High-tech gadgets such as smartphones and other mobile devices are fast becoming the norm in everyday American life. As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, employers must rethink what information can be shared via these devices -- they're not just used for phone calls anymore.  

Workforce management in a mobile world: can HR make the move?

High-tech gadgets such as smartphones and other mobile devices are fast becoming the norm in everyday American life. As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, employers must rethink what information can be shared via these devices -- they're not just used for phone calls anymore. Will they allow mobile access to time reporting and payroll processing, scheduling and other human resource information systems? Tech-savvy organizations are starting to advertise jobs and manage candidate relationships, schedule shifts via text message, and deliver multi-media learning and performance review updates by smartphone.


"The way companies deliver HR information is changing," says John Whyte, Ceridian Talent Acquisition product manager. "Today's technology-driven demographic, such as Generation Y, is looking for updates on mobile devices via Facebook, Twitter and other social networking applications. There is great value in delivering information to employees or potential employees via these devices such as providing updates to job candidates or scheduling interviews." 

A recent Aberdeen Group study on Human Capital Management (HCM) validated these generational pressures to adopt mobile tools in HCM. Almost half (44 percent) of the respondents said that needs and expectations of multiple generations in the workplace were key drivers in using mobile devices to deliver HCM information. The survey cited two other important factors as driving mobile device use in HCM. Today's economic conditions are creating more need for operational efficiency, and because of the increasingly dispersed workforce (global, national, virtual and remote) more employees use mobile devices. 

HR activities most affected by mobile devices, among companies who use them: 

  • 53% Workforce management
  • 39% Informal learning and development
  • 38% Talent acquisition/recruiting
Source: Aberdeen Group study on Human Capital Management (HCM) 

High tech, high risk?
 
Mobile devices reflect the shift to anytime, anywhere access. IDC estimates that mobile smartphone penetration will grow 24.5 percent by 2011. Apple iPhone applications hit 1 billion downloads in the first nine months after release and a significant number of enterprises have adopted the iPhone in addition to the BlackBerry. The use of the Google Android is projected to grow 51.2 percent from 2010 to 2014 despite the fact that most enterprises have no plans yet to support this platform. With so much data being shared and viewed on mobile devices, what are the risks when it comes to secure access to sensitive and confidential information? 

"Companies that monitor and enforce secure access to HR data at the workplace will do the same with regard to mobile devices," explains Whyte. "As long as employees are required to have a secure log in, mobile access should not be a limitation. Just like we need a computer password, the same pertains to mobile logon." 

There's something else to think about. As smartphones and other mobile device usage rises, employers may want to adopt a smartphone usage policy. A lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department is an example of a clear warning to employers to put a smartphone usage policy in place before they end up in potentially costly litigation. 

For the past three years, the Chicago Police Department has handed powerful new tools to officers in the field -- BlackBerry smartphones. But the BlackBerry may have backfired on the department, which is now being sued by a sergeant in the gang investigations unit for the overtime he claims he earned while using his smartphone off the clock. The proposed class action suit is based on the department's violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by intentionally failing and refusing to pay the sergeant and other employees all compensation due them under the FLSA for their after-hours BlackBerry use. Under the FLSA, nonexempt employees are entitled to overtime compensation for time spent working beyond a 40-hour workweek. 

This is one of a handful of nationwide cases in which employees have claimed overtime pay for smartphone use -- and apparently the first involving public employees. Employers can minimize the risk of litigation by restricting smartphone use to exempt employees or by instructing nonexempt employees to take calls from customers or clients only during regular work hours. 

With today's mobile workforce, there are clear benefits to accessing work remotely. Employers who take a proactive approach by reviewing current policies and creating new ones with regard to technology changes will have a competitive edge in the marketplace. 

"As there are new technological advances related to sharing HRIS data with employees, companies will need to take a different approach," adds Whyte. "Any company with a large number of remote employees can realize a tremendous benefit by using mobile capabilities."