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Metagroup’s take on telework

Oct 13, 20033 mins
Backup and RecoveryEnterprise Applications

Firms are supplying phones and broadband, but fall short on training and power backup.

The IT research firm Metagroup recently released a two-page report on how full-time teleworkers are changing the corporate landscape – and what IT organizations must do to ensure business continuity. 

Elizabeth Ussher, Metagroup’s vice president of technology research services, compiled “Teleworkers: An Emerging Minority,” using a mix of results from two years’ studies on data/voice convergence, data gleaned from consulting sessions with Metagroup’s 2,000 global clients, and numbers taken from firms’ financial reports and press releases.

Not surprisingly, Ussher found the number of full-time teleworkers has doubled in the past two years – with much of the growth due to workforce reductions and cost cuts.

Other things have changed, too. Mid-level manager resistance is no longer a big problem. “Today, bosses are saying telework is going to be good for the company, it’s going to be cheaper, so you need to figure out a way to make it work,” Ussher says. “And before bosses would say, ‘Hey, I want you here where I can get my hands on you.’ Now they say, ‘Hey, I know you’re doing your work, so you can telework, but only if you have a broadband connection.’ “

Even though companies realize cost savings, 90% of those interviewed pay for teleworkers’ phone and broadband lines, and are itching to save the cost of the phone line by switching workers to a PC soft phone that rides the DSL or cable connection. In an earlier study asking clients to cite reasons for implementing a converged voice/data network, Ussher says 49% named telework.

Beyond cost cutting with voice over IP, the new report calls on IT to forge a strategy that ensures business continuity regardless of location. That includes supplying full-time teleworkers with broadband service, a dedicated phone line, corporate PC, technical training and help desk support. But the report also recommends firms pay for uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) that continue power to PCs and telephones for at least 30 minutes – a tool companies aren’t yet willing to pay for. (See this week’s “Small Business Technology” column for some options.)

Whether the home office is protected by a UPS, Ussher says when the power goes out, teleworkers get creative. “People run to Kinkos. I used to work out of the Admirals Club until the airport required you have a ticket,” she says. “You just go where there’s electricity. Teleworkers have to be flexible. They try one thing, that doesn’t work, they try something else.”

Another thing most teleworkers still lack is proper training. In her report, Ussher recommends they receive at least an extra 10% training on “core products and services.”

“Without water cooler time, there’s no way to kibitz about important issues,” she says. “Say the core enterprise product is chewing gum. Teleworkers need more training because they won’t be with other workers who’ll tell them that they found out the silver wrappers blow up in the microwave. At Meta, we formalized a training program in which new remote analysts spend a week doing tailgate-type training with other analysts.”

In the seven years Ussher’s teleworked full time, she’s witnessed a dramatic cultural shift: “It used to be if there was a dog barking in the background, everybody got upset. Today, if you hear a kid screaming it’s no big deal, or wind noise when somebody’s in the car, it’s no big deal. We’re much more flexible yet professional. The idea is to get the job done, not to just look good.”