The Virtual Worker - Productive or Goof-Off

Over 40 percent of workers today work remotely or “from home.”  If you can technologically support an employee working from the hotel while on the road you can allow the employee to work from home.  The key words are from home, which in today’s connected world can mean anything from a home office, their child’s sporting event to the local Starbucks.  

Several years ago companies looked closely at work life balance.  Technology stepped up to the plate by introducing secure VPN and high speed affordable networks which were installed in homes with companies reimbursing a portion of the monthly expense. Mobile telephony was not far behind as cell phones proliferate and the forward to a home office phone land line was now seamlessly integrated with follow-me or find me type services.  This technology freed the worker from the confines of the typical home office – one could now truly balance work and family.

However, working from home as is not for everyone.  I consider it a life style in which one needs to introduce a great deal of structure, responsibility, and organization.  Good managers know their employees and whether they encompass the responsibility of remaining professional outside the office.  Taking a critical call while holding a crying child or having a dog barking in the background is not only distracting but presents an unprofessional position and may make working from home seem an unacceptable alternative.  It truly takes commitment and discipline from not only the employee, but the entire family to make working from home a success.  Additionally it is helpful to have a dedicated workspace where one can keep their head in the game as the bottom line is that work must come first.

We have come a long way to embrace this capability.  Certainly our geo political issues regarding terrorism, our changing weather environment and other factors are embedding this capability into Enterprise and SMB contingency plans.  Hurricane Sandy sent the message loud and clear that the remote workforce is here to stay when lower Manhattan was technologically inaccessible after severe flooding of major corporations with no access for employees for days and weeks.  No longer does an organization need a cold site with seats to accommodate workers.  With the continued growth in the Cloud market place, having your data center in the cloud allows your worker to be untethered from the office desk since no one truly cares where the data center resides as long as he/she can access files.  Brick and mortar offices are now becoming the urban loft, suburban ranch or rural farm. 

It behooves organizations to continue to move critical infrastructure into the cloud and embrace the remote worker.   The current work environment includes for the first time four generations of workers.  From Baby Boomers, Gen X’s, Gen Y’s, and the millennial generation, they all have a unique need to work from home or remotely due to life style needs. 

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer introduced a no at home work policy, the public backlash was loud and clear as the decision essentially turned its back on the progress made in allowing options in the workplace.  Additionally, the investments made to support the remote worker will go to waste and in many organizations will continue to be depreciated from the books for several years.  Many organizations have purposely developed virtual desktop strategies with low bandwidth applications to allow seamless application access in the office and from home.

It has to be understood that that there are those who can and will remain a key dedicated employee while working from home, while others will goof off.  This does not mean ignoring the issue, but it also does not mean having a knee jerk reaction and dismantling the whole policy of working from home.  Instead one must embrace the changing workforce need by developing policies to add structure and discipline to the organization for these workers including to keep them engaged and feel part of the team.  So much can be gained, including brick and mortar cost savings, attracting key talent and overall morale boosting if improved policies can be enforced.

About the author:  Bill Leo is a technology executive and is President of Summit Technology Group, LLC and IT consulting organization.  He can be contacted at Bill@summittechnologygroup.net.