Working life is changing rapidly – and the pressure is on for IT decision-makers charged with building the technology architectures that will provide employees with the key data and applications they need to do their jobs effectively, regardless of their location.
Over half (53%) of the respondents to a recent survey conducted by Infoconomy, publisher of Information Age, and commissioned by communications and IT services provider BT, said that their organisation has already established a formal flexible working policy for employees.
But the survey results also present a picture of great diversity in terms of corporate organisation and preparation for mobile working. For example, when respondents
were asked whether they agreed with the statement, ‘I have a high proportion of employees who telecommute from home or satellite offices on a regular basis’, around 22% strongly agreed with that statement, while 16% said they strongly disagreed with it.
Those companies that do support mobile working use a variety of methods to provide employees working remotely with the equipment and information they require to do their jobs. Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents said that they provide employees with hardware such as PDAs and laptops and pay their network access charges, while 50% provide employees with applications and databases specifically designed for remote use.
Networking investments are playing a valuable role in enabling mobile workers, with 45% of organisations using a virtual private network to enable employees to access corporate data. Wireless LAN technology is also being adopted by some companies, with 10% of respondents reporting that their organisation has deployed this type of communications infrastructure in order to underpin remote working practices.
But while the physical infrastructure may be in place at many organisations, remote workers cannot necessarily count on receiving technical support when they need it. While 41% of respondents said they provide remote workers with “ad hoc, occasional” technical support, only 18% provide 24-hour technical support. This may not be an issue for an employee who chooses to work from home some days in order to avoid a lengthy commute, but might stymie a manager who is sent to an international conference in another time-zone or is working at an overseas clients’ office, and needs access to corporate data in order to close a sale or produce an invoice.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in supporting remote workers is providing them with the right versions of documents and the most timely data possible. Our survey shows that most organisations are actively taking steps to improve the quality of data available to remote workers. For example, 45% of respondents said that their organisations provide synchronisation facilities between office and remote systems. Meanwhile, 47% enable employees to back up data onto business servers and 42% allow them to perform back-ups onto office PCs on an ad hoc basis.
Security, of both machines and data, is a major concern – but there are other inhibitors to mobile working initiatives. Of those organisations that do not allow or support remote working, corporate culture is cited by 37% of respondents as a factor in this decision, followed by a lack of technical capability and cost of support (25%). Reasons of security take
three different forms: privacy concerns rank the highest, cited by 17% of respondents, followed by concerns over lost data (12%), followed by concerns over lost or damaged equipment (3%).
Those organisations that do support mobile working depend on a number of methods and technologies for protecting sensitive corporate information. By far the most common measure is arguably the most simplest: providing users with advice and training on how to protect data, which was cited by 54% of respondents.
Beyond this, respondents said they were providing strong authentication and authorisation mechanisms to control access to corporate data (46%) and providing systems and services to encrypt and protect data (34%).
While security breaches are considered an inherent risk of remote working policies, few organisations in our survey say they have suffered security breaches. When asked if their organisations had suffered financial or other measurable loss as a result of loss or corruption of data or through unauthorised access to data, 43% replied that they never had. While 28% had experienced some kind of security breach resulting in losses at their organisation, these had occurred more than five times in the past year at fewer than 2% of companies, and up to five times in only 4% of companies. Around 22% of those surveyed said this had occurred “once or twice” in the past year, while 29% of respondents did not know.
Many organisations have a hunch that their employees will be more productive if they are able to work away from the office. But there is an overwhelming lack of hard metrics to support this theory.
In our survey, the vast majority (85%) of respondents admitted that they
had not attempted to measure the impact that mobile working initiatives had had on employee productivity.
But among those who had taken measurements, the results seem to suggest that mobile workers are indeed more productive workers. Only 15% of respondents said that they found remote workers to be less effective than on-site workers. Sixty percent, by contrast, said that they found remote workers to be more productive, and of this group, 58% said that they believed these workers were more than 15% more effective than their office-bound counterparts.
If the other manifold hurdles to mobile working can be cleared, then a 15% boost in productivity across a wide swathe of the corporate headcount will be an alluring prospect to many organisations.