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Managing Mobile Workers: Creative Ways to Keep Roving Engineers Engaged and Informed

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

It’s ten o’clock on a weekday morning – do you know where your engineers are? Between client meetings, site visits and conferences, your team is constantly on the go. It’s no wonder that managers are always looking for new and better ways to keep roaming professionals in the loop.

As David Clemons, co-author of the book, Managing the Mobile Workforce: Leading, Building, and Sustaining Virtual Teams, notes, We used to think that managing a mobile workforce was so simple, but now we know it is more than just tossing someone a laptop. It takes a great deal of work to do it right.

Get a Game Plan

First thing Monday morning, project managers at San Diego-based Hope Engineering disseminate the game plan for the week, according to Jim Amundson, principal engineer (interviewed for this article). This brief synopsis keeps everyone on the same page by providing project updates and a bite-size list of goals. It also allocates drafting, CAD and administrative resources to various projects during the period.

The plan shows at-a-glance a) what must be accomplished to keep projects on schedule and b) when the firm’s structural engineers, who spend considerable time on construction sites, are available for pow-wows, conference calls and team meetings.

“Each project has a lot of moving parts that have to be coordinated,” says Amundson. “Our game plan keeps everyone focused and on task no matter where they’re working.”

Sync-Up

There’s no shortage of mobile devices, tools and software programs to keep road warriors connected to their domiciled teammates; the key is to use them effectively. Unless they’re synchronized, disparate devices with their assorted operating systems, applications and connectivity options can actually impede productivity and communications by creating redundant processes and the need to manually coordinate separate data and calendars.

Hope’s engineers share emails, documents and other communications with their colleagues automatically, because their smartphones are synced with their office computers. And since they can save data and documents to the network, they don’t have to worry about losing valuable information if they happen to misplace their mobile devices.

In addition, the firm’s engineers can work from home instead of making the trek to the office before heading to a construction site, because they can access their office computers via the firm’s VPN.

Once the engineers arrive on site, they can retrieve and view construction drawings on a tablet, take notes, and immediately share them with teammates – instead of waiting to transcribe handwritten updates. Should a question arise, they can review the proposal or contract, and address the client’s query on the spot.

A study of best practices, by the Workforce Design Collaborative, asserts that going paperless, and committing to digital information flow and storage, is the single most important thing you can do to enable efficient, distributed work. Workers can be much more mobile, and work anywhere, when they don’t have to access paper documents that are stored in only one location.

Says Amundson, “By making use of mobile technology and synching all our devices, we’ve shortened communication time and made it possible for our staff to work from anywhere.”

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