Branch offices - and particularly the employees in them - have quickly become critical assets to the majority of companies and organizations.Welcome to your first weekly newsletter addressing emerging strategies and best practices for managing the branch office.Branch offices\u00a0- and particularly the employees in them -\u00a0have quickly become critical assets to the majority of companies and organizations.The compelling data that Nemertes Research has gathered during the past three years validates the growing need for strategic guidance on how to effectively manage the branch. For example, more than 90% of employees work away from their headquarter facilities. The number of employees working away from their supervisors has increased by 800% (yes, that\u2019s 800) in the past five years. And, on average, companies expect the number of branch offices to grow by 6.5% this year.The bottom line: More and more end users are working at branch offices. And that presents unique challenges for the IT, telecom and networking staffs as they build, manage and optimize their networks and applications.Yet in a recent Nemertes\u2019 survey, 73% of IT executives admitted they had not created a comprehensive strategy\u00a0- including cost-benefit analysis\u00a0- for supporting remote workers. These employees, who typically make up the majority of an organization\u2019s workforce, must be able to communicate, collaborate, access applications and maintain productivity as if they were at the headquarters facility.Therefore, it\u2019s crucial for executives to forge ahead with a remote-access strategy for cost-effectively managing the network and infrastructure in those sites to ensure optimal application delivery, employee productivity and customer satisfaction. Branch offices have become vital for improving customer service, product development\u00a0- and the bottom line.In the coming months, we\u2019ll address important issues that will help you develop or refine your branch-office strategy. The best-practices recommendations come from detailed analysis of interviews with IT executives, directors and managers.There continues to be much debate in the industry as to what, exactly, constitutes a branch office and how they are defined. Based on extensive research with organizations of all sizes and across all industries, we\u2019ve defined the branch-office market as follows:Large branch office (301 to 1,000 workers)Midsize branch office (51 to 300 workers)Small branch office (2 to 50 workers)Home office (1 person; telecommuter)The first step in developing a branch-office strategy is to take inventory. Determine what you have today, in terms of the number of locations, the type of locations (as defined above) and the number of people at those locations.As part of that inventory, baseline some of the basic metrics:How much access bandwidth goes to each location? (Divide that by the number of people at each site, and you can find inconsistencies in capacity.)How many networking devices are at each location? (The average is about six, according to Nemertes\u2019 upcoming convergence benchmark. Compiling a current list can illustrate inconsistencies and help develop a plan for reducing or consolidating the number of devices, potentially making management easier and reducing costs).How much time is the IT\/network staff spending on troubleshooting remote office problems? (This will help you determine whether it\u2019s more cost-effective to outsource problem\/resolution.)We\u2019ll be exploring the details of these and more issues in the next few weeks. Until next week, happy counting!