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Five signs your telework program is a bust

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

By , Network World
October 19, 2009 08:36 AM ET

Network World - 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 support
Some 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 duties
Companies 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.

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