Technology has dramatically changed the way we work and is largely responsible for the rising popularity of mobile and remote employees. In fact, 26.8% of consultants now work from home.1 Given the nature of the business they are in, professional services companies have been managing a mobile workforce longer than any other industry. Consultants are constantly on the go, traveling to client sites. But when they aren’t traveling, these employees are increasingly opting to work from home rather than an office building. As a result, many service organizations struggle to effectively support and manage these out-of-office workers. Here are some helpful tips:
Perhaps the largest material benefit of a mobile workforce is significant cost savings. As more employees go remote, office space requirements shrink. According to Global Workplace Analytics, companies can save an average of $10,000 per remote employee per year on real-estate costs. This is not to say that companies are eliminating office space completely. Instead, service organizations operate out of smaller spaces and offer “hoteling” options for workers when they can visit an office. However, the benefits of cutting real estate costs must be balanced with ability to foster a company culture that’s difficult to achieve when employees are working outside of the office.
With a portion of the real-estate savings, consider hosting an on-site employee summit once a year or monthly activities to allow coworkers to network and connect. OneSource Virtual, a Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) company, has a large remote team and constantly promotes team bonding—especially when the team goes on-site to a client. VP of Professional Services, Eric Olson, notes that it’s important to “bring employees in for projects and hold purposeful teaming events when at the customer site.”1 Bringing employees together in person at least once a year is highly recommended.
Often, companies manage their consultants working on client sites through multiple systems and processes that tend to be error prone and labor intensive. For example, a mobile consultant may use spreadsheets to track project time, while an office employee may use an on-premise project tracking system to track their time. The data collected via spreadsheets must then be entered into the on-premise system, making room for manual errors and a delay in access to project information. Because of these disparate systems, services companies are losing out on efficiency and data accuracy, and the burden is forced upon internal resources (most often, the finance or operations team) to fill in the gaps. If you have remote and mobile workers, then you need workforce and project management tools that work equally well in all environments.
Companies that are managing their mobile workforce well have consolidated their project management systems and processes strategically, allowing for anytime/anywhere access, greater visibility into how resources are allocated and real-time visibility into metrics like utilization, percent of project completion or budget to actual hours and dollars. Being able to pull open a mobile app to find detailed customer information right away is invaluable and is certainly a best practice of top performing services companies. Cloud technology and mobile applications are invaluable in providing flexibility while also maintaining efficiency for your mobile workers. In fact, services businesses that use a cloud service delivery tool for tracking project time, budgets and expenses from anywhere achieved 2.8% better on time delivery than their counterparts who don’t use such a tool.1
Further, getting data about projects into the system quickly drives billing and reporting, so if your mobile workforce is not able to quickly enter their timesheets, expenses or project notes because of the lack of a cloud solution, that will slow down billing cycles and could have a downstream impact on Days Sales Outstanding (DSO). Companies can improve from >93 days to <50 days DSO by implementing systems that their mobile workforce is more willing to use.2 Siloed technology can also impact revenue management. Companies can improve from >10 days to close the books to hours by providing their mobile workforce the right systems to efficiently manage their projects.2
Many organizations are concerned that distractions will diminish productivity for consultants who work from home. In truth, companies are finding that teleworkers are more productive. Work-from-home employees eliminate their commute entirely and in turn replace that time with productive work hours. In fact, AT&T found that home workers work five more hours than their office worker counterparts. Further, the service industry is infamous for a Monday through Thursday travel schedule. Allowing these employees to work from home outside of this brutal travel allows them to prep and unwind but also continue working, as opposed to taking these days off. Indeed, off-site billable hours for consultants increased from 637 to 671 in 2018.1 Again, cloud-based tools that allow these employees to leverage the same technology that’s available in office evens the playing field for at-home workers.
23.1% of service employees are under the age of 30.1 As the majority of the workforce shifts towards recent college graduates and millennials who are used to technology being critical to their everyday lives, that same ‘ease of use’ in their professional lives is becoming increasingly important. This group expects to be able to quickly communicate throughout the day, as opposed to long weekly meetings. Tools like Slack and Skype for Business are effective ways to stay in communication with mobile and remote workers without having to constantly be on the phone. Consider replacing long weekly meetings with daily 15-minute calls to stay in the loop more regularly. Video conferencing tools like Zoom are also effective in maintaining a relationship with these employees and helps to make sure employees are on track during remote meetings.
Syncsort, a services software company specializing in big data, employs only remote workers, and 90% of its projects are delivered remotely. Syncsort believes that providing its team with a reasonable work-life balance allows for happier employees and better-quality work. Employees expect some portion of their work week to be flexible or remote, and for services companies, working remotely—at least part of the time—is becoming an industry standard.
COO of Relationship One, Tim Soulen, notes that flexible/remote work schedules constantly comes up as one of the most important perks that the company offers its employees.1 There is no replacement for face-to-face interactions with clients and coworkers. However, as technology continues to improve, and employers recognize the positive impact remote working has on employee satisfaction and retention, we will likely see more service organizations moving towards primarily remote workforces. As companies make this transition it’s important to understand the benefits but also account for the challenges that inevitably accompany this shift.
1. Service Performance Insight, LLC & NetSuite, “2019 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark,” (February 2019).
2. NetSuite KPI Assessment: