This article appeared in a Special to the Globe and Mail and was published on June 28, 2016

Until recently, corporate employees used a standard company-issued computer and phone, worked over a secured Internet and phone network and left their work behind when they returned home at the end of the day.

But the traditional boundaries of work have ruptured, spilling out into evenings and weekends and onto personal devices and public WiFi. In response to these changes, some employers have chosen to limit when and where employees conduct their work, while others have made accommodations to facilitate this new style of work.

Research suggests, however, that half of Canadian employers have done little, if anything, to acknowledge and manage the challenges that come with having a more remote and mobile work force.

According to a recent study by Ryerson University titled The Transformation of Work, 70 per cent of Canadian employees are mobile in some way, yet only half of respondents reported having an organization-wide mobility strategy.

“While Canadian consumers are among the heaviest users of mobile technologies, most sectors are still playing catch-up,” said Wendy Cukier, lead contributor to the report and vice-president of research and innovation at Ryerson. “A lot of managers, and a lot of organizations, are not equipped for managing remote work on a consistent basis.”

Ignoring the opportunities that come with having a more flexible work force, however, is an unwise decision, suggests Michael Murphy, the country manager for Citrix Canada.

“There are some cost savings for companies – cost of real estate, cost of facilities, cost of infrastructure – all of those are tangible,” he said. “There’s also something more intangible; it allows companies to be more competitive. They can attract and retain and keep better people, and they can reach further into the globe to get the best skills or the best person for the job outside the local market.”

A recent survey by Citrix Canada – a global company that enables mobile work styles – found 95 per cent of IT decision makers who have implemented a mobility strategy say it’s integral to their company’s competitiveness, and 19 per cent of employees would accept a new job if it allowed them to work remotely for two days a week. Another study by Randstad, a global recruitment company, found that 44 per cent of Canadians are dissatisfied with their work schedules and 65 per cent want the option to work remotely on occasion.

While providing more flexible working options is increasingly vital to an employer’s competitiveness, they first need to develop a policy that sets boundaries and establishes best practices.

“Mobile working is not just about saying to an employee, ‘You can now work from home’; there must be a greater support system behind that,” said Matt Lewis-Strauch, a manager in Deloitte Canada’s human capital practice. “It’s a three-pillared approach: people, technology and workplace.”

Mr. Lewis-Strauch explains that employers need to identify the individual needs and working styles of their staff, provide tools to enable them to work remotely and continue to support staff members that prefer a traditional office setting.

Whether or not employers choose to create a formal policy, however, conducting work outside of the workplace potentially puts company data at risk.

“It pays to have that formal strategy so at least people are aware of what those risks are, and the steps they should take to mitigate them,” said Mark Nunnikhoven, the vice-president of cloud security for Trend Micro, a global security software company.

The most important element of that strategy should be the ongoing education of employees on cybersecurity best practices, Mr. Nunnikhoven said. He also recommends providing staff with anti-malware and encryption software for personal devices that may be used for work, even basic e-mail.

“They also need to be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “There’s a physical risk that you’re now in an unprotected environment, so educating them about locking their systems or having a privacy screen on their laptop, these are things they need to be aware of.”

Mr. Nunnikhoven adds that a comprehensive mobility strategy should address what happens in the event that a personal device containing company information is lost or stolen.

“How fast do you remotely wipe that device? What’s your policy for backing up things?” he said.

It should also touch on whether employees can print sensitive information on public printers, use public WiFi and whether some projects should never be opened outside of the workplace. “I probably shouldn’t be reviewing pre-IPO financials while I’m sitting on the bus,” he explained.

Such considerations should be built into the foundation of a mobility strategy, but there should also be room for flexibility, suggests Anne Donovan, the human capital transformation leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“You have to have the umbrella policy up above that allows for it, you have to have the technology and security that makes it work, but then you have to let it happen on the ground organically,” she said, adding that after PwC established its mobility strategy, staff members began having blunt conversations about personal responsibilities.

For example, some of Ms. Donovan’s staff members leave work early to spend time with their young children, but continue working remotely once the kids are in bed.

“When the team all agrees, they make it work for each other,” she said. “It’s going to be rare to find workers that don’t want this, so if you want to function in the new order as an employer, you’ve got to figure out how to make this work.”

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