Ups and downs for teleworking adoption

P HOMEWORKER.gifAt Orange Business Live '09, Orange Business' experiences in adopting teleworking were discussed during the How to Boost Employee Productivity session, and subsequently the benefits for workers were also discussed. It the last couple of weeks we have looked at how flexible working has enabled companies to continue "business as usual" through adverse weather conditions, and before that how the same technology has enabled business continuity in the face of widespread staff illness.

It is not only employers and staff that have identified teleworking as a potential growth driver. In the UK, for example, the government has announced a £1bn fund to upgrade the national communications infrastructure to deliver high-speed broadband services to 90% of the country, enabling more people to become part of the "digital economy". It noted that this technology "brings social and economic benefits to those who are less mobile such as people with disabilities and single-parents", who may otherwise be claiming benefits rather than contributing to the economy, and increased broadband availability can also enable improved access to e-government services.

There are indications that technology which enables teleworking is being adopted by businesses, with Frost & Sullivan stating that web conferencing is becoming "an engrossing topic in the European market". Hosted services is the dominant model for the delivery of web conferencing services to customers, enabling business to reduce their capital expenditure and minimise in-house maintenance and upgrades. With web conferencing becoming easier to use and more affordable, this is also driving penetration among smaller businesses alongside larger corporates, and benefits such as reduced travel expenses are also proving appealing.Web conferencing is also being adopted in APAC markets, "thriving on the demand from global 'borderless organisations'", and again from an "austerity drive
which includes enhanced collaboration and reduction in travel costs". In this survey, Frost & Sullivan noted the need to provide a portfolio of services to meet different business needs, from "no-frills" offerings through to bundled solutions with messaging, mobile integration, video and audio capabilities.
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However, Forrester Research believes that among "iWorkers" in the US, "email remains the de-facto collaboration tool for most professionals, with an 87% adoption rate" -- compared with a 25% adoption rate for web conferencing. Intranet portals also provide a vital resource, being accessed by 70% of workers (43% daily). Analyst firm Gartner noted changing priorities for CIOs, coming off-the-back of budget costs, delayed spending, and increased demand for quality services with reduced resources. This has lead to a preference for "lighter weight" services-based and social media technologies, including cloud computing and Web 2.0 social networking, which can be extended across a distributed workforce, and can be implemented swiftly without significant upfront expenses.

Despite all of these positives, there are still many perception issues that impact support from employers. HR Magazine reported that in a poll of 1,200 small-to-medium sized businesses, 55% did not see how remote working could increase employee productivity, for example by enabling staff more opportunity to concentrate on demanding tasks. This contrasted with the 80% of employees who felt they would be productive when away from the office because they would be less distracted by interruptions.

Network World also reported that the US Federal Government had encountered teething troubles with its adoption of teleworking technology, with management opposition seeming to be the main barrier. In the Department of Homeland Security, where only 30% of staff are eligible to work at home for obvious reasons, managers often block requests, with an employee stating : "sometimes this is a well-intentioned effort to ensure equity with those who are ineligible; sometimes this is because managers feel a need to have employees available at a moment's notice; other times, supervisors don't trust employees to be productive". Encouragingly, a blog has been created to enable stakeholders to participate in a dialogue about their experiences.

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