What is the objective of a mobile workforce?

A mobile workforce is a group of employees that isn’t bound by a central physical location. Instead, the employees are connected by various types of mobile technology: computers, smartphones and other mobile devices. Because these technologies are increasingly portable, easier to use and affordable, a mobile workforce is becoming more prevalent. The global mobile workforce is expected to reach 1.87 billion workers by 20221.

The idea of a mobile workforce goes well beyond simply working from home. With the advent of sophisticated mobile devices, onsite workers can perform field work that otherwise would have been done back at an office.

The objective of a mobile workforce is to make employees as productive outside of the office as when they are in it. With a mobile workforce, employees should be able to remotely access the same software applications and data as they would at a company headquarters.

Digital workplace trends: What tech people want now

A survey of more than 200 knowledge workers in North America reveals what people want from workplace technology.

Why is a mobile workforce important?

A recent global study2 found that 71 percent of businesses believe that offering flexible work situations significantly widens their talent pool. Another international study3 revealed that organizations that adopt digital tools for an untethered workforce realized a:

  • 67 percent increase in productivity
  • 53 percent increase in employee engagement
  • 43 percent revenue growth as a direct result.

Businesses, governments and public institutions can also take advantage of mobile flexibility during emergencies or times of crisis. School teachers, bank employees and other typically location-based jobs can often be performed remotely when circumstances call for it. Other benefits to a mobile workforce include:

  • Achieve better customer service. Employees can provide immediate customer answers by accessing data from their mobile device instead of waiting until they return to the office.
  • Lessen employee stress. Removing the pressure of a daily commute while providing an easier work/life balance can translate into higher levels of productivity and fewer sick days.
  • Decrease real estate costs. Forbes reports4 that by switching a more mobile workforce, insurance company Aetna saved approximately $78 million. Sun Microsystems saves $68 million a year in real estate costs.
  • Work without borders. Businesses can provide 24x7 customer service or establish continuous workflows with employees scattered across time zones.
  • Add business continuity. Should a company experience downtime from a disaster, mobile-based employees can continue working.
  • Save travel costs. Video chats and meetings using mobile phones or web browsers can take the place of the logistics and expense of traveling to a central site.
  • Eliminate commute times. With no work commute, employees can add productive hours to their workday.
  • Expand the talent pool. By having access to an at-home workforce, businesses can add and reduce staff quickly as needed. Disabled workers can be more easily brought into the workforce, as well as parents and senior caregivers.
  • Deter discrimination and encourage diversity. Choosing a workforce from literally all over the world offers geographic, socioeconomic and cultural diversity that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Challenges to developing an effective mobile workforce

An international crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of enabling employees to work remotely, if possible. The challenge is how to transform employee workspaces into secure, highly collaborative and productive environments, and allow employees to access critical business applications securely and remotely.

In the article, Mobile workforce to drive further enterprise change,  Richard Esposito of IBM Global Technology Services outlines what businesses need to establish for an effective mobile workforce and how to keep on top of emerging trends:

Enterprises must view their mobile workforces differently.
Users want to choose their own devices and they expect the kind of experience they have with consumer devices.

Organizations will need to support a greater range of devices.
Smaller, more portable devices and tablets, wearables and ultrabooks are becoming primary work devices.

Millennial employees will soon be in the majority.
By 2030, more than 70 percent of the workforce will be Millennials or even younger Gen Z-ers5. Millennials and younger generations expect instant access to information.

Third-party workplace productivity apps are creating security concerns.
Like bring-your-own-device, employees are driving “bring-your-own-application” — which  is creating more security vulnerabilities.

Companies will more closely track assets — including workers.
Employees can be monitored to guard against safety hazards such as fall detection, location tracking, hazard zones, insurance and regulatory compliance. Asset tracking benefits include workflow optimization, regulatory compliance, inventory management and asset-use optimization.

Build or buy mobile apps — or both?
Developing custom mobile apps for multiple platforms can be costly and complex. But maintaining apps from multiple third-party vendors can be difficult for proper IT management. Software providers such as IBM not only develop mobile apps, but also offer integrated mobile app management solutions.

New ways of working during the COVID crisis – and beyond

Learn how to create a digital workplace that enables employees to work agilely, collaboratively, and securely – with access to specialized support mechanisms to address increased digital workplace issues.


Current and future trends in mobile workforces

Newer technologies have contributed to making a remote workforce practical. Tools like Asana, Slack, Webex, Zoom and Google Calendar make virtual work and collaboration among the mobile workforce enjoyable and efficient. However, these new tools and apps can pose a challenge for effective IT management administration. Other innovations in mobile technology such as biometric readers, wearables, voice control, near-field communications (NFC), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are also enhancing communications and business workflows.

Until recently, one of the key barriers to implementing mobile technologies was the lack of a reliable, fast wireless signal. With the introduction of 5G wireless, mobile workers can share even massive files with associates and collaborate over video without lag or disruptions.

With innovations like 5G, even small businesses can tap into AR and VR technologies for enhanced communication and collaboration. Workers will learn complex tasks with information that is delivered on-demand using AR. Building and engineering workers will perform 3D interaction and planning with AR devices. Supply chain management and inventory picking will be delivered through an AR device.

Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has organizations quickly taking steps to ensure business continuity by adopting practices to allow even more of their employees to work remotely. Future business trends will likely involve:

  • Adopting new software tools to better manage large-scale transitions of office employees to remote and home locations.
  • Implementing flexible contract terms through subscription services to minimize cash flow impacts to businesses.
  • Minimizing disruption to infrastructure and services access by forming strategic relationships with major software and equipment vendors – and network service providers.

Are you asking the right questions to enable a successful mobile workforce?

Learn how IBM simplifies the management, maintenance and support of end-user devices, including bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and IT infrastructure.


Gartner Magic Quadrant for Managed Mobility Services

Learn why Gartner has recognized IBM as a Leader in the Magic Quadrant for Managed Mobility Services for 5 years in a row.

Digital workplace survey reveals what employees want

Discover why technology is a key driver for digital workers’ choice of employers.

Forbes Blueprint for a Borderless Workplace

Read this Forbes Insights report to learn the challenges and guidelines for implementing a successful mobile workforce.


IBM MaaS360 with Watson

Simplify the management and security of smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables and IoT.

IBM Mobile Foundation

Use this platform to build and deploy the next generation of digital apps, including apps for mobile, wearables, conversation, web and PWAs.


IBM Services for Desktop Virtualization

Simplify remote access to applications and data for your workforce anytime, anywhere on any device with desktop and virtualization apps.


(1)The 6 key secrets to increasing empowerment in your team. Joe Folkman. Forbes article. March 2017.

(2)Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development. Steve Glaveski. Harvard Business Review blog. October 2, 2019.