Growing mobile workforce leads to changes in the workplace

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Working with help desk technician Deshawn Ringgold, founder

Working with help desk technician Deshawn Ringgold, founder and C.E.O. of Mithril Technology Jason Aptekar points out an area on monitor which is the 'heart' of the preventive, maintence, and monitoring operation for their cloud computing services. Photo Credit: Michael E. Ach

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Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

Six years ago, securing 2,400 square feet of office space made sense for Jason Aptekar, chief executive of Westbury-based Mithril Technology, a business and technology consulting firm.

But over time his workers became increasingly mobile, visiting clients and working from alternate locations including home.

He realized it made more sense to move his core operations to the cloud and scale down his office footprint to about 650 square feet of flexible office/meeting space, which he recently secured from a real estate development and management firm in Westbury.

"People can access the data and applications securely from anywhere," says Aptekar, noting the shift has helped improve efficiencies and cut nonpersonnel overhead by up to 75 percent.

With advances in technology and an increasingly mobile workforce, companies like Mithril are embracing alternative workplace strategies.

According to the New Ways of Working Network (NewWOW), a Los Gatos, California research consortium, an alternative workplace program combines nontraditional practices, settings and locations that supplement or replace traditional offices. This can include a range of approaches, such as working from home and desk sharing.

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In addition to real estate cost savings, potential benefits include greater employee satisfaction from being able to control where and when they work, increased work/life balance, and greater employee retention and productivity, explains Jim Creighton, director of NewWOW and co-author of "Top Trends in Alternative Workplace Strategies."

It can also come in handy in cases of business disruption.

"We've learned from past disasters such as superstorm Sandy and the potential Long Island Rail Road strike that business owners need to be preparing alternate strategies including mobile access and off-site locations for business operations to continue," says Patti Bloom, president of Bloom Resource Group Inc. in Bethpage, a business continuity consulting firm.

So what's the best way to implement such a strategy?

Three key areas: It needs to address three critical components: physical workplace design, human resource policies, and technology, says Katherine Loscalzo, workplace strategy leader at Manhattan-based Deloitte.

"You need to have alignment among HR, real estate and the internal technology team," she notes, adding it requires a long-term view, considering most leases are long-term.

Aptekar took into consideration such factors as the different job functions of his eight staffers and the technology, systems, data and people his workers needed access to. He had performed this exercise for clients and now needed to do it for himself. He also didn't want to go completely virtual.

"Nothing replaces eye-to-eye, in-person collaboration," says Aptekar, who meets with staff weekly in Westbury.

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Involve workers: It's important to involve workers in planning an alternative workplace program, Creighton says. Assess employee and manager attitudes and make sure everybody knows that it will be a choice, not something imposed, he adds. After all, not all jobs will lend themselves to the practice.

Get support: Buy-in from company leadership is critical, adds Loscalzo. "It's not just about approval, but their enthusiastic agreement to lead their teams through the change," she notes. Communicate with clients to let them know the rationale behind the changes, she adds.

Plan ahead: "Testing is important," notes Bloom. If you'll be operating from alternate physical sites, do you have contracts with these locations so you're assured seats? Have you brought staff on site to test access to your networks and backup data? Do you have adequate bandwidth to handle the traffic to your network from at-home staff?

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