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Is telecommuting worth the trouble?

Monday, 23 October 2006
By Print 21 Online Article

Dave Bell of Quote & Print weighs the advantages of allowing staff to work from home and proposes some safeguards.

Ten years ago if you mentioned to your IT person that you wanted to work from home he would have rolled his eyes and tried to talk you out of it. It was expensive, slow and there was always a risk your network’s security could be compromised. The solutions were proprietary and may not have been supported in a year’s time.

These days there has been a dramatic turnaround. You no longer need dedicated phone lines for access, instead you use the Internet. If you don’t already have access to the Internet, broadband access costs about $30 per month. The software required for Internet access can range in price from free for public domain products like VNC (Virtual Network Connection) to the cost of a terminal server licence of approximately $200. This form of communication is secure as you are required to have a user name and password to login. In addition, you can nominate the access be only allowed from a nominated IP address. Today’s computers and operating systems are so powerful that a single computer can support 30 people logging in remotely.

With wireless Internet connection you are not restricted to one place. You are able to access your office computer anywhere you can get a wireless connection. The Telstra Bigpond network covers all of Sydney.

There are two things to look out for however. Programs with lots of graphics will run slower due to the time it takes to download the images across the Internet. Some software like Quote & Print allows you to disable the sending of large images.

The second thing is that printing over the Internet can be very problematic. Again this can be easily overcome by using software that has a print preview mode or by converting the printed output to a pdf file and emailing it to your home email address.

There are three groups who would benefit most from telecommuting:

  • Managers who would use their PC for a minimum of 1 to 2 hours each day. They would have the ability to rearrange their working day so that they could work from home a few hours each morning or in the evening. The time at home would be spent processing emails, generating reports, etc. They could then reschedule their day to avoid driving in peak hour traffic or catch up with work at home rather than staying late at the office.
  • Staff who use their computers eight hours a day, eg Accounts staff. The ability to work at home at least part of the time could be an added bonus/incentive for them. This would be particularly useful if they have young children and cannot come to work on the days they are sick.
  • Road Warriors. Your sales staff who you want to be out on the road all the time would benefit from telecommuting as it would save them frequent phone calls and trips back to the office to check emails, production status of jobs, etc.
    Like all new processes it is up to management to set controls in place to make sure that people are still working effectively and efficiently even when they are not being directly supervised. You also need to be aware of people’s social needs and the need for direct face to face communication. A good idea is to schedule a weekly meeting where all team members get the chance to directly interact with each other.

  • This article was brought to you by Quote & Print

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