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What IT has to do to accommodate teleworkers

Chris Krueger says that within the next 20 years, working at an office will become the exception, and our work from home will be the rule. Here's what IT will have to do to accommodate this trend.

We've seen an astronomical growth in our customers requesting Work From Home (WFH) technologies during the past five years. The company I work for, PEI, is a big internal user of WFH methods. For example, since 2005, 100% of our engineers are required to maintain a home office and encouraged to work one-fifth of their shifts from outside of our HQ.

We've found the following technologies essential to productive WFH experiences:

The basics

Besides a PC/Mobile device, your teleworkers begin with these as a starting point:

  1. Strong Internet - with a repair Service Level Agreement that is similar to the HQ. Many consumer services have weak repair and support actualities. Scheduled WFH is like missing a day at work when the ISP is down. Don't forget enough bandwidth at the HQ to handle this additional workload
  2. VPN Security for network access of trusted resources at the HQ
  3. Company Helpdesk service that knows and understands the teleworker's mission, HO resources

Unified Communications

Unified Communications allow the worker to receive and originate calls (and even Video Conferences) from the Home Office (HO). Systems like Microsoft Lync 2012 extend Instant Messaging (IM), voice, video and content sharing to the HO. It is vital that these systems are as easy to use as the PC, and are reliable without a big footprint of IT support. They should just plain work. Your teleworkers have actual jobs to do that don't include self-support or IT troubleshooting.

Instant Messaging (IM) with presence is no longer a "that's nice" technology - it has become essential to break the "email avalanche" and to provide the familiar interface that our younger teleworkers demand. A whole vital class of communication - faster than e-mail and less resource-intensive than voice/video - better integrates our teleworkers with their HQ-bound team members. This enables spontaneous team action that once required the old mail+media+meeting workflow.

Thin Client or Virtual Desktop (VDI) technologies

Technologies like Microsoft Terminal Server, VMware View/ThinApp, and Citrix ZenApp (formerly WinFrame, MetaFrame and Presentation Servers) have been around a while and serve a vital role:  They support legacy and bandwidth intensive applications that often can't run from afar. Because the Virtual Desktop lives on a server in the HQ datacenter and is on the same high-speed network that the application servers live on, users afar get the same response time as in-house users do. Web-unaware software and data intensive software can be used in the HO.

PCs, Laptops, Mobile devices, smartphones and Pad/tablets can all access these Thin Client/VDI servers and get a complete desktop experience or just a single application, without requiring the horsepower, storage or resources often not available in the field. As an added bonus, these Virtual Desktops can "jump" from one device to another, picking up exactly where the user left off.  VDI client software can range from the Microsoft RDP client (PC, Mac) to iPhone/iPad/Android mobile apps like iTap RDP, Wyse PocketCloud Pro, Citrix Receiver and others.

Some pundits are predicting VDI technology will complete replace the typical PC/Laptop and allow us to run ultra-thin on tablets and mobile endpoints. This would be a return to the "timesharing" model of thirty years ago. We'll see.

An HDMI television

Yes, a good old flatscreen plus a "dongle" to use it from my tablet or PC as a second monitor. Cable up, select the appropriate input, and you now have that extra real-estate to work. Although unglamorous, this mobile worker trick works at the HO and for the road-warrior in a hotel. I've traveled using only an iPhone, Keyboard and Thin Client application to HQ servers. With a micro-HDMI cable, this entire kit fit in my pocket and gave me the complete teleworker experience.

My prediction is within the next 20 years, working at an office will become the exception, and our work from home will be the rule.

Chris Krueger has 33 years of industry experience and extensive prior business consultation in the areas of service, product development, manufacturing, engineering and government. He has developed business plans, IT strategies, e-commerce and Data Center architectures, business process enhancements, etc. since 1988. Chris has played a role in well over 2,000 network infrastructure projects during his career.

