Key takeaways

  • Workforce mobility is a useful tool for talent acquisition in a competitive market.
  • Change management and collaborative technologies are key.
  • Businesses must ensure remote workers heed cyber security advice.

Securing staff with the right technical skills is high on the agenda for Australian businesses. PwC’s 2015 Global CEO Survey showed that concerns over availability of key skills are at an eight-year high among business leaders. With 44% of jobs at risk from digital disruption in the next 20 years, to ensure future prosperity we must not only attract the right talent but employ policies to retain them, too.

Last week, Business Insider reported on what may seem as a radical approach to stop tech talent from leaving: allowing staff to work abroad for three months every year.

HR director for Melbourne-based start-up Envato, James Law, told the publication: “If an Australian company can open up the world as a backdrop for work and professional development, great workers are less likely to feel that traditional pull of heading offshore to grow their careers […] Flexibility promotes agility, which we’ll need to compete and thrive”

Whilst three months’ absence may be outside the scope of many enterprises, flexible working is without doubt a growing feature of the tech business landscape. What are the considerations for catering to a mobile workforce?

Demand for a mobile workforce

This year, Millennials became the majority of the US workforce, comprising over a third of the nation’s employees. There is a growing expectation, particularly among this highly connected generation, that mobility will be offered as standard.

“Looking at the way young people engage with their social circles, it is hugely dependent on technology,” observes PwC’s Digital Services Leader John Riccio.  “They form relationships, have conversations and share experiences all without physical engagement. As they increasingly enter the workforce this shift in social engagement will further influence the way we operate at work. Coupled with advancements in truly collaborative technologies, this reinforces the fact that virtual engagement is simply becoming the normal state.”

The mobilisation of the workforce certainly opens up new opportunities for talent acquisition, especially in sourcing staff located outside the immediate geography of a business base.  But it has an impact on the design of the business overall, from work spaces to policy.

Enlisting technology and leadership

“Mobile technologies in the workplace offered the potential to enable more productive and efficient platforms that could be leveraged by all our people regardless of role,” says CIO Hilda Clune, talking about PwC’s implementation of flexible working practices, in 2013 publication Surviving and Thriving in the New World.

“This was the trigger to form a technology program that examined mobility access and implemented initiatives such as Bring Your Own Device and the development of mobile apps. Video VoIP was also pivotal in creating strong connections across our national teams. The essential element to all of these capabilities was that they were available from anywhere, which naturally removed the dependency to be in the office to work.” 

However, adopting a flexible working policy requires more than just an evolution in technology and environment.  “Change management was essential,” she adds. “This type of evolution requires a significant transformation in terms of culture, values and work practices. A revolutionary rethink was needed about the way the business worked, but more importantly how we could empower our people to make choices in where and how they work.”

Security considerations

While technology allows us to work more flexibly than ever before, businesses must remain vigilant of cyber security risks since remote working carries with it greater risks, advises PwC cyber security specialist Robert Di Pietro.

Within an office network, security controls can be enforced more easily to minimise risk. If a user is working from home, however, other family members may unknowingly download an infected file on a home computer that could spread to the work laptop. Or if a home wireless network is set up insecurely, it could allow unauthorised access to other devices in the home.

As mobile technology improves and we work more remotely, security controls need to start shifting from the network to the device itself. The challenge is that in this evolving world of Bring Your Own Device, the user owns the device, not the organisation – so there are limits as to how far the IT controls can extend.

As a result, businesses rely on employees to have a good level of cyber security awareness both in the office and when working remotely. This human element of cyber security is more important than ever in helping keep individuals and organisations secure in the digital age.

Whether working remotely for three weeks or three months, the same types of risks apply. These include:

  • Making sure you connect to the corporate network (by VPN) regularly to ensure you are receiving the latest software updates and patches, and that automatic back-up activities are taking place.
  • Ensure mobile devices are always locked or protected with a hard-to-guess PIN. Never leave a device unattended in public places.
  • Only install reputable applications on your device.
  • Don’t store sensitive digital or hard-copy corporate information in unsecure places – i.e. a filing cabinet at home, or backup to a home computer




Tan Allaway

Tan Allaway is a former editor of PwC’s Digital Pulse.

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