Giving users choice - telecommuting and BYOD

Telecommuting and BYOD are two sides of the same coin of opportunity

This week, the Australian Minister for Broadband and Communications Stephen Conroy said that "In Australia the number of people with an arrangement with their employer to work from home has been low by international standards." In other words, despite significant rhetoric and numerous studies, local businesses have failed to embrace the opportunities afforded by significant shifts in technology. 

The other side of the telecommuting coin is BYOD - Bring your own Device. Whereas telecommuting lets you bring your work home, BYOD lets you bring your preferred work tools to the office.

For CIOs trying to manage the need to support both of these trends the keywords are open standards and flexibility. However, successful deployment of BYOD and telecommuting have more to do with management attitudes than technology. Although technology can enable these shifts in work practices, it requires a significant change by the rest of the C-Suite. When a CIO has a good relationship with their peers in the board room, they'll have opportunity to show where the opportunities and benefits can be realised. Mark Settle, the CIO of BMC Software recently told us that CIO relationships with fellow execs is a unreported metric for CIO success. The potential benefits of telecommuting and BYOD are a place for the CIO to convert those positive relationships into business benefits.

So, what does a CIO need to consider with these opportunities?

Both BYOD and telecommuting start with understanding what you're getting yourself into. That means that the business needs to consider the entire strategy as success will rarely be only dependent on technology. With telecommuting, businesses need to change their mindset away from presence at the office being a measure of productivity to outcome-based metrics.

You will need your legal team to be a part of the decision making process. They will need to manage the risk for the business. For example, if a staff member incurs an injury at home during the work day, you'll need to have policies and procedures in place to deal with that. From an Occupational Health and Safety point of view, when a staff member works from home, the employer's obligations for safety aren't abrogated. Some employers we've spoke to go as far as doing home inspections to ensure that the workplace safety practices from the office are continued at the home. For the CIO, that may extend to providing equipment that's easily transportable and hardware that's going to be remotely supportable.

CIOs will need to ensure that telecommuters will have secure, reliable connections into internal system. In some cases, the best way to do that will be using some sort of VDI solution, a VPN or some other secure, reliable solution. Appropriate policies will need to be in place so that staff who use their own computers have appropriate security software locally installed and that home network equipment supports the remote connection.

BYOD offers some similar challenges. Many were recently covered by my colleague Michael Brandenburg (refer to Bringing BYOD to your enterprise). Scott Adams' recent Dilbert strip highlights what CIOs are facing. The era of the standardised desktop computer is coming to an end for the enterprise. Our observation is that standardisation was a means to getting IT ready for supporting large populations of devices. However, the maturity of both IT management and users means that businesses can start to prepare for a more heterogeneous technical environment where users can choose the tools that are best for them.

Of course, this won't come easily and there will be lots of challenges. However, if we remove the connectivity issues BYOD and telecommuting are remarkably similar. Both require an IT department capable of supporting a broader range of devices used by individuals in different ways. Rather than becoming a blocker, IT will become an enabler of this diverse, user-lead environment.

This was first published in August 2011

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