Mobile Workforces and Implications for 21st Century Leadership
As technology becomes more useful in bringing efficiency, many companies are adopting new work patterns; more flexible and mobile styles of working are increasingly becoming the norm. This trend is expected to increase even more over the next five years. Forecasts by IDC indicate that by 2015, the number of mobile workforce across the globe will reach 1.3 billion people, representing approximately 37.2% of the global workforce (Swoyer, 2012, p. 1). The difficult economic times, coupled with the need to enhance efficiency, have pushed companies across all industries to invest in techniques and tools that permit workers to collaborate past the traditional boundaries. For workers, the idea of increased empowerment and flexibility is highly attractive and considered a hygiene factor among many workers. However, for managers, it is a challenge to lead mobile workers in the 21st century. Many leaders still find comfort in traditional control and command structures because they want to be in full control. This paper explores the challenge of mobile workforces in the next five years and the implications for the kind of leadership and negotiation capabilities that these leaders need to develop.
Managing Mobile Workforces
With the growing adoption of mobile workforces, more attention by the leaders should be placed on recruiting the right personnel (Snell, 2009, p. 37). Mobile workforces must have not only technical knowledge, but social skills as well. These individuals tend to be flexible, adaptable, and organized. In addition, these employees are intrinsically motivated and look for new opportunities to socialize (Cisco, 2007, p. 11). Despite the prevalence of mobile workforces, the findings from a global survey that involved 898 executives indicate that nearly 37% of managers still face significant difficulties in managing mobile workforces (Institute for Corporate Productivity, 2007, p. 1). Mobile workforces require a different leadership style from managers. Unlike the traditional worker, these employees need more time to generate the same level of engagement (Cisco, 2007, p. 12). That notwithstanding, many of the competencies that leaders require in conventional work settings are the same that are required in managing mobile workforces. In a study by Whitford and Moss (2009, p. 812), they found that both visionary and transformational leadership styles generate the same level of engagement from local and mobile workers. There are specific leadership qualities that managers managing mobile workforces must have to be successful as discussed below.
Organized and Effective Communicator
Leaders must be organized. In most cases, meeting agendas and work plans serve as the basis for daily interactions (Derven, 2007, p. 113). Most importantly, leaders must be effective in communication. Communication is dynamic and new norms of communication continue to emerge even among people who are not familiar with new technologies. To effectively manage mobile workforces, leaders must be skilled in relationship building. In dealing with this type of employees, short but regular contacts are necessary to keep remote workers well informed of daily happenings. This effectively replaces the small interactions that would ordinarily occur in a traditional work environment, for example, during lunch breaks. It is the leader`s responsibility to communicate the company`s culture to mobile workforces who are in remote locations (Kerber&Buono, 2004, p. 7). Short, regular communications with purpose enable mobile workers to feel connected to the organization (Janove, 2004, p. 120). Similarly, leaders should always make effort to acknowledge the contributions made by mobile workforces. Informal feedback is equally important in building engagement between leaders and mobile workforces (Linkow, 2008, p. 1).
Mobile workers have to know that their effort is noticed and is an important component of the group effort. Leaders must have time to personally interact with these workers to compensate for the impersonal nature of communication that occurs between mobile workers and their leaders (Derven, 2007, p. 12). In the absence of a strong connection between mobile workers and their managers, the workers may feel isolated or they may end up building closer ties with regular customers. This may result in them losing focus of their organization`s strategic objectives and goals (Gerke, 2006, p. 103).
Performance Assessment and Trust
When working with mobile workforces, it can be very difficult to gain trust. Leaders have to remain committed to mobile workers. Issues such as frequent change of schedules or failure to respond to questions can quickly generate distrust and disengagement (Gerke, 2006, p. 103). Managing performance is more effective when managers and employees agree on the approach to be used in measuring and assessing their performance (Linkow, 2008, p. 1). Managing through technology can be a difficult task, however, when these mobile workers fully understand their leader`s expectations and are confident of the methods that will be used to assess their work, both the organization and the employees will completely enjoy the benefits of a mobile workforce (Cisco, 2007, p. 20). Managers can make this process better by being consistent in the way they act and communicate with mobile workforce.
