Telecommuting and the work/life balance

Telecommuting can be challenging but the CIO is uniquely placed to successfully deliver it

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When I started my career in IT, I had an advantage over many of my colleagues. Although I had a 75 minute commute each way to the office that counted favourably with colleagues that lived closer to the office. Whenever a system failed or there was a need for after hours maintenance, they were the ones called in as they could be there faster. However, the world has moved on. The web and secure technologies such as VPNs have totally blurred the line between the personal and work life.

A recent study by Forrester Research has found that about two-thirds of workers in the United States worked remotely at least occasionally. In contrast, the Minister for Broadband and Communications Stephen Conroy said that "According to the ABS, just 6 per cent of employers from Australia have reported having any kind of telework arrangement with their employer".

In Australia, the government is betting that the rollout of the National Broadband Network will promote an increase in telecommuting. At a keynote address given at CeBIT Sydney earlier this year, Conroy said that "A report by the Allen Consulting Group commissioned by my Department found gains to household consumption of $148 a week in those homes with an internet connection through time-saving activities. The time-saving activities identified included telecommuting, remote work and study, information gathering, price and product discovery and education".

There's little doubt that as true, high-speed connectivity pervades most of the population that the desire to work remotely will only increase. And that's going to require a change in business attitude. With telecommuting rates rising across much of the western world, Australian companies will need to alter their view of the workplace.

As the CIO, you're in a unique position within the business. As BMC Software CIO Mark Settle told us recently "The CIO is in a unique position. In a lot of companies, it’s only the CIO and CFO who really see how all the business processes play together to deliver the value proposition that the company presents to its customers". The ability to see across the business and understand how telecommuting can work is a great opportunity for a smart CIO.

One of the first challenges that CIOs will face is perception. By blurring the work/life line, won't staff be expected to work longer hours? It turns out that the line is already blurred in the office.
Forrester's research
reveals that the allowing personnel to use the Internet for personal purposes at work (especially your senior staff), employees give that time back by working online the same number of hours at home. So, it would seem that success with telecommuting involves more than just remote access. It's about looking at the entire work cycle.

In order to build a telecommuting-friendly infrastructure, it's recommended that CIOs start by identifying what infrastructure will work for the business. That might include consideration of remote desktop solution, cloud-based applications or a combination. Also, the question of what devices all be used by the teleworkers needs to be addressed. Once the best technical solution is designed to suit the needs of the business. Although this seems like an obvious approach, we've observed companies trying to shoehorn mobility into a set of systems that were never designed for it.

Once the requirements are sorted, it's time for the staple of business analysis - gap analysis. The CIO needs to create a plan for moving the existing technology envelope to the new systems required to support the telecommuting environment that meets the businesses needs. This will include back office systems, security and end-point devices.

Finally, the business needs to be prepared. The successful uptake of telecommuting might be facilitated by technology but without business support it can't work. That's one place the CIO can help. By ensuring that the systems won't get in the way, they can assure the business that the technology won't prevent success. That engagement with the business will also assist with the cost justification by showing the business where they can use the technical solutions to improve travel budgets, staff absences and look at opportunities for hot-desking and other ways to reduce operational costs.

This was first published in August 2011

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