17 comments
glwright1262
glwright1262

I have been a full time work at homer for 13 years. I was one of the pioneers at our company in that area. But, it never became widespread until management fully endorsed it a several years ago. Now most of my division works from home. In fact, I haven't even set foot in the office for over a year now. There are a fair number that don't want to work at home, though. They thrive on the face to face interaction. So don't tear down all the office buildings just yet. Also, the job itself has to lend itself to working remotely. Not all jobs are like that.

BdeJong
BdeJong

Hey that's just what was predicted 20 years ago and again 10 years ago with broadband (512KB) internet connections. Could It be correct this time around? Wel keep predicting and one day it will be so.

blarman
blarman

"My prediction is within the next 20 years, working at an office will become the exception, and our work from home will be the rule." I disagree. What types of jobs can be accomplished EFFECTIVELY from home? Only those that don't revolve around any kind of face-to-face interactions - and that can include conferencing. So much of business is about personal business relationships that I think it's incredibly naive to think that removing those face-to-face interactions is going to improve business function. Line managers have to be available to customers and employees - they're not going to be working from home. Salespeople probably will be just as effective working from home as in the office. IT maybe even. Marketing is a big maybe - a lot of times there is group collaboration that needs a whiteboard, etc. and the digital versions of these still don't match the speed of a good pen or marker. So basically, we're looking at the administrative staff - not the line employees and managers - as the most likely candidates, and only those in service-oriented industries. I think that a more realistic estimate is going to be 20% of corporate users working from home.

paulcbr
paulcbr

Aside from this article being a blatant plug for Microsoft, not bad. Id really like to see more balance in these articles. This article is not about what IT has to do but more about how the author can do some MSFT product placement at the Application layer, while almost ignoring the underlying layers that make or break the whole usability of WFH and mobile office. I'm a big fan of WFH and use it as often as is possible, especially if I want to minimise the walk-by distractions in the office, or have to work at odd hours due to telephone or video-conference calls with the other side of the world. Why is IM important and useful? Since we started abandoning our Blackberries for iPhones and Androids, messages don't arrive instantly any more. IM with Presence lets you send or receive a quick message and have a high degree of confidence that the other person will see it... if their presence is set to "available". If you don't want to be disturbed, set your presence status to "Busy" or "Do Not Disturb". Compliance issues? That's why you use a corporate platform for IM and presence, for logging and archiving. IM and presence without integration to corporate voice and video is just another way of sending messages, but is really useful when you can make a voice or video call with a couple of taps/clicks. As for younger teleworkers demand, we are reaching a point where many of them are becoming managers and influencers, so we need to adapt, improvise and overcome (to plagiarise Mr Eastwood). My organisation uses Cisco unified communications and networking products for "Work from Home" or Teleworking, and we easily move between the office to mobile to home office. We use a mix of PCs and Macs for desktop OS, and allow staff to choose whether they use iPhone, Blackberry or Android phones and tablets. Its not that hard if you have the right network infrastructure, device management and security profiles in place. If you need to federate your IM and presence with other organisations/agencies or use videoconferencing outside of your organisation, ask MSFT how they do this and remind them that H264svc is NOT an open interoperable standard. Skype... for business, really? VDI looks promising but there are challenges in terms of using it as unified communications (voice and video) end-point. There are ways around this too, but I dont want to sound like I'm bagging MSFT too much. I just get a bit annoyed when journos and MSFT fan-boys espouse the virtues of technologies like UC, Server Virtualisation and VDI as if MSFT invented them... from a guy who has made a good living off building MSFT solutions for 20+ years. Yeah, I did notice the Lync 2012 typo.

mjpierce
mjpierce

We have IM at work, it has not reduced the amount of email one bit. It has however raised expectations, it doesn't matter what status I set it to, it doesn't matter if I'm in a meeting, eating lunch, or at home, if someone sends an instant message they expect an instant response and they get upset if they don't get it.

tcfranks
tcfranks

I don't think it's primarily a technology issue. The impediment is management. Until they figure out how to manage large people working remotely, instead of the handful of employees that get WFH as exceptions, we're all going to have to traipse in to work each day, so that they can have a warm fuzzy that we are actually 'working'.

