From cubicle to cloud: the growth of telework and the digital workplace
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an all-day event on the future of the digital workplace. Sponsored by TDS, it brought together a number of TDS executives from a range of disciplines; their business partners at Paula Hahn Strategic Communications, Polycom, John Roach Projects, and Gossip Genie; along with my fellow bloggers – Kris Cain @LittleTechGirl, Catherine Morgan @PointA_Point B, Tommy Clifford @ TommyTRC, Tom Snyder @TriveraGuy, and Don Stanley @3rhinomedia.
During the day's sessions, we focused on four key Cs of the digital workplace – feeling and staying connected, having comprehensible systems, making the future workplace contagious, and creating an enterprise culture that accepts the changing digital workplace. The day provided an immersion into the digital workplace that can best be captured by the term "teleworking," which is defined by Jack Nilles as "moving the work to the worker instead of moving the workers to the work." Given that many of us work in "information factories," the technology tools available today are ripe for enabling a match between employers and employees to implement a digital workplace.
While the concept of teleworking sounds simple, there are various pitfalls to avoid, costs/benefits to evaluate, and technology infrastructure investments required to make it work for your workforce.
Benefits/costs for the employer
There are various benefits to be gained by enabling your employees to work remotely, starting with an ability to lower your real estate costs and the overhead associated with a fully staffed physical location. You may also see greater employee satisfaction resulting in less job-hopping, and you will have a wider geographic base from which to draw employees. In addition, younger prospective employees expect to have the right to work remotely, with three-quarters of students thinking they have a "right to work remotely with a flexible schedule," according to Cisco's Connected World Technology Report.
On the negative side are the costs of setting up your employee remotely, developing and implementing a training plan, managing the security risks associated with off-site digital workers, and the reduction in interaction that potentially affects creativity, innovation, and general workplace efficiency.
Benefits/costs for the employee
Teleworking employees offered remote work opportunities will demonstrate greater satisfaction, improved health (see "Long Commutes: Bad for the Heart"), and higher productivity, the contagious part of the digital workplace equation. Their satisfaction will stem in part from a more balanced family/work life. In addition, direct employee costs associated with commuting or public transportation will be reduced.
The negatives for the employee include the potential for more miscommunication. Also, the lack of personal communication may put the employee "out-of-site, out-of-mind" for new initiatives and career advancement opportunities. Some employees may also find it difficult to separate their home lives from their business lives, making the transition to remote work difficult.
What are the key success factors for a remote digital workplace?
A successful digital workplace with remote workers is dependent on the industry, the business culture, and the responsibilities and characteristics of those employees participating in the program. For businesses that aren't "information factories," the physical nature of their work will make it difficult to fully implement this new model. For information-dependent firms with the management values and culture to invest in and embrace remote or mobile work, the digital workplace is here and expanding.
The remote workplace won't work without enabling and comprehensible technology and support. This means setting up and supporting your workforce with the appropriate and easy-to-use mobile and other hardware devices along with cloud-based software services and the necessary voice, video, and data solutions.
This latter requirement is where Madison-based TDS offers a full menu of customized solutions to help employers manage their businesses, including through the company's managedIP Hosted solution, which provides unified communications solutions bringing together voice, video, and data. These tools allow employees to work from anywhere, route their calls efficiently, check one inbox for voicemail and email messages, and conduct video conferencing. TDS also demonstrated its solutions using Polycom video communications services when attendees were able to see a presentation delivered remotely from the CTIA in Texas by a Polycom vice president.
CDW has been conducting its CDW Unified Communications Tracking Poll since 2009. In its latest study in 2011, it surveyed 900 IT professionals on the status of unified communications within their firms and what features were found to be most important. The results from the poll about the top features and benefits are shown below.
You can download the full poll results by registering at the CDW site.
Beyond technology, to enable the remote workforce, you need to have the right policies and guidelines, including expected hours of communication and response times. You also need to schedule regular daily or weekly calls and periodic office visits to build real-time connections and develop and implement effective security standards and practices. In addition, it is important that there be clear performance management guidelines accepted and monitored by both employee and employer.
What other cloud-based tools are worth investigating?
Some other tools that should be considered in your remote workforce armamentarium include:
Cloud-based Document Tools
- Google Docs
- Google Drive
Enterprise Social Networks
What other trends are associated with teleworking?
We've seen the rapid growth of what many are calling "third space" remote locations where workers gather to network and share technology and workspace. These include coffee shops, hotels, and other food and entertainment locations. We are also seeing the growth of "co-working spaces" around the country, including here in Wisconsin – Hudson Business Lounge and Bucketworks (Milwaukee), Horizon Coworking (Madison), and the Docking Station (Green Bay). To find other co-working spaces, check out OpenDesks and LooseCubes.
In addition, corporate locations are cutting their assigned offices and cubicles and replacing them with unassigned workspaces sometimes called "free addresses or non-territorial offices," according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. (See Warming up to the Officeless Office.) These spaces are where employees don't have a fixed office but are allocated space on an as-needed basis, which is perfect for mobile workers.
Given the continued growth of information-driven businesses with flexible cultures, the implementation of cloud-based technologies, and the changing expectations of younger workers, we'll continue to see the growth of the remote workforce in years to come.
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