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.