Communicating with personnel was already a challenge for companies with workers in the field, widespread workforces in siloed divisions and office locations, and deskless staff who travel. Now that COVID-19 has all but eradicated traditional in-person relationships and many in-office team members are working remotely, keeping everyone synced is an even more daunting task.
The entire face of team communications has changed, escalating the need for alternate ways to communicate with the growing mobile workforce. Internal and external communications are merging as businesses strive to reconnect with disconnected teams offsite and in virtual environments.
Managing the employee journey has become as important as managing the customer experience. Businesses are struggling to keep distributed employees engaged, maintain corporate culture, and reestablish a sense of community. In addition to connecting with remote workers and keeping employees up-to-date, team communications solutions must also facilitate onboarding, training, and career growth, and be able to segment messaging for distinct employee groups of different geographies, cultures, ages, and job functions, while also maintaining personal interactions and peer collaboration.
Email doesn’t cut it, and excessive reliance on video conferencing has already created “Zoom fatigue.” Remote work now requires mobile communication delivery at an unprecedented level. Companies are discovering faster, more effective ways to communicate meaningfully with simple plug-and-play digital solutions.
Mobile team communications apps are fast becoming the go-to solution across the spectrum, from small businesses to major enterprises, and are spanning every industry, whether they are used in a shared workplace or remotely. App features are more comprehensive than ever and now integrate augmented reality (AR) along with artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed-reality programs, as well as text chats, audio calls, video conferencing, file and screen sharing, discussion threads, forums and more, all combined into one communications hub on a dedicated channel. With the multitude of app options available today, the key is determining which functions will best address organizational needs.
Though team text chats and video conferences are productive, nothing compares to live voice messaging in real time, either one-to-one with individuals, or one-to-many with groups. Team apps that offer a walkie-talkie feature enable push-to-talk (PTT) to transmit instant voice messages to colleagues without risk of crosstalk or eavesdropping, while also reducing the number of devices workers carry and cutting IT costs. Feature-rich apps also allow users to track locations, trigger emergency alerts in critical situations, coordinate logistics, and quickly resolve issues.
However, some industries have highly specific processes and require more customized communications interfaces, such as public safety, security, manufacturing, logistics, and health care. The emergence of no-code/low-code development platforms (LCDPs) have made it possible for developers and customers to accelerate delivery of custom applications. Though they can be deployed on virtually any platform, mobile accessibility is a driving factor behind the use of LCDP apps, which allow workers to tap into on-premise or cloud data from a mobile device.
Where security and compliance risks are a concern and privacy is essential to protecting sensitive information, there are communication apps that can be self-hosted on a company’s own servers and integrated directly to the user interface rather than through a third-party server.
Traditional private radio and land mobile radio (LMR) networks often require significant up-front capital expenditures (CAPEX). The spike in mobile workforces is driving explosive growth in PTT over cellular (PoC) for wide-area communications due to the low operational expenditure (OPEX) for startup and subscription-based services.
With the press of a PTT button, PoC provides the same capabilities as traditional two-way radio systems and enables instant group calls to multiple users. Because PoC leverages existing long-term evolution (LTE) cellular and ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks, systems can be deployed faster with no infrastructure required.
PoC network services can also be located on privately hosted servers using gateway routers to provide connectivity between the LTE network and the PoC server. Another approach is unified communications (UC) platforms, which integrate diverse radio systems with PoC and PTT over Wi-Fi into one centralized ecosystem.
PoC devices such as radios, smartphones, and even bodycams are purpose-built for professional communications as compact, rugged, easy-to-operate handheld devices. Digital mobile radios (DMRs) with advanced features can support PoC functions, including instant group calling, GPS location tracking, emergency notifications, and mission-critical PTT (MCPTT.)
Enterprise models of ruggedized smartphones now have programmable buttons that support PTT communication and integrate with walkie-talkie apps. For example, retailers can use programmable buttons to enable scanning capabilities or POS payments.
For harsher work environments such as industrial settings, there are PoC devices with ingress protection (IP) ratings for water and dust resistance, etc. For occupations that require gloves such as public safety, fire, and emergency medical services (EMS), some devices offer enlarged buttons or glove mode.
Mobile Workforce Support
Many team communication apps are compatible with hands-free PTT accessories, including headsets and Bluetooth adapters, which not only keep drivers from being distracted, but allow freedom of movement when operating machinery, maintaining facilities, and performing a host of other physical tasks. A single button push connects drivers with dispatch or workers with team members, which is ideal for transportation companies and businesses with vehicle fleets, as well the hospitality, property management, food service, and retail industries.
There are a vast array of accessories available that augment audio and voice quality, from waterproof headsets to discreet surveillance kits for undercover and security, or throat mics and earmuffs for high-noise environments such as construction sites, manufacturing plants, and entertainment venues. However, few manufacturers specialize in making affordable professional-grade products that far surpass most low-cost alternatives. Of course, hygiene is also a primary concern these days, which is why experienced makers offer swappable accessories specifically designed for individual or one-time use.
In today’s COVID world, companies want to raise team communications to a higher level while also reducing expenses. This situation has created demand for simpler, more cost-effective solutions that are also dependable and backed by strong support to ensure operations run smoothly and teamwork is optimized. Ultimately, it has also redefined the future of mobile workforce communications.
Dave George is chief technologist and president of Pryme Radio in Brea, CA. He can be reached at email@example.com. This is his first article for Facilities Manager.