Technology Considerations for Telework
Technology is the crux of a successful telework program. Even though workers may be physically separated, they should be able to interact, engage, and share as seamlessly as if they were in the same office. Moreover, all of it needs to be done in a data-secure environment. As you begin to build your telework program, technological requirements should be a substantive part of the conversation.
Unfortunately, there is no specific technology package that underlies a successful telework program. Each organization, depending on their distinct activities, will find a different mix of technological tools to fit their needs. In light of that, we’ve chosen to highlight some of the more pertinent technological tools for a telework program, as well as a list of some of the providers of these tools. Note, this list is not-exhaustive, technology moves at an incredibly quick pace and new innovations become available constantly. You can stay up to date on useful technologies by following CIO.com, Fast Company, or other technology news outlets.
Virtual Private Networks and Virtual Desktops
Today’s employees rarely deal with physical documents; most of the work we do remains entirely in the electronic realm. One of the early challenges of teleworking was that an employee would have to be sure and save all the documents they needed at home on some kind of storage drive to transport them back and forth. Another challenge was that when the employee was using these documents at home, undoubtedly connected to the internet, the proprietary documents remained far less secure than at the office.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) and virtual desktop software provide an elegant solution to these problems. VPNs essentially create an encrypted tunnel between two host computers, allowing someone at home to connect directly to the organization’s corporate network. Virtual desktops take this concept one step further and essentially recreate an employee’s office work computer on any computer. This means that not only can an employee access any file from work – whether on their local computer or on the corporate network – but it also gives them access to all their familiar software tools that they may not have on their home computers.
A less comprehensive option that achieves similar outcomes is software as a service (SaaS) products. Rather than downloading and installing software directly onto a specific computer, SaaS provides an online software environment that can be accessed through any machine using a login. Many products today are only available via SaaS, but others can be purchased in either traditional or SaaS formats. As part of your telework program development, make sure to identify the SaaS options of your key software programs.
Video and Web Conferencing Tools
Modern web conferencing tools can be a great way of engaging with a remote team more effectively. Going beyond the conference call, robust teleconferencing tools allow meeting attendees to see each other, as well as share user screens. These capabilities may be a good way for a manager to feel more connected to his or her employees when they are not in the office. Screen sharing can be a great alternative to a meeting room white board, displaying meeting notes or ideas in real time. It can also allow a team to make presentations or showcase a website or web resource from a remote location.
Keep in mind that unlike conference calls, web conferencing software runs over the internet, so all users must have a reasonably solid connection to make it work; nothing will lower productivity more than a web conference with poor audio and video quality. Having a video component also requires that each individual have a working web camera.
Online Collaboration Tools
Encouraging collaboration can be an elusive objective even when everyone is sitting in the same office, and teleworking simply adds another layer to that complex challenge. Luckily, there are now numerous computer-based collaboration tools that foster dialogue between groups and allow easier sharing of documents and projects. While web and video conferencing can be useful for specific meetings or presentations, broader collaboration tools are designed for constant use among employees. These tools range dramatically – from instant messaging tools to project management software – and, like other software options, your choice will have to address the particular needs of your teams.