Work is What you Do, Not Where you Go: Managing a Mobile Workforce Promising Practices
by Michael Curtis, APS Training Manager, Texas Department of Family & Protective Services
In 2005, the Texas Legislature funded the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) with the resources to provide Adult Protective Services (APS) staff with the technology to work remotely in the field. By 2007, resources had been distributed and every APS worker had been issued a tablet PC, a data card that allowed some level of connectivity with the DFPS server, and the equipment necessary to work for extended periods of time in the field. At this point, the agency declared field staff were mobile workers and the age of managing a mobile workforce began.
Managing a Mobile Workforce Pilot Initiated
In 2007, APS leadership planned, developed, and initiated the Mobile Worker Initiative. Working from the CISCO definition of a Mobile Worker, they communicated that a mobile worker was an employee whose primary job responsibility is performed away from an office environment, most frequently requiring extensive travel and interaction with large numbers of people. The initiative included a pilot program that involved units in both rural and urban areas. Staff and supervisors received training on equipment. Supervisors received limited training on how to manage in a mobile environment. The pilot was a huge success:
- 94% of the workers wanted to continue working in a mobile environment when the pilot ended.
- 71% of workers reported spending more time with clients and
- 85% reported they were likely to continue employment with the agency, in part due to mobility.
Overall, there was a reduction in travel costs, an increase in job satisfaction, an improvement in work-life balance, and no resulting decline in job performance on any matrix measured.
Mobility Expanded Statewide
By 2010, all APS workers had been established as mobile workers. As the department continued to explore the mobile environment, it was discovered that our workers had always met the definition of a mobile worker; however, they had simply not been managed as such. It was determined that regional leadership, managers, and supervisors needed training in managing a mobile workforce. A two-day class was designed and “Managing a Mobile Workforce” was facilitated for every manager at every level in the department. The class explored data driven management, flexible work schedules, policies related to mobility, and promising practices in a mobile environment.
Mobility Expands Worldwide
The concept of mobility has expanded worldwide in the past decade. Recently, COVID-19 has pushed the concept to the point of spreading at warp speed with the need to isolate at home or work in an environment where unnecessary contact with others is minimized. Many organizations are working to create training for managers of mobile workers. Until then, the six podcasts below provide a short summary of promising practices that a unit supervisor can apply today to help manage in these complex times.
- The Weekly Huddle [transcript] – Holding a meeting virtually each week helps keep the team connected and on track.
- The Weekly One-on-One [transcript] – Meeting with each of your staff virtually every week helps keep them tied to the mission of the organization and helps you provide the support needed for them to be successful.
- Flexibility [transcript] – Flexibility in a mobile environment is one of its most effective benefits. What do you consider a flexible work schedule?
- Accountability [transcript] – How do you know your staff is doing their job if you can’t see them every day?
- Team Building [transcript] – How can a supervisor establish and maintain team comradery and esprite’ de corps when we never see each other face-to-face?
- Challenges [transcript] – What are some of the challenges a supervisor will face in a mobile environment and how can you prevent or overcome them when they surface?
Managing a mobile workforce requires a supervisor to shift focus and make changes in how they manage. It requires a paradigm shift of understanding that work is something you do, not somewhere you go. It requires a supervisor to spend more time unifying team members, measuring performance, and communicating effectively. The effort is worth it, as it results in improved job satisfaction, reduces overhead costs, and has better work-life balance for people who are in one of the most challenging jobs in the nation. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services wishes you the best in these trying times and hopes you find these podcasts helpful.