Three Ways That Mobile Technology Is Turning HR on its Head

Welcome to the new workforce: an army of remote and disparate workers who don’t clock in, don’t sit at a desk, and don’t work a 9-to-5.

How does one manage that? What are the new rules?

As mobile technologies continue to turn traditional work — and the workplace — upside down, managers and HR departments are being forced to adapt to a new employee world order. What might that look like? We asked a few workplace experts.

1. A new way of managing

More than 60 percent of North American workers telecommute at least occasionally during any given month, according to Forrester Research. That figure is only going to escalate.

“Managers really need to become more comfortable managing a workforce they don’t see every day,” says Sharlyn Lauby, head of training consulting group ITM, and author of the popular blog HR Bartender. “We have to help managers understand how to manage from a distance.”

A popular management philosophy called the “results oriented work environment,” or ROWE, can help organization streamline work flow and communication with a mobile-powered workforce, and let old-school thinking about on-the-clock vs. off-the-clock take a back seat. Suzanne Lucas, editor of the Evil HR Lady blog, believes more managers need to wake up to ROWE methods: “HR needs to be ready to train managers and employees how to operate in a world where results matter more than face time,” Lucas says.

That means getting familiar with a whole host of new technologies and networking platforms — from Facebook and Chatter to telepresence robots and interactive video conferencing — that allow for better connectivity for remote workers. Managers must implement policies surround these technologies, integrate them into the workplace, and determine best practices.

Managing the new workforce also means letting go of traditional HR ideologies, says Rick Von Feldt, author of the HR Futurist blog. HR has to fundamentally reshape its ideas about “managing” the workforce.

“It used to be about ‘command and control’ — how do we bring resources under our control, or under our management?” says Von Feldt. “But now the shift is toward enabling the workforce to be its most effective. We’ve got to get HR to re-evaluate this — to no longer get in the way and ‘control and command,’ but to get systems and tools and processes out of the way.”

Think more about how to facilitate and maximize productivity in this new age of technology, he says.

“HR today isn’t doing enough to push the envelope in terms of getting the workforce what it needs — it’s still governed by the infrastructure that’s in place,” says Von Feldt.

2. HR as a strategic business unit

The move away from simply managing benefits and overseeing hiring to cooperating with other departments like IT to maximize employee bandwidth, will position HR departments to be company power players. In fact Workforce magazine predicts that by 2018, “HR officials will assume many more seats on corporate boards, and leaders increasingly will be held accountable for their talent management decisions.”

Dave Ulrich, a business professor at the University of Michigan and author of HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside In, says that HR will start playing a big role in crunching “big data” sets, being involved in risk-management endeavors, and developing predictive, rather than reactive, employee scorecards.

“We like to say that the HR department should be like a professional services firm within the firm,” Ulrich says. “The HR department needs to be a unit that delivers value.”

Indeed, new technology will allow for many systems, such as Time-in-Attendance, to become automated, giving HR professionals more time to work on strategy. Ulrich says HR teams should start looking to be instrumental outside of their own workforce, taking on a sort of hybrid HR/Marketing/Sales/Communications type role.

“The emerging vale of HR work is outside the company, with customers, investors, and communities,” Ulrich says. “This means HR work should help customers become committed, investors more confident, and communities more aware of how a company works.”

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But HR will also take on a higher-profile role within companies, too. Take the current Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend. More than half of workers already use their own mobile devices for work — and that number will only increase.

HR will need to be involved in establishing and overseeing BYOD policies that give employees access to the information they need to do their jobs, on the device they choose. This is especially crucial as mobile and cloud-based computing shift responsibility away from the traditional Information Technology department to a third party provider.

“The fact is that the line between IT and HR continues to blur,” Von Feldt says. “Is BYOD an IT issue or an HR issue? It’s both of their responsibility.”

3. Capitalizing on technology

Technology is changing, and HR units need to utilize it.

Many HR departments already use social media as a recruiting tool. Indeed, as Society of Human Resource Managers board chair Jose Berrios recently said, “the quality that will most define work in the 21st century is the free movement of talent. The global competition for talent will be even more fierce than it is today.” But social media can and will be used beyond that function.

Some companies have already adopted internal social media platforms like Tibbr and Yammer that help facilitate projects and employee communication. Spin that forward and companies can start using those platforms in employee reviews and scorecards — Rypple already does this — taking into account peer and real-time feedback, Lauby says.

Social media and collaborative mobile apps also hold potential for employee training and “knowledge retention.” From Twitter brainstorming chats to posing a question on a company Facebook page, social media can helping workers find solutions and generate great ideas. Company wikis can host a wealth of information, as well.

Von Feldt says that search engine optimization will become an important skill for HR departments, as they help employees better and more easily access corporate knowledge bases. Video, too, will likely become the preferred method of communication, especially when it comes to training and interviews.

“Mobile isn’t even a unique thing anymore, it simply is,” Von Feldt says. “It’s how everyone will interact with the workplace. The concepts of dashboards and data management via tablets will be so critical that by 2014, I see everyone holding a device — getting real-time information that helps them manage their work and be more effective. And that’s when things start getting really fun.”

This originally appeared on the Visage Chief Mobility Officer blog.

Neil Cohen is Vice President of Marketing at Visage Mobile. He has more than has 30 years of experience creating, building and managing brands for start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Prior to Visage, Neil has been the principal of Cohen & Company, a San Francisco- based brand and marketing strategy firm that has done work for Yahoo, Blue Shield, Friendster, San Francisco State University, and more than 100 startups. Contact him at