AT&T study shows spike in global remote work

Execs embrace remote work tools, yet cling to old attitudes

After years of steady but unremarkable growth, global telework rose significantly in 2004, according to a new joint study by AT&T and the Economist Intelligence Unit. Of the 254 executives surveyed, two-thirds reported they have employees who work at home regularly - up from just over half in 2003. EIU is the research arm of the Economist magazine.

When quizzed about tools, 81% said providing employees remote access to the corporate network is a “critical” or “important” network goal. Today, 21% said they provide teleworkers with VoIP, with 79% planning to by 2006. More than half the respondents’ employees have broadband access today, up from 27% last year. That number is expected to swell to 70% by 2006.

Surprisingly, 86% of execs view employee remote access as a security risk, with 30% believing it leaves their firms “extremely vulnerable” to a security breach. Yet, only 30% consider security risks a barrier to telework.   

While savvy about telework technology, the results show execs still hold narrow attitudes about what jobs are suited to remote work. While sales and customer service were cited by 64% and 50% of respondents, respectively, senior management was cited by only 26% and “financial functions” by only 18%. Forty percent cited marketing and research, and only 24% cited IT - also surprisingly low.

Commenting on those results in the survey report, Joe Roitz, AT&T’s director of teleworking, said, “It’s not the job types that are important. It’s about culture and technology.”

The survey found the highest barrier to implementing remote work continues to be “difficulty monitoring output of remote workers," cited by 48% of respondents. Forty-five percent said “loss of perceived benefits of face-to-face contact." Opposition from senior management was cited by 31%; security concerns by 30%; cost to implement remote work tools, 28%; perceived threat to company culture, 28%.

AT&T says one remedy to perceived loss of face-to-face contact is VoIP, services the company provides. In addition, AT&T recommends the use of personal blogs on the corporate Web site, and “recording office experiences can help build a sense of community, as do bulletin boards.”

The report notes one advantage of moving from verbal to written communication (e-mail, instant messaging, blogs) is that it expands the documentation trail useful in meeting compliance requirements and sharing information. Yet, business continuity was rated low as a driver for telework. A large majority said less than 80% of their workforce could work remotely in the event of a disaster.

Of the 254 executives responding to the survey, 40% come  from Europe; 27%, North America; 21%, Asia Pacific; 8%, Latin America; 3%, the Middle East; and 1%, other. Thirty percent were top-level execs, 33% managers, 6% board members, 5% technology execs; 15% senior execs; 8% other.

Roitz says AT&T’s annual telework survey, which focuses on its internal telework program and best practices, should be completed by next month.

Additional research cited in the AT&T/EIU report came via a new report from SUSTEL, a two-year research project on telework financed by the European Commission’s Information Society Technologies (IST) initiative. More on SUSTEL’s findings soon. 

The full report and AT&T white papers can be found here.

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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