Steve Francis, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Zultys
The distributed workforce has hit its stride in today’s business world. Not only has the workplace had to adapt to the mobility culture spreading worldwide, but companies of all sizes and in all industries now have contractors working from home, fully mobile workers on the road or employees stationed in satellite offices all over the world. Embracing a distributed workforce presents a way to reduce the overall costs of running a business and provides a company with more flexibility in how their workforce is comprised. Telecommunications consulting organization Tanner Research Group found that over a five-year period the costs of supporting 100 remote or fully mobile workers versus their on-site counterparts could provide a company with much as $10 million in savings through factors such as unneeded office build-out, annual real estate costs, retention and productivity advantages, and miscellaneous ongoing costs.
As companies begin to more fully support the distributed workforce, and as the number of workers scattered worldwide in various satellite or home offices increases, companies have come to rely on a number of technologies to stay in contact. A March 2011 study by Infonetics, for example, found that enterprises will spend $5 billion on videoconferencing and telepresence solutions by 2015 in an effort to better incorporate remote workers into the on-site company culture.
For their part, the number of fully mobile workers — those perpetually in the field (like salespeople or home health nurses) who rely exclusively on mobile devices — is also on the rise. In fact, according to IDC, the number of mobile workers accessing enterprise systems worldwide will top 1 billion this year and 1.2 billion by 2013. Indeed, given the continued advances in processing ability and seemingly limitless bandwidth, mobile devices today have been transformed into powerful mini computers. So who needs to work on site?
With increasingly more fully mobile “road warriors” in motion for their company, as it turns out, many of these workers do need that on-site-type access. While mobility provides incredible benefits to employers and workers alike, business-impacting drawbacks exist as well. Simple mobile “contact” is sometimes not enough to bridge the physical gap that prevents remote and mobile employees from establishing important inter-office relationships, collaborating effectively, and maintaining productivity and an uninterrupted workflow. Combined, these deficiencies could threaten a company’s competitiveness in the market.
Mirroring the Work-at-Headquarters Experience
Companies that embrace a distributed workforce must take measures to adopt true presence and integrate their remote and fully mobile workers into the company. This “integration” goes beyond just paying for travel to bring workers to the home office regularly; rather, it involves integrating workers’ mobile devices — regardless of the device they’re using — into the company’s unified communications (UC) system.
Dubbed a “disruptive technology” in an article in The VAR Guy by Charlene O’Hanlon, UC integrates real-time communications services like presence and chat with non-real-time communications services like voice mail and e-mail to provide a consistent, unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types. When integrated into the corporate UC system through solutions that support deep real-time connectivity, a mobile device functions just like a desktop IP phone and true collaboration, uninterrupted workflow and continued productivity are achieved. Essentially, it mirrors the work-at-headquarters experience.
Mobile integration with UC includes productivity features like real-time presence, instant messaging, unified numbering, access to the company directory, least cost routing to save money on long distance calls, and the ability to more capably troubleshoot shared issues — just like any on-site employee, and all from a mobile device. With these capabilities, remote and fully mobile workers, whether in Bangalore, India or Bangor, Maine, become truly part of the on-site team, although not there physically.
Clearly, the ability to fully incorporate remote and mobile workers into a company is key to ensuring a well-run, effective and productive organization. However, this cannot be achieved without seamless integration of mobile technology into a company’s UC system. Once this occurs, and remote and mobile workers can leverage the same communications system as their on-site counterparts, companies will achieve financial success, a happy and cohesive team of employees, and a potential spot as leader in the market.
 Contact Professional, “Are Your Systems Ready for the Age of the Distributed Workforce?” Kevin Childs, 1 November 2006 <http://www.contactprofessional.com/topics/remote-agents/are-your-systems-ready-age-distributed-workforce-827>.
 InformationWeek, “Videoconferencing, Telepresence Spending To Double By 2015” Alison Diana, 28 March 2011 <http://www.informationweek.com/thebrainyard/news/video_conferencing_telepresence/229400432/videoconferencing-telepresence-spending-to-double-by-2015>
 CIO Zone, “IDC: Mobile Workers Will Pass 1 Billion in 2010,” Rob Garretson, 24 February 2010 <http://www.ciozone.com/index.php/Mobile-and-Wireless/IDC-Mobile-Workers-Will-Pass-1-Billion-in-2010.html>.
 The VAR Guy, “Looking Ahead: ShoreTel’s Mobility Predictions for 2011,” Charlene O’Hanlon, 7 December 2010 http://www.thevarguy.com/2010/12/07/looking-ahead-shoretel%E2%80%99s-mobility-predictions-for-2011/.