Regrettably, mobile employment relationships create less inherent trust when compared to the traditional employee-manager relationship (Merriman, Schmidt, and Dunlap-Hinkler, 2007, p. 8). Mobile workers tend to be more productive when they are permitted to self-manage. They do well when their leaders trust them to execute their functions well (Cisco, 2007, p. 14). Trust must be accompanies by greater independence and decision making authority to help promote creativity among mobile workforces (Derven, 2007, p. 113). Even though leaders often find this to be the most difficult aspect of managing mobile workforces, technologies that enable real-time monitoring are available to leaders who are concerned about security threats and information that is being transmitted outside the organization`s intranet. However, adopting these technologies can equally result in managers being tempted to continuously monitor their mobile workforces. According to Shulof (2014, p. 1), having some level of technical accountability is desirable, however, this type of rigid structure may adversely affect employee productivity and motivation. Leaders must strike a balance between permitting too much distance and micro-managing (Derven, 2007, p. 112).
Communicating within the whole company, beyond just a single manager is significantly useful in ensuring that mobile workforces are engaged. Several factors have to be considered with regard to communication.
Ensuring That Mobile Workforces Feel Connected
Leaders should be in a position to help their remote workers from being psychologically trapped in loneliness. According to (Cisco, 2007, p. 8), workers who feel low engagement often have lesssupport in their efforts. Social media has become a useful platform for mobile workforce to feel more engaged with local workers. Inside networks are useful in developing a feeling a personal community between mobile workforces and can also provide a convenient platform in the way professional knowledge is shared. Platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn are increasingly gaining popularity as methods that employees use to connect with each other. Therefore, leaders must accept these platforms in their organizations as a way of allowing employees to remain connected even when they are working from remote locations.
Modes of Communication
It may be extremely hard to have strong trust between an organization and its mobile workforce in the absence of regular and reliable communication. Companies and leaders must offer sufficient connections to the “office” for their mobile workers to be productive members of the organization (Linkow, 2008, p. 1). Managers in the 21st century must ensure that their mobile workforces have access to tools such as video conferencing facilities, telephone and email. Similarly, communication through these tools should be made as smooth as possible (Cisco,
2007, p. 9).
For managers to effectively lead mobile workforces in the 21st century, they should lead by giving these employees independence and authority. This is a different leadership style, which many managers are not prepared for. In the traditional workplace environment, employees come to work in the morning and leave in the evening and their managers are there to judge whether they are productive or not because they physically see them. Whereas this may have worked well in the 20th century, it will no longer be viable with mobile workforces because that physical presence of the workforce is no longer available. As a result, managers are not aware of how many hours the employees have worked, and they do not even know whether these employees are working in the first place. However, this does not matter; leaders must be prepared to forget this clock-watching habit, and this will make them benefit more from their employees. For this to be achieved there must be a different approach to leadership because unlike in the traditional workplace where managers manage people, in mobile workforces, managers manage outcome and output. Some of the outcomes and output that managers manage include return on investment. With mobile workforces, the potential benefits are clear in terms of reduced property use and increased productivity. In many organizations a lot of property is often tied up without being used much of the time. As a result, mobile workforces can significantly reduce costs through property rationalization and reduced office space.
As organizations continue to have more mobile workforces, the old management styles will no longer be productive, Future managers will have to embrace new approaches and leadership styles that will permit their organizations and employees to fully reap the benefits of mobile workforces. From the analysis, it is evident that a leader`s success with a mobile workforce depends on a number of factors including trust, communication and collaboration. Future leaders must be knowledgeable not only in selecting employees who have the right capabilities and competencies that can permit them to be members of mobile workforces, but must also be able to develop and maintain trust, ensure collaboration, and recognize employee achievement. These managers must also be willing to let go of control and give these employees the autonomy and decision making power that they need to be productive and motivated. Leaders must also be able to provide the necessary technological tools that will contribute toward team communication and proactive information sharing.
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