Can the price of crude--currently above $125 a barrel and the high gas prices that go with it--make telecommuting the norm?
These questions come up typically with crises and natural disasters. For instance, if there was an avian flu outbreak workers across the U.S. would have to work from home. If there were a terrorist attack we'd have a similar situation. But as TechRepublic's Bill Detweiler notes a surge in telecommuting doesn't necessarily need a big event as a catalyst. The increase in oil prices will do (image via Wikipedia).
Bill's working theory is that most employees will work from home a couple of days a week as commuting costs spike. The lesson is that IT departments will have to prepare in advance. Bill writes:
Many IT organizations, particularly in large enterprises, already support a distributed workforce. IT leaders within this category should ensure their infrastructure has the capacity to support increased demand. IT departments not currently supporting remote users should begin exploring their options now. At the very least, you should make certain your network can support existing remote workplace technologies. Also, IT will not be immune from this trend. IT leaders must develop the skills and techniques required to manage a distributed workforce.
Are IT managers ready?
The jury is still out. Companies weren't ready for mass telecommuting back when avian flu was a hot topic. And it's doubtful that they are ready now.
Where I've gone wrong in the past is lack of preparation. I think the three things I've missed are:
1) What IT facilities does the person genuinely need? This may be more than the equivalent job in the office; for example will a fax machine be needed in every home? They may also need other software which would not normally be supplied, so the 'standard build' may be different.
2) The remote worker should be trained in the basics of network connectivity. They need to know where the connections are physically in their house, what needs to be plugged in, and what needs to be powered on. The should be shown how to do basic troubleshooting.
3) They need a formal agreement which includes rules for care of and for personal use of the equipment. This information needs to be available to the help desk.
One of the benefits of home working is the ability to work at flexible times. Therefore the home worker needs to know the help desk arrangements especially outside office hours.
Finally, and not an IT issue, but the employer needs to satisfy itself that the general security of the house is adequate to protect its data, some of which may well be in paper form.
One consensus is that remote workers are more savvy then they used to be. That's good because more often than not a remote worker will be his or her own CIO, IT support person and help desk.