What is telecommuting and what are its benefits?
Telecommuting is a workplace option that allows work to be done at an alternate work site (other than office) such as the home, for one or more days per week. The expansion of broadband services to employees' homes has made telecommuting a viable option – and at times a need – for medium to large-sized businesses in today’s marketplace.
The appropriate use of Internet and smartphone technology can add to the flexibility of business operations. Telecommuting activities usually include customer or technical support employees tapping into corporate computing resources for troubleshooting, managers and executives working online after business hours to catch up on important emails and traveling or remotely based employees linking to a corporate office through appropriate devices and systems. Some organizations also implement flexi time programs that permit certain telecommuting hours per week.
Working from home is an attractive option for many employees and proves to be an effective tool in attracting and retaining in an ever competitive market place. The benefits of expanding access to work beyond the corporate walls include:
- Reduction in operation expenses
- Improved work-life balance for employees
- Increased employee productivity
- Increased quality contact with customers
- Reduced consumption of fuel and less pollution (as telecommuting less traveling to offices)
The people who can work through telecommuting (at least partially) include accountants, administrative assistants, data analysts, data entry operators, editors, financial analysts, programmers, researchers and system analysts.
Setting up Telecommuting Systems
Planning:Business managers and their IT teams need to consider several factors while deploying a telecommuting program. Technology issues such as security, access, asset management, reliability and support are crucial. Even while regular or full time employees work from home or remote locations, it is significant to ensure fairness, a professional working environment and corporate legal protection. There must be adequate provisions to prevent access to data by unauthorized sources.
Implementing a successful telecommuting program therefore calls for much more than simply providing a high speed Internet connection and a laptop. There is an enormous amount of planning required to accommodate policies and procedures, technology selection, training, installation, technical support, cost and budget management and user satisfaction.
Infrastructure Required:The “technology bundle” that telecommuters typically need includes hardware such as computers, phones, modems and printers as well as software comprising operating systems, applications, firewalls, security keys, backup & data recovery software and diagnosis tools. At the heart of telecommuting technology “bundle” lies the VPN or Virtual Private Network. VPN comprises all the hardware and software required to gain authorized access to the corporate network. It may have security tokens, phonebook/dialer software, hardware or software-based data encryption, shared authentication keys and preconfigured “tunnel” paths to authorization servers. The IT professionals deploying the system must give careful consideration to architecting security, designing access methods, establishing hardware and software standards and planning for ongoing upgrades/patches/troubleshooting.
It is good to maintain the same front end whether the telecommuter is using dial-up, broadband, the office LAN, etc. The front end should be smart enough to present the same look and feel irrespective of access method. It should also have effective firewall, digital certificate, virus protection and other embedded software in the background so the
telecommuter does not have to manually launch or configure them individually.
Implementing and Deploying Telecommuting Systems:The most challenging task in any telecommuting initiative is the implementation and deployment of the solution to the workforce. Choosing and ordering the appropriate access connection for each telecommuter and managing the installation can be a gigantic task. Once a telecommuter is approved for the program, the IT professional's job is to assess the technologies available in the users’ geographical area and select the ones that can actually reach the telecommuters home with appropriate available bandwidth options. Most business organizations choose DSL or cable modem services thanks to attractive speed/price offer. However, the actual ordering and installation of the service can be a time consuming and tedious process.
Some VPN service providers have developed web-based implementation tools to simplify the process of finding and “pre-qualifying” broadband access and managing installation and activation.
Maintaining the Telecommuting System
The use of telecommuting systems also calls for good maintenance. A centralized, single point of contact model is helpful for telecommuters. With this, they can articulate any technical issues to a sole contact who can then offer a remedy or provide an alternative from additional resources.
A system failure can severely impact a telecommuter's productivity until the repair can be arranged. For quick repair and restoration of work it is important to have a mandatory data backup policy and wherever feasible, IT professionals must install automated, unattended backup software on the telecommuter’s computer or laptop.
There should also be a minimum level of spares such as computers, cable/DSL modems, routers and VPN appliances. These need to be preconfigured and kept on hand at the help desk for fast shipment to the telecommuter. Technical support experts are required for all crucial categories – hardware repair, application software support, telecom & network support and provisioning/install–deinstall. Additionally, a well defined escalation path within the in-house IT department and outsourced partners should be provided for a seamless customer service experience.
Besides providing for a proactive support to address telecommuter requests for assistance, progressive organizations also embrace a proactive management and monitoring philosophy for the VPN network (similar to the way corporate LAN and WAN networks are managed). To minimize outages and telecommuter problems, business must plan to extend WAN management tools to monitor the endpoints of the telecommuter broadband connections and measure productive time and performance.
Clear communication and training, proper expectation setting, reliable technology and passionate project leaders are integral for the success of the mission. With the right planning and consideration of the issues outlined above, your business too can ensure a successful telecommuting program that reduces total operational costs and enhances employee productivity.
About the Author:Frank Johnson is a regular editorial contributor on technology products and services that help small to mid size businesses. To know more about the implementation of a telecommuting system for your organization, you may interact with him here