If you currently manage mobile employees, or you are a mobile worker, then you are likely familiar with the unique challenges a widely dispersed workforce can present. The increase in mobile or remote workers in the enterprise has been fueled several factors, including technology (Internet-based workers using IRC, Skype, e-mail and remote desktop tools), the economy (companies cutting back on expensive office space), worker demand (flexible working arrangements), and environmental concerns (reducing commuter traffic).

While some companies are embracing the move away from strict 9-to-5 workdays and cramped cubicles, others are nervous about what this new model means for productivity, accountability and overall staff performance. They worry about not being able to reach employees in an emergency, not being able to measure output, and envision staff spending more time watching daytime television than producing deliverables.

As with any major paradigm shift, managers can either put their heads in the sand and ignore the issue, or they can meet the challenge head on, adapt, and take advantage of the new opportunities it presents.

In fact, many managers have successfully handled the shift to a mobile technology, and are able to effectively manage this new remote workforce. One good example: Fleet managers, who have been managing remote workers (drivers) since long before the advent of new mobile technologies.

  • How do they manage without being physically present?
  • How do they accurately measure employee performance?
  • How can they ensure compliance with company policies?

Here are 5 things you can do to create a good relationship with mobile workers without sacrificing productivity or profitability.

1 — Measure what’s important

We all know that it is difficult to manage something you can’t measure. In the ‘old days’ measuring staff performance seemed easier because managers could see who was pulling their weight and who wasn’t.

How do fleet managers do it?

GPS fleet management software allows fleet managers to record — in real-time — vehicle activity details. While this obviously doesn’t mean a fleet manager is looking over the driver’s shoulder every minute of the day, it does allow them to record important data like start and stop times, the number of jobs completed, idle time and moving violations.

2 — Keep the lines of communication open

You don't need to talk to your employees all the time, but you do need an easy way for you and your workers to communicate when there's a need. And since a good manager often does more listening than talking, it really needs to be a two-way process.

How do fleet managers do it?

There are several different ways managers can communicate with their drivers using the cell phones, CB radios and pagers that are common in more traditional fleets. Fleets using Telogis® Mobile™ as part of a GPS fleet management solution are able to take advantage of a hands-free option, communicating with one or all operators via their portable navigation devices.

3 — Focus on deliverables, not activities

Mobile workers change the dynamics of management. No longer can managers be obsessed with controlling and dictating their employees’ day-to-day activities. Instead, they have to step back and assess the bigger picture. What are the end goals I want my staff to achieve? By communicating openly with your staff on agreed objectives, you can then leave them to determine how they can accomplish those goals. This can have the added bonus of engaging the creativity and initiative of your staff to achieve the desired outcomes.

How do fleet managers do it?

Because activities can be measured using GPS tracking, fleet managers and drivers can agree on specific outcomes that can be used to measure output. For example, metrics such as on-time deliveries, number of jobs completed, or idle time can be used for driver performance reviews.

4 — Acknowledge that your management style will likely need to change

If you've been used to a more hands-on management style, or being an 'over-the-shoulder' manager, then the first major challenge you'll have to grapple with is that you'll need to change. This can be difficult when you've been managing in a certain way for many years, but keep in mind that these changes will be difficult for everyone. By being ready and willing to change, you'll set a good example for your staff as they go through transitions of their own.

The level of trust between you and your staff will be tested during the transition. If that trust is currently on shaky ground, then that issue should be addressed before anything else. Give your staff the benefit of the doubt, extending trust unless they show they're undeserving of it.

How do fleet managers do it?

Some fleet managers have been in the game for a very long time, long before GPS fleet management systems were around. With the introduction of GPS fleet tracking, many of these managers realized their style of management would need to change, as would the ways in which they measure and manage their staff — by using objective and unbiased tracking data to expose training opportunities and reward desired behavior.

5 — Use the available technology to complement your management

Even though technology may be the reason you are now managing mobile workers, it will never replace you as a manager. In fact, you can use technology to complement your management efforts. For example, there are many communication tools available that can make the flow of information smoother and more meaningful. Online meeting tools like Skype or instant chat can make keeping in contact with mobile workers easier than ever before. Web-based software for recording timesheets, sending and receiving e-mails, or monitoring staff location can be valuable tools to keep track of your employees.

Warning: Avoid using technology to spy on your staff without good reason. As mentioned in point 4, a vital element of managing mobile workers is trust. If you use technology to covertly track staff activity — i.e., using key logging software or hidden GPS tracker — you will seriously undermine any trust that existed between staff and management.

How do fleet managers do it?

When fleet managers investigate switching to a fleet management solution like Telogis Fleet, they quickly see the benefits of a high-tech approach to managing not just their vehicles, but also their drivers. Many other management options are subjective, prone to bias, or unreliable. GPS hardware can monitor many different aspects of a vehicle’s use, including engine start, hard braking, doors opening, moving outside of a set zone (geofencing) or use of auxiliary motors. This information can be fed into Telogis Fleet, which monitors vehicles in real-time, giving fleet managers a clear window on their fleet’s activity using Web-based software.

The software can be set to alert managers via their mobile devices if certain exceptions are triggered, such as speeding, unauthorized vehicle use or a stationary trailer being moved.

It takes time for managers and their drivers to get used to using GPS fleet management software, but the payoffs are massive, and such systems have saved many fleet companies hundreds of thousands of dollars. That can be the difference between staying in business and going bankrupt. And when staff realize the benefits of paperless compliance (i.e., for hours of service rules), helpful route optimization and turn-by-turn navigation, they quickly see the benefit of using new technology.