What is a mobile workforce?
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What is 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, the mobile workforce is becoming more prevalent. IT industry analyst OMDIA reports reports that 67% of workers today have fully or partially mobile roles (link resides outside ibm.com).

The mobile workforce goes well beyond simply working from home. With the advent of sophisticated mobile devices, mobile employees can now access software applications and data that were once only available at company headquarters. Field workers in industries like healthcare, construction, and agriculture can perform complex tasks onsite or on the go. 

Why is a mobile workforce important?

Mobile work differs from traditional remote working, in which employees work from a home office. The mobile workforce specifically refers to those employees who don’t work from a single fixed location. This includes hybrid workers who split their time between home and the office and deskless workers whose jobs require movement during the workday. Travel nurses, retail employees who rotate between stores, and telecommunications field technicians are all mobile workers. 

According to the aforementioned OMDIA report, mobile employees make up most of the workforce today. Only 33% of workers are “tethered” to a single place, like a central office or store.

Many companies embraced workforce mobility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shifting traditionally location-based jobs—like school teachers and bank employees—to remote work allowed organizations to maintain business continuity during the crisis. 

But the growth of the mobile workforce has also been fueled by longer-term technological and business changes. As advanced mobile devices empower employees to work from anywhere, companies that adopt mobile workforces have seen benefits like:

Improved customer experience

Employees can provide immediate customer answers and solve challenges onsite in real time by accessing data from their mobile devices instead of waiting until they return to the office.

Lower operating costs

A study from Global Workplace Analytics (link resides outside ibm.com) found companies can save USD 11.000 per employee per year when employees work 2-3 days outside the office every week. Companies spend less on rent, and video chat can cut the logistics and travel costs associated with bringing employees to a central site for meetings.

Higher employee productivity

Mobile work can help team members find work/life balance and reduce stress, which can improve employee performance and retention. According to the OMDIA report, 54% of companies said the shift toward mobile work has increased employee productivity. Mobile work can also enable businesses to provide 24/7 customer service and establish continuous workflows with employees across time zones.

Expanded talent pool

 A mobile workforce can include people from all over the world, leading to geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Mobile work options may also be preferred by workers with disabilities, parents, caregivers, and others who may need more flexibility.

Challenges to developing an effective mobile workforce

Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the importance of enabling mobile work when possible. The challenge is giving mobile workers remote access to critical business software while remaining collaborative, productive, and secure. 

When building a mobile workforce, company leaders may need to think about the following:


Mobile employees want to choose their own devices. They expect workplace technology to deliver a similar user experience as consumer apps and devices. Organizations may need to create bring your own device (BYOD) policies and processes that govern a wide range of software and hardware, including laptops, wearables, tablets, smartphones, and more. 

Data security

Employees using their own devices and apps for work can create security vulnerabilities. Employees may bring shadow IT—IT assets that are used without official approval or oversight—to the company network. Even approved mobile apps and devices can pose problems if employees access sensitive data through unsecured public wi-fi networks.

Tracking assets and workers

Companies often track mobile workers and their assets to maintain compliance and optimize workflows. For example, companies may use location tracking to connect field technicians with the closest jobs. However, employees may object to being tracked, especially if they’re using their own devices. 

Building or buying mobile apps 

Developing custom mobile apps for multiple platforms can be costly and complex. On the other hand, maintaining apps from multiple third-party vendors can make proper IT management difficult. Software providers such as IBM not only develop mobile apps but also offer integrated mobile app management solutions.

Current and future trends in mobile workforces

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies allowed employees to work remotely to ensure business continuity. Coming out of the pandemic, many companies have kept these remote and mobile work arrangements. New technologies have also made a remote workforce more practical. 

Tools like Asana, Slack, Webex, Zoom, and Google Calendar make virtual work and collaboration among the mobile workforce easy and efficient. However, these new tools and apps can pose a challenge for effective IT management. 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 improving 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.

Innovations like 5G allow even small businesses to tap into AR and VR technologies for enhanced communication and collaboration. Workers can perform complex tasks with information delivered on demand using AR. For example, building and engineering workers can plan new projects with AR devices, and supply chain management and inventory picking could be accomplished through AR as well. 

Organizations will likely continue adopting new software tools to better manage large-scale transitions of office employees to remote and mobile work. As part of this transition, companies may form strategic relationships with major software and equipment vendors and network service providers to minimize disruptions to infrastructure and services. 

Demographic trends have also influenced the growth of mobile workforces. Combined, millennials and Gen. Z comprise the largest portion of the workforce (link resides outside ibm.com). Research shows (link resides outside ibm.com) these workers prefer flexible work.

Mobile workforce management technology

While some mobile employees rely on apps like Slack and Asana to do their work, many companies use specialized mobile workforce management tools to support mobile workforce security and productivity. 

Mobile workforce management software (MWM) is a broad category of platforms that help companies manage employees who work outside of a central office. Different mobile workforce management solutions have different features and functions, but many support scheduling, task assignments and tracking, and communications and status updates. Some MWM tools can be used for back-office human capital management tasks like onboarding and payroll.

Field service management tools are MWM platforms designed for managing field workers who install, maintain, or repair equipment, systems, or assets outside of company premises. Managers and technicians often use field service management software for job order processing, scheduling and dispatch automation, and payment collection, among other things. 

Unified endpoint management (UEM) solutions allow companies to monitor, manage, and secure all end-user devices—desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, wearables, and more—from a single console, regardless of operating system or location. With UEM, a company can set and enforce mobile security, device management, and app management policies for all devices on a network. IT teams no longer need separate tools to manage devices for on-premises and mobile workforces. 

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Resources What is BYOD?

BYOD, short for "bring your own device," refers to corporate IT policies allowing employees to use their own smartphones, laptops and other devices for work-related tasks.

What is UEM?

Unified endpoint management (UEM) enables IT and security teams to monitor, manage and secure all end-user devices on the network in a consistent manner, using one tool.

What is mobile technology?

Mobile technology is technology that goes where the user goes. It consists of portable two-way communications devices, computing devices and the networking technology that connects them.

Take the next step

Whether you need mobile device management (MDM), enterprise mobility management (EMM), or the complete support of unified endpoint management (UEM), IBM Security MaaS360 with Watson delivers an intuitive and user-friendly experience with the industry’s first AI approach. 

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