info
info

...what happens to all of the offices? What happens to people (like me) that would face a hostile WFH environment? "Instant Messaging (IM) with presence is no longer a “that’s nice” technology - it has become essential to break the “email avalanche” and to provide the familiar interface that our younger teleworkers demand." 'Demand'? I had a good laugh at the last young worker that 'demanded' anything from my infrastructure. We're adapting, in alignment with budget and workflow demands, but it won't be immediate. I'm also wondering at your thought process for this quote. We're already starting to see increased cases of burnout and less leisure time arising from constantly being in touch with SmartPhones (and probably using Email). How is using IM to decrease the 'Email Avalanche' going to do anything but EXACERBATE the problem by causing an 'IM Tsunami'?!? The expectations on the other end are going to RISE (IMs are supposed to be answered immediately, aren't they? Hence the 'Instant') not fall, since an Email reply can be immediate, or take half a day. What will happen to our leisure time when 'WFH' becomes this standard? The lines have already been blurred...

mckinnej
mckinnej

I wish this was really going to happen. I really do, but I think it is right up there with jetpacks and flying cars. It will keep being "in 20 years" for a long, long time, like forever. The technology will probably catch up and many if not most companies will have what the article lists. Mine mostly does now, but I've yet to see a company that provided the connection. That usually falls on the employee. Part of the work-at-home tax along with office supplies and such. The reality is many people are not cut out to be remote workers. Others excel at it. It's sometimes difficult to measure too. I've got remote workers that quietly get the job done and I've got others that make a lot of noise and generate activity, but don't really seem to be very productive. Both groups make it difficult to lead remote teams. Sure, there are similar issues when workers are in an office, but remote workers add that extra layer of uncertainty which ratchets up the difficulty.

dogknees
dogknees

I remember this being predicted at least 30 years ago. It seems we're running a little slow on this track. It's a little like Fusion energy. If you believe the pundits, we've had it for around 40 years!

dogknees
dogknees

Maybe we'll all grow up a little and learn to communicate without seeing the other person.

Leonhara
Leonhara

PEI is BOTH a Microsoft partner AND a Cisco partner! PEI uses Microsoft Lync internally and it is awesome, that being said I know a lot about Cisco's UC play as well! Both solutions are excellent in my opinion! When PEI goes into a company the goal is to fit the best solution with the current workforce habits and preferences. I think that both solutions will give you a similar result. Basically what I am saying is there are several technology solutions from several different vendors that are all great and they all have their advantages and disadvantages! The most important thing to remember is to architect and recommend the RIGHT solution for the workforce, not make the workforce adapt to a technology, whatever technology that may be! :) Your comments are very valid and if PEI has another opportunity to post an article, there will be more information on the depth of solutions that are out there and available for you!

BdeJong
BdeJong

Anyone else just removed Whatsapp from the phone because there was NOWAY I was getting through the 467 unread messages before another 400 or so would arrive?

blarman
blarman

It's the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communications. Most people think IM is synchronous (meaning right now) and its not. It's a when-I-get-to-it thing. If you need it right now, pick up the phone. If it can wait, use email. I've never found IM to be all that useful due to the above.

BdeJong
BdeJong

100% the case, we have lots of infra in place to do this (I somtimes do it on holiday!!) but people need to sit with one and other and be managed.

don.howard
don.howard

It is not a technology issue. It is a control issue.

blarman
blarman

Body language is a huge factor in communications. That's why email is a really bad way to do performance reviews, etc. Unless you can read the other person's body language to go with their words, you're missing out on more than 1/2 the conversation - literally. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_language) Plus there is the added relationship-building that only happens face-to-face. I just don't see the author's prediction coming true for any line of work involving a customer relationship, whether the customers are internal or external.

Leonhara
Leonhara

I think the biggest issues of WFH is are people ACTUALLY working at home! For sales teams, utilizing CRM systems can verify what they are doing with their time, but I am not sure how to track other departments activities! Very valid point!

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