I love teleworking. I find it productive and enjoyable. Most people I talk to agree, but in some cases it is a miserable failure. There are a few social/emotional issues involved, but that isn’t for this blog. Here I am going to cover the key technical requirements for successful teleworking. There is more to it than most people realize.
For success in teleworking, the remote environment must have equal accessibility to key applications and tools as the office environment. Any compromise is really bad. I’ll allow a few extra hurdles for security or setup, but that’s it. If you don’t have full transparent access to office tools and resources from home – then a barrier is created. That barrier interferes with work and attitudes and becomes a liability leading to a real and mental excuse to productivity. Another key goal is to ensure teleworking is transparent to the customers – never allow the words like “Sorry, I am at my home office today so I can’t …”. If such a statement is true, then teleworking has failed – a second class employee was created and the customer got short changed.
Luckily the technology available today in our super connected world makes this possible. But perfect teleworking requires more than technology – and honestly it isn’t for everyone. To get started, the following are key requirements:
- High-Speed Reliable Internet Bandwidth. This is the starting point for the knowledge worker. Fortunately it is widely available, but “widely” may not include your home. If you can’t get quality DSL or cable modem Internet – your options are limited. A full Internet T1 from the carrier is likely too expensive, but otherwise acceptable. Satellite Internet can be used for most applications, but the delay will make some applications very frustrating. Without quality Internet service, you may need to rethink some things.
- Phone: An extension off the office PBX is ideal and this is relatively simple on most VoIP phone systems. Depending on your job, this could be very important. If this option is not available to you, then either an additional (dedicated) landline or a cell phone is recommended. Do not attempt to share the home phone line. Related to this is a professional messaging solution, no kids or music on the office outgoing greeting.
- Computer: The computer needs to have access to the office applications, network shares, and printers. There should also be a decent quality printer at home. I highly recommend a chat application for communication and presence. There are several corporate solutions or a public solution such as AIM can be used if the IT folks allow it. For remote access to systems, web-enabled is the simple solution, but for client server apps – take a look at MS Terminal Server or Citrix.
Nice to Have: The above items are required – but a few additional items can really help too.
- Webcams: Generally people don’t seem to excited about desktop video conferencing – particularly for home workers – but if your office culture does currently use them then you need them. Webcams are cheap and simple and work with a variety of chat solutions, web/collaboration solutions, and some phone systems.
- More importantly to me are public webcams. A public or private web cam of the parking lot or break room can go a long way to help remote workers connect to environment at the office. Simple things that we take for granted at the office like knowing if the mail has come yet or if there is snow in the parking lot can go a long way.
- Fax: I have a love/hate relationship with fax machines. I guess I love to hate them. Email is taking over as the predominant method of sending documents, but fax machines still fill a niche around forms and signatures. The fax solution needs to address both inbound and outbound. Inbound faxes are pretty simple and most UM solutions at the office can support faxes to the desktop. For Outbound, it seems the fax machine may never die. Outbound fax servers are easy enough if you are faxing something on your computer, but more often than I care to admit I need to fax a form or signature that isn’t coming from my computer. You can typically avoid a fax machine (and line) with a decent scanner, but that adds additional steps to the process. Be sure the fax machine’s outbound fax ID is your office fax machine number so you have one place to look for incoming faxes.
- An office! Yes, an office can be very important to work at home. If you live alone, potentially sprawling out on the kitchen table will suffice – but ideally a good working environment is best. Watch out for noises (TV, kids, doorbell, etc.). In my recent remodel, I created an ideal home office, with separate entrance and a conference table. I hope to telework for a long time.
My specific solution:
- Broadband Internet provided over a cable modem. This works reasonably well, but I had quite a bit of trouble with it initially.
- My phone is a Mitel Teleworker which offers a number of features. The Mitel Teleworker solution addresses compression and security and treats the remote phone as a full extension. As a result, my phone is a dashboard of sorts. I have “BLF” buttons to see if/when some colleagues are on the phone. I have an ACD login/logout buttons as well as ACD queue information so I can help out with phone coverage. The phone is exactly the same as the office phones, so I have internal dialing and intercom. I can make, receive, and transfer calls exactly the same as if I was in the office. The callerid People see when they receive calls is the same as if I was in the office. I have chosen to have my extension active all the time at home and the office so there is no login steps need based on my location (both phones ring on incoming calls). All incoming faxes come into our UM server and staff manually forward them via email as appropriate.
- Using the phone as a dashboard requires a little explanation. One light on my phone is for a departmental voice mail box that is covered by multiple people. When a message is left there, multiple cell phones receive a text notification and the on-call person is responsible for responding and clearing the message. So that light going on and off is a indicator things are working – it is totally passive to me, but provides me information about activities and processes at the office.
- Most of my computer applications are web enabled. My MS Outlook connects to the Office Exchange server via HTTPS – so rather passively. I often use MS Terminal Services to access our CRM client based application or to access file shares or printers. It is common for me to print stuff to an office printer for someone at the office or to have a print job waiting for me when I get back in to the office. Terminal Services is the easiest way to access network shares.
- We also use Office Communicator, the MS application for chat and presence (uses MS Office Communications Server). In our case, OCS is tied into the Mitel so in addition to presence we can see phone status. That includes cell phones too on incoming calls (requires Mitel Mobile Extension applet). Presence is a very power application for teleworkers. If I want to talk to a colleague, I first take a look to see if they are “green” in communicator. Just like someone at the office may not start talking over the cube walls unless they hear someone is there. If I see the status as on the phone, I can “flag it” to give me a popup when they hang up the phone. Even if I’m at the office, this is better than standing outside a cube or office door waiting. Presence information is key for a remote worker as they don’t have the eyes and ears onsite to determine who is there.
- IM chats tend to be very informal, more so than email. In a way, IM chats replace the water cooler conversations. You might ask someone what they thought about last night’s episode of 24 via chat for a real time conversation. Presence really connects the home worker more than email and phones can.
This solution provides me seamless access to the office. I don’t need fancy routers or VPNs to maintain security. I don’t need to expense monthly bills to cover my costs. Seamless and comprehensive integration to the office is key.
Though teleworking isn’t for everyone. Some people need to be at the office – reasons vary. Some need supervision, some require the change in environment to manage their transitions from family time to work time, some require the social interaction, and some need the peace and quiet the office and offer over a house full of kids. Another gotcha is the manager – some managers are very uncomfortable with staff teleworking, not all jobs can be performed remotely and those that can should have some measure of productivity.
Don’t assume teleworking is for everyone, but when it works, it is a boon for both the company and the employee.