Work at home, let your mobile do the job

"Mobile" is a common word among Thai people but "worker" is rarely heard, especially among conservative groups who frown on using English words.

In the financial world, however, these two words have been combined to mean people who work via their mobile phone: the so-called "mobile worker".

The pros for the mobile worker are savings on time and travel expenses while the cons largely centre on higher phone bills.

Somchai Sithichaisrichart, managing director of SIS Distribution, listed on the Market for Alternative Investment, initiated the idea of putting "mobile" and "worker" together.

He explained that mobile phones, a luxury icon in daily life, can cut a company's operating costs, and described turning this new way of working into effective practice as "a piece of cake".

Like its rivals, SIS Distribution - a wholesale business operator for computers and office equipment - used to send sales representatives across the country. But the company is currently making a big difference with its focus on higher sales targets without increasing the number of sales workers.

"The company knows well that higher sales targets means a higher number of sales representatives, and this results in higher expenses for office expansion. To increase working efficiency, we are revamping the sales strategy used in the provinces to control these expenses," says Somchai.

According to this new working concept, sales representatives work via their communications equipment - mobile phones, basic phones capable of directly transferring lines to main offices, webcams or Internet - to yield more fruitful results. All of this equipment may come with high costs but these costs are compensated with higher sales expected in the future.

Somchai notes that expenses for office expansion, particularly in Bangkok, are currently quite high, and he looks at such moves carrying a risk of reducing working efficiency as well.

"Office space is very important. We found out that the efficiency of our employees is reduced when the working space needs to be divided due to limited space. Sales teams need to work together. When we expand our working space to another floor, this is a really big matter as it means the number of meetings will decrease accordingly," he says.

He also points to the reasonable price of technology nowadays, so incurred expenses can be bearable compared to office expansion. Travel saving is also a plus.

Before initiating the new working concept, according to Somchai, companies used to hire sales representatives based in Bangkok to travel to meet their clients in the provinces. One salesman needs to travel to many provinces and is limited to meeting only one client per day. Other weak points are travelling and accommodation expenses as well as other costs.

"We realised all these problems for a long time and tried instead to hire someone who is based in each area. We rent office branches and push sales teams to take care of the main provinces and peripheral areas. But a new problem is we cannot trust salespeople because we are unable to know exactly how seriously they are working. They could work to boost sales revenue but this might not cover all incurred expenses. So we are not sure that renting office branches would solve the problems," he says.

Pointing to such problems, SSI Distribution started revamping its own business strategy by focusing on sales representatives individually. The company moved aggressively to help develop its salesmen into becoming a small but effective home office. Office equipment to facilitate all work has been set up and the company will reasonably pay some costs incurred from using the equipment. This working method eventually developed until it became known as "mobile worker".

Somchai says that the system is popular abroad, where working patterns may be different. Some firms have allocated office branches in each country for their salesmen who travel overseas only. He cited IBM as an example of stationing their employees all over the world. Some also offer office space in main towns so their employees can come and use it anytime at free of charge. Nevertheless, turning employees' homes into home offices was never heard of until now.

SSI Distribution has been using mobile workers for a while and tries to meet employees' demands continuously. Employees point to one main obstacle of this new working method: they feel they are being cut off from the outside world. At present, the number of staff working this way is still small.

On the contrary, though, some are satisfied after participating in this programme for a while, reasoning that they have no need to travel. And some are showing their interest to join for expected high income.

Following this feedback, the company is re-adjusting its mobile worker method with flexible office hours. This way is to help those who feel cut off from outside. Under this readjustment, the company plans to schedule office participation twice a week, but more details are still needed.

SSI Distribution targets that by the first quarter of next year a good number of its employees will turn into mobile workers willing to work from home. Doing so would enable the company to hire more than 10 new workers to fit into its existing office spaces.

"If successful, the new working method will receive a warm response from our employees. We believed that this would increase our sales revenues without the need to pay higher commission fees as we can work from anywhere. Another benefit is no higher costs for office expansion," adds Somchai.

It is not a perfect method yet, given that there is still no process to test all results from the whole system. Further study is now under way to protect the benefits of both office and home workers.
Advocates of mobile working cannot say exactly that this is the way to use human resources and technology for maximum benefit. But as long as communication tools are still being developed without limits, it is an innovative method to help a company stay ahead of its rivals.