worker from the ‘80s would notice the proliferation of video conferences, constant emails, and collaborative software. What might be most striking, though, would be the number of co-workers who were missing—not sick or on vacation, but working outside of the office as part of the growing mobile workforce.
Mobile workers – those who work outside a traditional or home office on a regular basis – are quickly becoming the norm, not the exception, in today’s workplace.
Sales representatives, traveling executives, merchandisers, pharmaceutical reps, field/service industry workers, and many other professionals all drive for work. And they may find the roads have grown more crowded over the last few years.
Telework increased by nearly 80% from 2005 to 2013. According to a study from the research firm IDC, the U.S. mobile workforce will be increasing even more over the next five years, from the current level of 96.2 million to 105.4 million mobile workers in 2020.
So what’s been driving this trend?
Thanks to advances in both professional and personal technology, the majority of modern office work has been digitized. No one has benefitted more from this than mobile workers.
In the past, mobile employees created second offices wherever their business travel took them. A mobile worker carried maps, airplane and train tickets, spreadsheets, expense reports, calculators, bulky credit card imprinters to print receipts in triplicate, and more. They also recorded mileage driven, collected paperwork for all purchases, and filled out daily time sheets. Each employee generated a mountain of paperwork for their travel managers to decipher and reimburse after every trip.
Fortunately, this is no longer the case.
Almost all business paperwork has been digitized. Google Maps and MapQuest have taken the place of roadmaps and atlases. Digital scanners and payment services like Apple’s Square iPhone accessory and the Apple Pay app have made clunky credit card imprinting machines obsolete.
Mobile workers are “cloud commuting” with Skype, updating shared Gmail documents, and managing files with Dropbox. Today, we also have GPS-enabled mobile applications that can separate miles driven into personal and business mileage, making fair travel reimbursements easier than ever. And, best of all, most of these technologies are readily available on personal smartphones.
The mobile workforce is here to stay. Advances in mobile technology, new software, and the digitized workplace have allowed workers to remain effective while traveling for business. This is great news for employers.
Effective mobile workforce management greatly increases productivity, reduces costs, and lowers risk. But only for those who take advantage of this opportunity—a growing necessity as workers everywhere go mobile.