Today’s technology offers greater connectivity and mobility than ever before. In response, organizations across nearly every industry are finding opportunities to empower some, most, or even all of their staff to work remotely, whether exclusively or for part of their work.
Telecommuting can be beneficial both as a staff perk (and therefore a selling point when recruiting new staff or retaining existing staff) and for increased productivity for the company. Beyond that, there is a positive environmental impact to be had with reduced carbon emissions and decreased traffic congestion. It can also be a savings for the company that would otherwise have to provide equipment, furniture, and consumables for in-office staff. When done correctly, telecommuting is truly a win for all involved. But certain precautions should be taken to avoid pitfalls along the way:
Check with an attorney who has experience with telecommuting policies and practices; be sure that you have addressed any potential legal snares related either to your industry specifically (e.g. HIPAA compliance) or to all workplaces (e.g. FLSA or OSHA compliance).
For healthcare organizations with remote workers, they must ensure that a remote workplace has safeguards in place against the inadvertent sharing of protected health information by a data analyst. For example, mobile staff likes to work in a coffee shop and sip on a cup of their favorite brew. This could create problems for protecting private information. Consider showing a reminder message upon a VPN login or remote desktop session to check one’s surroundings to ensure that the data on the screen is safe from peering eyes.
Be sure to have written policies that cover the opportunity and responsibilities of telecommuting.
For organizations with non-exempt staff, it is important to strictly specify how and when telecommuting can be used. Organizations that provide carte blanche access to work systems may be on the hook for additional compensation to hourly staff, including overtime and possible labor violations. Good policies are a must!
Ensure that end-to-end technology infrastructure can adequately support the needs of a telecommuting workforce. Extending connectivity through a virtual private network (VPN) down to a remote user’s laptop or tablet via an internet connection can severely limit the data flow. Furthermore, even if your corporate internet connection has been able to meet the needs of your in-house staff, it could be adversely impacted by the introduction of a telecommuting workforce competing for limited bandwidth with in-office staff.
Consider the following when exploring a telecommuting strategy:
How many staff would you like to have operate on a telecommuting basis? How many will be connected at any given time as a result?
As staff connect and operate remotely, does your IT department have the tools necessary to monitor the impact this has on your company’s internet connection?
If your company hosts its servers in-house, consider using a remote desktop client for your remote workers. This poses two key benefits:
Remote desktop is basically a screen refresh to the remote desktop server. The bandwidth utilization through remote desktop protocol (RDP) is typically much less than it would be using a data-intensive desktop application on the remote computer.
Some applications are sensitive to the connection state to the server. In other words, if the client running the application becomes disconnected, this could result in lost data within the application. If the application is running on a remote desktop server, and the session becomes disconnected, the application can remain active without the risk of lost data.
If your company hosts servers in-house and the introduction of a telecommuting workforce would saturate your company’s internet connection, it may be worth considering a move of some of your server infrastructure to a cloud-based service provider like Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, or Google Cloud. In these scenarios, your remote workers would be connecting to these service providers over their internet connections rather than over your company’s internet connection.
What internet connectivity options exist for your proposed remote staff?
Despite the fact that we live in the second decade of the twenty-first century, there are still many rural areas that do not have adequate internet connectivity. It is important that your remote staff have a connection that will be reliable and fast enough to meet their telecommuting demands. In some cases, cellular connectivity (either 3G/4G/LTE) can be an option, but these can be costly and have hard bandwidth limits.
Consider whether you would need video conferencing ability as this can significantly increase bandwidth needs.
If telecommuting is new to your company, consider the impact this may have on staff and the support that IT may need to provide these staff. Less tech-savvy staff may have a difficult time with telecommuting and may require additional training and practice; it may be important to have one or more of these staff in a pilot phase in order to “stress test” the support system.
Be prepared to be able to demonstrate to senior management, your company’s board, or perhaps even the general public that telecommuting is a beneficial endeavor for your company. Be able to demonstrate how staff productivity is not negatively impacted in this new work sphere—or, if there is a dip in productivity as staff acclimate to the challenges and the overall learning curve, be able to show a return to an upward trend over time.
If yours is a rural organization, you may be able to recruit highly talented urban-residing staff that don’t need to make the long trek to your office on a regular basis. Work with your Human Resources team to identify staff recruitment and retention outcomes, and develop sound telecommuting practice.