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What's your remote workforce costing you?

Insight into mobile expense management − one of the more critical expense categories − is now more important than ever before.
Read time 4min 30sec

The COVID-19 pandemic is set to have long-lasting impacts on how companies view remote work and work from home.

Pre-COVID-19, most organisations were hesitant about enabling widespread remote work. However, having been forced to do so during the lockdowns, organisations around the world are concluding there was no loss in productivity as employees worked from home, and that a remote workforce environment could be beneficial for organisations and employees alike.

Recent studies indicate remote working could become a permanent working model and not just what many feel is a strange temporary arrangement. A Gartner survey of chief financial officers found 74% expected that some of their employees would continue working remotely after the crisis ends and another survey of company leaders representing HR, legal and compliance, finance and real estate revealed that 82% of respondents intend to permit remote working some of the time.

In South Africa, the Redflank research consultancy found in a BeyondCOVID Business Survey that as many as 44% of the companies that had fielded a remote workforce during lockdown said they might make working from home a permanent arrangement in future. 21st Century research found that 64% of organisations now have a remote working policy.

But while IT departments around the world successfully overcame the productivity and security challenges involved in enabling a remote workforce suddenly, and at scale, there is one significant challenge still facing South African organisations now considering making remote work a permanent arrangement: connectivity.

In the early days of lockdown, organisations hurriedly acquired laptops and issued traditional mobile SIM cards or fixed-LTE devices to staff to ensure business as usual from home. Many others opted to allow staff to use their own home WiFi and personal mobile connections across multiple networks. Network operators reported immediate surges in traffic.

With a one-hour video call requiring between 270MB and 1.6GB of data per hour, mobile costs are soaring.

But as time passed and the massive data requirements of work from home became more apparent and started showing signs of consistency, the question of cost management became a significant issue − particularly as organisations reeled from the financial losses suffered during the pandemic and lockdown.

While ICASA reports that fixed broadband subscriptions, such as fibre to the home, are increasing, studies indicate that up to 95% of all Internet connections in South Africa are still via mobile networks, meaning that mobile now enables a large proportion of the home-based workforce.

Not only must these workers use mobile connections to access cloud-based applications and services, they are also dependent on mobile for data-heavy video calls and meetings. With a one-hour video call requiring between 270MB and 1.6GB of data per hour, mobile costs are soaring.

On top of this, there is every chance that corporate mobile devices also enable large numbers of home-based schoolchildren joining virtual classes − an unwanted and costly side-effect of the 'new normal'.

This proliferation of mobile can be a cost nightmare for corporations and could remain so unless organisations get these costs under control. Now is the time for companies to adjust their mobile policies and put in place the right management tools to cater for a newly remote workforce at scale, without allowing usage and costs to spiral out of control.

In this emerging environment, we expect business unit managers to become more accountable for the voice and data costs of their departments, which means mobile expense management tools will have to be comprehensive and user-friendly to support compliance.

All-in-one mobile expense management helps to get control of mobile workforce costs. The key to managing mobile contracts and controlling the new cost nightmare is to achieve transparency across the environment, to monitor and control spend. Organisations must gain company-wide visibility and insights into all fixed and mobile voice and data costs across the entire remote workforce, encompassing all providers, all contracts, all IT services, and all users in a single Web-based software platform.

They need to be able to track all contracts, consumption, services used, devices, users and locations, and easily report on the full inventory landscape, and identify trends to allow for better forecasting and budgeting. To avoid unexpected costs, organisations must be able to track and compare the company budget against actual provider billing, with rules-based notifications and alerts to improve user adherence.

They also need to be able to track usage of tools such as Microsoft Teams, to identify and report on behaviour, return on investment and potential lack of productivity.

Importantly, they should also look to automated reporting, with reports designed to provide actionable insights that help organisations enable remote work efficiency and business as usual within budget.

In the emerging normal, remote work and flexible work will likely remain a widespread phenomenon that ultimately benefits organisations and their employees.

But to enable remote work and all its benefits without losing control of the voice and data budget, organisations need to act now to ensure that unexpected costs and management headaches don't derail remote work at scale.

Neil Buckley

MD, Apex BI.

Buckley completed his studies in software support and PC engineering in 1999. He later went on to enhance his knowledge and skill through courses at the Harvard School of Business plus other institutions in the US. He has two decades of experience in an ICT career that has seen him appointed to senior management positions across various functional lines of business, including enterprise, SME, partner and retail channels. In 2007, he founded Apex BI. In the 12 years since inception, the company has attracted market share and has become a major player in the technology expense management sector. Apex BI is the only African company to be a member of the Enterprise Technology Management Association.

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