Just 24 percent of workers do their best work in the office during business hours, according to "The Geek Gap" co-author Minda Zetlin, writing for Inc.. In fact, telework is so appealing that nearly half of them would give up certain perks for a remote-work option, and 30 percent would take a pay cut.
Additional data from FlexJobs suggests managing remote employees can save businesses $11,000 annually for each person (you read that right), and that's for everyone who works at least half-time from home. As if that weren't enough, many telecommuters claim they're more productive than their cubicle-inhabiting counterparts, and they're also happier with their jobs.
For the IT department, managing remote employees poses two major challenges: secure connection and personal device usage. And when you're offsite, success requires consistent communication and the clear definition of roles and responsibilities. IT departments that not only support, but empower remote work to this end become big contributors to the company's bottom line.
Security Concerns of Managing Remote Employees
The biggest challenges when managing remote employees, according to Microsoft technical solutions pro Robert Kiilsgaard, isn't training or application troubleshooting; they're actually login issues and secure connectivity. "As much as 30 percent of help-desk volume is related to just resetting passwords," he says. "This is a huge time sink for the help desk, and a complete loss in productivity for the remote associate."
Specializing in enterprise architecture and IT transformation, Kiilsgaard recommends an Identity-as-a-Service (IaaS) solution, which allows you to manage granular access policies, provide single sign-on (SSO) functionality and facilitate self-service password reset. "If you provide a self-service portal for the end user, you have successfully eliminated that call volume. That doesn't mean you've lowered your cost, but you have lowered your Level 1 service desk ticket queue workload and improved the customer-satisfaction part of your business."
When managing remote employees, many organizations offer a patchwork of tools for application access, including virtual private networks (VPN), virtual desktops and third-party Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) sites. Barring current security concerns, Kiilsgaard also recommends offering a single portal to access all business applications.
If a single access point is of concern to you, there are also reputable applications that allow for the management of passwords via a single sign on. The user only needs to know one password and the application handles the rest. This is inherently safer since the user doesn't need to know the passwords to any of the business applications/services. This also avoids the cost of deploying, monitoring and managing VPNs and tunneling technologies.
Employees aren't always savvy about not using public Wi-Fi to access applications, though, leaving them even more vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. They also have to be trained on the risks of using mobile devices to access applications. These include:
- Enabling remote wipe for lost and stolen devices
- The responsible use of company data, including storage on personal devices and transmission in email
- Using only authorized applications when collaborating, sharing and performing work on sensitive data, so third parties don't gain access to this content
What If He/She's IT?
Jeremy Cucco, deputy CIO for the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, says some of the best IT teams he's managed during his career have either been from a remote location or those whose members performed remotely. Unfortunately, not every IT position is conducive to telecommuting, and it's important to make sure these roles are managed with this in mind.
"Functional or business analysts often require face-to-face interaction, and server and LAN administrators may need to work locally on machines rather than remotely," Cucco says. "Allowing software developers and systems administrators to work remotely has often involved either frank discussions with onsite personnel or a documented policy indicating which positions will and will not be allowed to telework."
Today's most in-demand employees — those at the support desk among them — want employers that offer a remote-work option. For this reason, employers who accommodate telework gain a significant competitive advantage. "Telework does require a level of personal maturity," Cucco says. "However, denying that privilege to all based on the limitations of a few is not an acceptable answer in today's workplace."
Making It Happen
With smart access policies, ongoing training and clear communication, the IT department can make itself a powerful partner in managing remote employees, whether its members work in-house or develop solutions from an offsite location. It's a contribution that increases productivity, unleashes innovation through collaboration and builds the workforce of tomorrow.