The Manager’s Telecommuting Survival Guide Part II: Technology

By George Kaytor posted 12-11-2017 09:49


Your firm has decided to join the modern workforce and offer employees the ability to work remotely either on a part-time or full-time basis. The benefits are many: superior employee retention, savings on real estate expenses, improved work-life balance and perhaps even a bump in productivity if you can avoid the pitfalls. This survival guide was designed to offer some insight from those intrepid explorers that have already made the journey to assist you in what can be a perilous expedition.

It is critical to have a well thought commuting agreement/policy in place before launching your telecommuting program. Thoughts on this foundational piece are covered in Part I of this survival guide.

“When you are designing your plan, think not in terms of what you need to do, think in terms of what you need to achieve.” (T. Jay Taylor)

Not being able to discern if an employee is working remotely or on-site is a key success metric for your organization’s telecommuting program. (Exceptions are roles which require on-site attendance to be effective, such as on-site technical support staff that deal with the disbursement of equipment.)  To achieve this goal, your team will need to equipped with a variety of technology tools:

Telephony: The goal here is to provide a single office number that operates the same across different physical locations. We deploy CISCO VOIP phones as part of every telecommuting kit to achieve this goal. We also provide session mobility options through Cisco Jabber, which allows our employees to leverage their mobile devices or kiosk setups as an extension of their normal phone. Similar results can be achieved through Skype or Avaya technologies.

Remote Computing Environment:

  • Safe and professional work environment. The best telephony experience is easily undermined by screaming children, barking dogs, etc.
  • High Speed Internet. Don’t focus on download speed only, poor upload speed can significantly affect your VDI or VPN experience. Will others be using the same connection to watch videos or play games?
  • Desktop Platform: Our goal here is to provide a consistent desktop experience regardless of location. We leverage Citrix virtual desktop technology, but VMWare or VPN technology can be equally effective depending on your environment.
  • VPN Router: This component has been critical in ensuring consistent and timely patches to our full time remote workers. Also adds a layer of security and can be configured to provide quality of service when competing for bandwidth.

Instant Messaging: So much more than a virtual water cooler. Tools such as Jabber and Skype have changed the way our teams work with presence. Our team members are hyper aware of presence activity and regularly update their status to reflect lunch and breaks. We lock down the activity settings so that managers have a clear view at all times on who is actively engaged and who isn’t. Screen sharing has also become an important part of culture when a another set of eyes is required to review code or configuration settings.

Web and Video Meetings: Unfortunately for most remote workers, the time spent in meetings doesn’t decrease - the location just changes to a virtual one. Video web meetings provide that important face time and ensure that team members are actively engaged in the meeting. We leverage WebEx but there are plenty of solid web meeting platforms (Skype, Go To Meeting, etc.) to choose from.

File Sharing: Not necessarily a strict telecommuting issue, but the sharing of files is something that needs to addressed when the old sneaker net is no longer available. Do your Exchange administrator a favor and share files through a file sharing service such as OneDrive or Box that has been approved by your security team for usage.