Can a mobile workforce boost well-being?

Can a mobile workforce boost well-being?

By Amber Jacobs on 11 October 2018 A company that recently implemented a mobile workforce says its team has never felt more engaged and connected. 

Belinda Dixon and James Shobbrook from the Benevolent Society shared key findings on how they took their team mobile at the National Employment Solutions Conference.  

According to Mr Shobbrook, it is the organisation's first mobile workforce. He says the team of seven social workers and psychologists now have “the ability to function from anywhere there is power and mobile data.” They work effectively and cooperatively in geographically dispersed areas. 

The program allows team members to work from home, externally and from different work sites. 

The mobile team had top results in the organisation’s annual team Gallop employment survey which measures employee engagement and support.  

“Over the past 18 months we’ve introduced a mobile workforce and it has been successful,” says Ms Dixon.

“Twice running we have nearly topped the organisation which is counterintuitive for mobile work… you would expect there would have been some major dips for us but in fact it actually went the other way. They feel even more connected now.” 

According to Ms Dixon the success of their workforce hinges on a two-step process. They started with a wraparound leadership model so that everyone had input in how the program would operate. The second step involved coaching and feedback. 

Cooperative leadership increases employee input 

The wraparound leadership model was designed so that all employees moving to the mobile workforce had input. 

“We had the team identify what they were looking to gain from a mobile work perspective… They came back and said these are all the things that are going to be hiccups for us,” says Ms Dixon. 

This allowed the team to build on everyone’s strengths and allowed the team to increase their outputs in a way that fit with their core funding model.

During the coaching stage they implemented peer supervision. According to Ms Dixon, this allowed them to ask team members how the mobile workplace was working for them and how it was not. 

“The team actually loves working virtually and flexibly,” says Ms Dixon. “When you empower staff you create positive change.”

During the period of transition process, a new member of staff joined their team. “The feedback that we got from that staff member was that they had never been so supported, engaged, invested and embedded in a team during an onboarding stage,” says Ms Dixon. 

What technologies were used?

One of the biggest challenges was ensuring that communication remained the same between team members despite the fact that they were geographically dispersed.

“We thought, how can we replicate what workers are already doing in a virtual manner,” explains Mr Shobbrook. 

Replication of the original workplace would involve a means of online communication for personal purposes or “banter” as well as online collaboration and a means to connect with different teams and projects and clients. 

The online banter allowed for water cooler talk within the team. This was implemented in Work Chat.

“Never underestimate the power of banter, banter is the glue that holds your team together. If you work from a mobile perspective and you take that away, you’re taking away the entire team connection,” Ms Dixon advises.  

Other technologies implemented included Skype, email, Pinboard and a way to use digital signatures when necessary for certain documents. It was decided that while Work Chat was appropriate for short discussions, Skype was the best option for meetings. They also split different domains of the team into different conversations using instant messaging. 

“Pinboard looks after the non-negotiables and practice of whatever it is your core business is and maintains that consistency,” Ms Dixon explains. 

Ensuring workplace health and safety was also important for the mobile team. They used a location check-in, check-out system so that the team always knew where staff were physically. 

Calm and connected 

The organisation’s Gallop survey revealed that, despite rarely sitting together, the staff were highly in tune with each other. They felt stable and supported and were proactive and cooperative when they were remote problem-solving. 

The mobile team is unique within the organisation and the survey results were surprising to the rest of the company.  

According to Ms Dixon the rest of the organisation now “want to know what we’re doing because look at our Gallop results. We’re way up here and that’s not making sense to them.”

She explains that while they also implemented a range of well-being strategies, it was the team’s original connection that carried them through. They had the advantage of their team having previously worked together in the same place before they went mobile.   

“You need to build the team from the bottom up… The well-being activities are the icing on top,” she says. 

“There’s this idea now that mindfulness well-being is a band aid to fix everything,” Mr Shobbrook adds. “If you don’t have the team culture set up, then no matter how many mindfulness activities you give them, it’s not going to reduce their stress.” 

Well-being activities included a weekly “gratitude checkout”. Each team member would get a reminder on Outlook every Wednesday to share something, preferably related to their personal life, that they had enjoyed that week. 

“This replicates that conversation we have on that Monday when we get back from the weekend,” says Mr Shobbrook. 

Active mindfulness techniques were also implemented using the likes of    

“You need to be aware that a mindful, connected workforce still needs a way to disconnect,” Mr Shobbrook explains. 


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