The U.S. mobile worker population is set to jump from 78.5 million to 93.5 million by 2024, according to IDC, as businesses digitize processes and support larger remote workforces. The move to a more mobile workforce has implications for IT spending, business processes and the ability to maintain efficiencies outside the office.
In general, IDC expects the number of mobile workers to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% over five years – outpacing the overall workforce growth in the U.S. over the same period. Mobile workers will account for almost 60% of the entire U.S. workforce by the end of the 2024, the research firm said, with businesses expected to spend around a third (32%) of their overall IT budgets on mobile hardware, software and services.
The sharpest increase will be in the healthcare and social assistance sectors; IDC predicts a five-year CAGR of 7.6%, accounting for 13.4 million mobile workers.
The shift is being driven by digital transformation efforts in the U.S., said Bryan Bassett, senior research analyst for enterprise mobility at IDC and author of the study.
“Mobile workflows are becoming more common in business, and frontline workers who have been under-mobilized compared to information workers are now becoming a focus of mobile deployment efforts,” he said. “Increased efficiency, capability, and flexibility are some of the key driving factors for frontline mobile enablement. Manual or task-based workflows are now being digitized and augmented by mobile devices and mobile business applications.”
IDC defines mobile employees as “workers who are enabled with mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) by their company to complete their assigned tasks and workflows.”
The research firm identifies two distinct categories of mobile workers – “information” and “frontline” workers. Information workers represent knowledge or office workers that rely on mobile devices as part of their job, including accountants, programmers or lawyers, and work from home.
Frontline workers are employees in client-facing roles, such as nurses, construction workers or retail store associates. They have typically been underserved in terms of access to digital tools. According to IDC, only 49% of frontline workers in the U.S. are equipped with mobile devices, compared with 55% of information workers.
IDC expects only a small increase in the number of frontline mobile workers, with many of those jobs affected by the pandemic and social distancing measures. The number of information workers is set for higher growth levels in the next 12 to 18 months, partly due to the increase in remote working.
The pandemic had a “large impact” on mobility in the enterprise, said Bassett, with smartphones listed as the top immediate spending priority for U.S.-based organizations, according to June 2020 IDC survey data.
“Keeping employees connected and productive was key to weathering the immediate impacts of the pandemic, and new mobile centric workflows allowed businesses to remain open to a degree, especially in essential retail, warehousing, and shipping,” he said. “The need for reliable communication and access to digital corporate assets will not subside …, and mobile devices are well equipped to handle that demand when a PC is not the right device for a given worker.”
Although defining “mobile work” can be difficult, Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, said there’s a clear increase in the number of workers using mobile devices in their roles, even if they do so only occasionally.
“If I have a smartphone and I’m able to access my company email, I’m a mobile worker, even though I do the majority of my work in the office on a PC,” he said. “On the other hand, there are field people – utility workers, insurance adjusters, salespeople – who are mobile most of the time and rely heavily on mobile devices to do the majority of their work.
“So occasional mobile workers have grown dramatically and will continue to do so, while primarily mobile workers [are] growing at a much slower rate. In fact, I would estimate that today, occasional mobile workers are already well above 50% and in some verticals – like tech, finance, IT services – they are above 85%.”
The increase in mobile work puts pressure on organizations to invest in appropriate infrastructure to support staffers. Not surprisingly, IT, mobile security and mobile management solutions have become a top priority for spending plans heading into 2021, according to IDC.
“The need and ability to secure mobile workers and devices in a decentralized working environment is now essential,” said Bassett. “IT also needs the ability to efficiently manage its mobile workers and device fleets going forward.
“[Work from home] is going to be much more commonplace going forward, so IT is setting its sights on how to effectively meet the demands of a mobile workforce outside the walls of an office building.”
Gold said the first priority for businesses is to evaluate the devices being used by employees before investing in unified endpoint management (UEM) software. “It’s absolutely critical to be able to manage all devices and connections,” he said.
Mobile device use can also increase security risks – a factor that may have been overlooked as organizations rushed to deploy mobile devices in response to the pandemic. “Many companies had to react quickly to get mobile workers set up in the early days of the pandemic and neglected – or simply ignored – best security practices,” said Gold. “It’s time to go back and do it right.”
Finally, there’s the issue of user support.
“IT can’t just send a help desk person to my desk to fix a problem,” said Gold. “Remote support is harder to do, but companies can set up processes and programs to make it much more painless, though many have not to this point.
“There are many service providers that can furnish remote support if you don’t want to, or can’t, do your own.”
Matthew Finnegan covers collaboration and other enterprise IT topics for Computerworld and is based in Sweden.
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.