Five signs your telework program is a bust

Winging a remote work program could leave company data insecure and employees without resources

Telework programs won’t deliver the potential cost-savings and stress-reduction benefits they promise if companies can’t get their policies straight.

Many companies make it possible for employees to work remotely, but without a structured telework program in place, they could be putting corporate data at risk and stifling employee productivity.

Do you know where your employees are working?

“If companies don’t have a policy or performance management system in place that could help them monitor their telework program and focus on work output, then it might become chaotic,” says Cindy Auten, general manager for Telework Exchange.

Here are a few of the red flags telework advocates should watch for when their programs seem to be lacking positive results.

1. Lackluster management supportSome people simply don’t buy into telework, regardless of the promised benefits or the potential cost-savings to a company.

“It is rare, but in some cases senior upper management doesn’t like the prospect of employees working remotely and makes it difficult to move a program forward,” says Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of The Telework Coalition. “There are those managers that believe presence equals productivity, no matter what the arguments for telework are. One word from the right manager can make the program go bust and turn it off immediately like a spigot.”

2. Ineligible job dutiesCompanies may want to offer their employees the perk of working remotely, especially in these tough economic times when cutting fuel costs could help most people. Yet not all positions apply when it comes to working remotely.

“Jobs requiring face-to-face or in-office communications won’t work unless the program is very structured to specific duties on specific days,” Auten explains. “And jobs that deal with sensitive data might be restricted to on-site activities as well, unless the company has well-documented data security policies.”

Also companies that don’t recognize that some employees would be able to work remotely while others could not might experience failure sooner rather than later.

“Any company who thinks that all employees are suitable for teleworking are setting themselves up for failure,” says Ben Rothke, a New York-city based senior security consultant with BT Professional Services.

3. Poor technical support

Even if managers comply and job duties are suited to remote work, telework programs could be stalled by subpar technology and support services. A successful remote work policy includes detailed descriptions of how employees connect, what software and hardware equipment they use, and how support can best meet their needs. Yet experts say that many companies fail with this more obvious telework requirement.

“Dissatisfaction with technology and equipment can cause many teleworkers to not take full advantage of a program. If they don’t have what’s necessary to do their job, such as fast Internet connection and helpdesk services, then why bother trying to work remotely,” Wilsker says. (See related story, “Secure telework without a VPN.”) 

4. Communication breakdown

For many in management positions, telework requires a leap of faith or an inherent trust in the employees’ discipline to work without supervision. But for others, collaboration tools that enable and monitor ongoing communications between managers and employees are mandatory. Without such resources, telework programs can be seen as a failure -- even if work is getting done -- without some sort of accountability.

“Companies shouldn’t measure employee productivity by doing attendance, but [they need to] have another means by which to validate work output,” says Lawrence Imeish, principal consultant for Dimension Data. “Programs such as instant messaging can show when employees are idle, but that isn’t the best way to communicate. Set policies for checking in and establish that criteria upfront or you could lose productivity.”

But in some cases, regardless of efforts to quantify performance and monitor efforts, employees aren’t able to work without supervision, another sign telework is not for the organization.

“It is rare, but without proper screening and training, companies could get experience an individual that doesn’t thrive in that type of environment,” Wilsker says.

5. Security breachPossibly the worst sign of an unsuccessful telework program is the loss of client data or a corporate security breach that’s blamed on inadequate telework policies.

“Data handling is a crucial area to include,” Rothke says. Companies must “make sure the user has the basics, a shredder and a secure area, including a locking file cabinet, in which to work. If an employee works with confidential data, ensure that their computer is in a secure area of their home,” he adds.

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