On the Go

December 01, 2016
Are You Ready to Deploy a Mobile Workforce?

By Bruce A. Gray, CPA CGMA
The world continues to become increasingly mobile as our handheld devices grow more and more powerful. Many employers are looking at the cost of office space and the related overhead and wondering if there is a better use of their resources. Also, the emerging workforce has a different sensibility about when and where one’s work is accomplished. Given all these factors, firms are looking at the option of having a mobile workforce.

We certainly have the technological tools to do this with cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, a variety of videoconferencing apps and instant messaging tools everywhere. 

Still, while the tools exist, are you ready to deploy a mobile workforce? What are the issues that need to be addressed before you cut your staff loose to work on the go? We addressed this issue at our firm when one of our staff became a dad of twin daughters just before tax season. He knew we were entering the busiest time of our year, yet wanted some flexibility in being able to help his wife with parenting responsibilities. We spent time considering how this would impact our workflow and still allow for flexibility for our staff. We found that rather than the remote work environment being less productive, it allowed our staff to be more productive.

Here’s a checklist to use as a guide as you consider if this is the right step for your firm.
  1. Decide who is eligible: Some people are well disciplined and can shut out distractions and focus on the work at hand. Others, not so much. It’s important to be mindful of staff members who can or cannot perform in a remote environment.
  2. Establish a policy: Clear ground rules must be established, including what’s required for eligibility, how work is monitored and a procedure in the event an employee is unable to effectively work remotely.
  3. Develop a standard toolbox: Deciding on the tools that will be provided to remote workers is important to facilitate the management of the equipment and to be clear on what responsibilities are those of the firm versus what falls to the staff. For example: Is staff expected to provide high-speed internet access at their homes or other work location, or will the firm be responsible? What equipment will be provided for remote workers?
  4. Security: Much of the data used in our profession is of a sensitive nature and we are obligated to provide safeguards to ensure its protection. When equipment and data leave the relative safety of the controlled office environment, risk is increased. What controls will you establish to protect against unauthorized access to equipment and data? One of the things we considered as we thought through how we would manage our deployment was where data would be stored. A laptop is easily stolen or lost and if sensitive data is maintained on that laptop, how hard would it be to access? There are many options to protect the data, but it must be considered. We determined that data was not to be stored on the laptop, but on the server in the office. When working remotely, staff has access to the server via the internet and can save the files there rather than locally. Other options include disk encryption, VPNs or collaborative cloud-based storage. Your policy should also include if and when a public wi-fi network is allowed to be used.
  5. Office Time Requirements: Let’s face it, there are times that require the physical presence of staff. For remote workers, the expectations of when they need to be in the office need to be clear. If they have supervisory responsibilities, it’s even more important that their direct reports know when they can expect to see their supervisor in the office. Then there are always staff meetings, trainings and client interaction, which require an office presence.
  6. Communication: This is likely more important with a remote worker than even the staff in the office. Remote workers won’t be around when spontaneous discussions come up that may result in decisions that need to be communicated to them. A regular, periodic plan for touching base with remote workers is critical to keeping them informed of decisions, changing priorities, client needs, deadlines and other details. Instant messaging tools or videoconferencing are good ways to keep remote workers in the communication loop. We use Skype for Business on our computers and tools like Facetime on mobile devices for keeping the communication lines open.
This checklist is hardly exhaustive, but provides a sense of what should be considered prior to deploying a mobile workforce. Our technology allows us to work almost anywhere—just make your plan keeps your staff productive and your data safe.
Bruce Gray, CPA, CGMA is a principal at Gray, Salt & Associates, LLP, and a member of the CalCPA Technology Committee.
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