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Avoid the Telecommuting Reboot

Telecommuting can be a useful concept for an organization, but you have to put the right tools in place to support remote workers.

Telecommuting is becoming a standard practice across companies of all sizes. The collaboration tools we have in the form of messaging, voice and video, create new and exciting efficiencies for displaced teams.

But despite all the advancements and the majority of organizations moving towards a mobile and remote workforce, there are a few that are bucking the trend. In 2013, Yahoo made the decision to end their remote work policy and bring all employees back in-house. Most recently, it was reported that IBM announced that their marketing department that was spread across the globe would have to start making plans to move to one of several IBM offices. So, the question is, why would companies decide that a remote workforce isn't working? While there are many potential answers to this question, one thing to consider is that the organization is in desperate need of a telecommuting reboot from a technological perspective.

Image: Tab62/Shutterstock
Image: Tab62/Shutterstock

Considering IBM's position as a trailblazer of telecommuting, it came as a huge surprise to see the news that the company made the decision to relocate 2,600 of their marketing employees who worked out of their home or worked from small remote offices. In her announcement to employees, IBM's chief marketing officer, Michelle Peluso told her staff that there is “only one recipe I know for success.” While there were three keys to success Peluso listed, almost all employees only paid attention to the last one since it meant they had to either relocate, or find a new job.

But as a technology integrator, I found that one key to success she listed -- "the right tools" -- may actually be at the heart of this reversal on telecommuting practices. IBM has been around for decades -- and Yahoo is a dinosaur in terms of Internet companies. Yet both organizations leveraged remote employees for years until they abruptly decided it no longer worked for them. Therefore, it's highly probable that the legacy tools that telecommuters utilized were old, outdated and ineffective compared to today's offerings.

When you get to the size of a remote workforce that IBM and Yahoo were faced with, the ability to recycle and refresh the tools supporting remote workers almost certainly becomes a management nightmare for IT staff. What likely happened was that rollouts of new tools took place, but the remote workers clung to the legacy tools they knew best.

As IT decision makers, it's important to look at all aspects of telecommuting policy reversals. Yes, there likely were political and philosophical reasons behind IBM and Yahoo's reversal on remote work policy. But technology may have also played a role. From an IT perspective, you should perhaps reevaluate your own telecommute processes and tools to make sure they are where they need to be.

Most employees love the freedom to be able to work remotely. And it's the IT department’s duty to stay on top of the tools that allow them to be most effective. When tools need to be replaced, make sure that legacy tools are completely eliminated so they don't muddle and confuse the overall flow of remote work. Training is also a critical part of a mobile workforce. There is an added challenge when rolling out new tools and services to employees who are geographically dispersed. Usually, multiple training methods, such as written documentation, video demonstrations and peer-to-peer training sessions should be offered to remote employees. Every person learns in a different way, so it's best if you have multiple teaching styles.

Most organizations are likely to continue their telecommuting ambitions despite what’s in the news. But it’s important to look at cases such as Yahoo and IBM to see where they possibly failed to avoid the costly and damaging effects of a full-blown telecommuting reboot. Being vigilant in vetting and replacing aging telecommuting tools – as well as properly training staff on new tools – is an excellent place to start.

Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the ... View Full Bio

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