The 21st Century Workplace

By Ankur Chadda On January 26, 2010
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Is your network ready for telecommuting?

Institutional resistance to working remotely (aka telecommuting, telework) continues to crumble. While the H1N1 virus may force the issue, it will merely be the final drop that breaches the dam. There are many drivers and corresponding benefits for the organization that adopts telecommuting.

  • Energy savings. Going green saves resources (and dollars) for business and personal budgets. The company can light, heat and cool fewer square feet and power fewer computers and monitors. The workers spend less on gas for the commute. They might even be able to downsize their personal fleet, saving not only on the cost of the extra car but the associated insurance, taxes and maintenance costs.
  • Minimizing disruptions to business. The long list of things that can disrupt your business by interfering with a commute range from the infrequent (natural disaster, pandemic, terrorist attack) to the regular occurrence (winter weather, traffic). Such disruptions are now completely avoidable. There is no longer any reason why the inability to commute means the inability to work.
  • Increased productivity. No more extended water-cooler discussions or co-workers camping out in a neighboring cube to chat. Commute time can be replaced by work time, or time to take care of personal business that would otherwise mean time out of the office. Studies indicate that many employees tend to work more, even after hours, when the office is a few feet away instead of several miles away.
  • Stealth pay raise. Supporting remote work effectively gives employees a pay raise (by eliminating significant personal expenses) without the cost of increasing salaries. In addition, the quality-of-life dividend can result in greater job satisfaction and company loyalty.

However, issues must be addressed when making the changes necessary to support the workplace of the 21st century.

  • Infrastructure. With a few decades of development behind it, the technology may be the easiest part of the puzzle. However, verifying that it is configured properly and will work reliably (not only during normal business but also under peak usage such as during severe weather) is another matter. Proper testing by a third-party is the best way to assure that your system for maintaining productivity during a disruption doesn’t itself become disrupted.
  • Management. Perhaps more challenging than the technology, and the reason many organizations are slow to adopt, are the human resource issues associated with managing a remote workforce. However, the reality is that you don’t guarantee productivity simply by forcing people to drive to a central location and sit in close proximity while working on disparate tasks. There are many publications and websites, such as www.telework.gov, that provide guidance for managing this aspect of the transition.

Organizations that make the strategic decision to include telework in their culture are positioned to thrive in the 21st-century marketplace. Organizations with no telecommuting infrastructure or a system that is either unproven or not designed to scale will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Best practices indicate that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the technical and management infrastructure for telework is before a disruptive event that will stress the performance. As always, thorough testing is the key to success.


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