When thinking of a mobile workforce people typically envision sales team “road warriors” or “Knowledge Workers” operating out of expensive cars or on planes, armed with flashy laptops, tablets and portable projectors. What we forget is that there are many remote, dispersed and mobile workers in far less glamorous or high wage roles. They remain outside the office environment for weeks or even months on end, performing what are often mission critical roles in the field, alone and with very little employer engagement.

While these employees may not be mobile on a day to day basis, they nonetheless fit a similar description: an employee working outside an office rather than at a desk. Furthermore, these types of employees haven’t been provided with laptops, tablets or mobile phones -- and aren’t in the habit of using them for work on a day to day basis.

However, in an age of bring your own device (BYOD), these somewhat “forgotten” workers are on the cusp of a much brighter future in terms of business communication, collaboration and cultural inclusion. Human Resource departments now have the opportunity to bring these workers back under the tent and better connect, educate, manage and retain them.

Forgotten and Disenfranchised

Builders, nurses, engineers, transportation and hospitality workers, retail and security staff, the military and even NGO or community disaster teams all work long shifts in high pressure environments with little connection to regional or main offices. This is what has become known as  the "forgotten workforce,” employees that are out of sight and, consequently, out of mind. They are represented only by lines on spreadsheets and numbers in payroll systems. They are deployed and redeployed in resourcing plans but, because they don’t have a desk and don’t sit in on meetings, it is sometimes forgotten that they are actually people -- they are human resources.

These employees have two complaints: On a micro level, they have very little input into the way they are used by a company, specifically when and where. On a macro level, and perhaps the more pressing of the two, they are disconnected from the heart of the company and from its culture, and their morale is suffering for it. Moreover, their attitude to their employer is usually negative and as a result they feel a lack of motivation and investment in what they do.

A survey conducted in the UK late last year by workforce management consultancy firm Kronos found that morale among these forgotten workers was low. The survey, which looked at full time, part time and contracted front line workers mainly in the retail, hospitality and manufacturing sectors found that a staggering 61 percent were either neutral or unhappy about going to work and one in five said they arrived either unhappy or in a “state of dread." Among the many reasons for this unhappiness, which of course included low pay and poor shift allocation, 20 percent pointed to a poor relationship with their manager or supervisor and generally felt disconnected from the company, particularly in terms of the degree of control they had over their day to day working lives.

“The overall result is one of a trudging, uninspired workforce, delivering to the letter of the business need without feeling either a demand or a desire to contribute in spirit to the success of the business," the report said. 

BYOD Opens the Door

This is where BYOD gives employers a tremendous opportunity to reconnect with these workers. The entire concept of BYOD is a boon for any organization, particularly those with dispersed and remote employees who own myriad wireless devices that they are more than willing to use for work.

The key for organizations is to harness the benefits of BYOD for their remote and dispersed workers, while eliminating the risks.

The risks associated with actual device hardware in these industries are relatively low and easily mitigated. These employees have never enjoyed (or expected) access to secure company information in the past. However they are also not in the habit of using company systems in the day to day execution of their roles. The full force of the risk not only applies to the control, access and security of company information but also ensuring the systems are easy to access and are effectively adopted.

So in order to successfully leverage the growing BYOD trend, organizations should focus on finding the right software while affecting a change in management that would ensure that a BYOD rollout doesn’t fail or backfire.

Enterprise Social Networks: the 'Secret Sauce'

The best practice recommendation is to open a single communication channel to employees via a company controlled web, mobile and tablet application available on any employee device. Once the communication channel has been established there is potential to deliver all types of information, collaboration tools and workflow to these employees in a way that is secure and easy to use.

The introduction of the new company application is only the first step -- the greater challenge will be gaining user adoption and ongoing usage. The emergence of social collaboration tools such as Enterprise Social Networking platforms (ESNs) have begun to fill this gap, offering a blend between mundane business tools (such as systems managing leave request, shift allocation or time and attendance processes), company information (such as policies, news and benefit information) and interactive social communication (such as feedback, collaboration, thought leadership and knowledge sharing).

A well designed and deployed ESN will become the core "interface" to all the other tools and applications useful to these workers. Access to information and tools is centrally controlled so management can easily broadcast information or revoke access at any time. Company information is stored in secure databases that are hosted in a cloud and include special controls that provide security when accessed on an employee's own device. Most importantly, all information created in an ESN is owned by the company, meaning the building of intellectual property results in an asset that had previously been difficult to attain.

The social layer that ESNs bring ensures that the communication remains interactive and engaging, which goes a long way towards driving employee adoption. By combining both a carrot and a stick, organizations are able to solve both the cultural dislocation and the systemic disconnection issues at the same time.

A Win-Win Strategy

Social collaboration software, when combined with BYOD, offers a real opportunity for organizations to find new ways of increasing productivity and employee retention while lowering costs for onboarding, training and operational administration.

ESN platforms are already beginning to impact job satisfaction in these remote employees, which undoubtedly leads to a far healthier corporate culture and a more prosperous company.

As the Kronos report observes, “far from being treated with confidence and respect, employees can feel they are considered mere cogs in the machine" -- a sentiment that has been observed among remote workers. 

Ultimately, this new environment represents more of an alliance between the “forgotten worker” and the organization. While the systems and information belong to the organization, the devices in question belong to the employee. While the employer is able to improve productivity, knowledge management and employee retention, the employee is far more empowered, enabled and connected than ever before.

BYOD introduces this important element of shared equity as the “forgotten” employee not only feels remembered, but fully included in the life and growth of the organization.

Title image by Pattakorn Uttarasak (Shutterstock)