Working from Home
The Spread of “Working from Home”
With winter rapidly approaching, and whilst the prospect of Swine Flu appears to have been massively over emphasised, it’s worth noting that most pandemics have a lower initial bout and a much more significant second phase. However, the prospect of enforced ‘working from home’ does bring this debate about staff working from home to the fore.
Remote working is on the rise for many businesses, with laptops and smartphones often being issued to many employees as standard. Senior or field based staff may already reap the benefits of it, and remote working can often be rolled out across the whole company for relatively low cost. This can range from providing simple web-based access to their email account, through to the use of dedicated remote access software (such as a Citrix server) to provide the same level of performance and highly secure access to their files and applications as they would expect sat at their desk in the office.
Citrix Online has found that one in five UK workers would accept a pay cut in return for being able to work remotely! They surveyed 500 UK workers and found sixty-one percent said they would like to be able to work away from the office in either their current or next job. Even if you are unable to persuade staff to take a pay cut to work remotely there are obvious savings around office and travel costs and remote access to systems can help businesses in other ways too.
Many SMEs have already discovered the benefits of outsourced IT from a cost and knowledge base point of view. Consequently they have sub-contracted IT support to IT experts like ramsac www.ramsac.com . This has driven the need for remote access by these IT experts to make their roles more productive and allow them to have dispersed expertise that can “drop in” on any relevant problem in their technical area wherever they are in the world. This technology has now become more widely available and, as a result, “working from home” is a real alternative to commuting.
For companies with multiple sites it is also sensible to make the most of remote access to effectively ‘quarantine’ sites from each other or to save unnecessary travelling costs. If/when swine flu does impact on absenteeism levels, this may lessen the risk of cross infection through site visits. Video or teleconferencing, as well as remote IT access, are often easily used within organisations based at different geographical locations, and are ideal tools to maintain effective communications within the company infrastructure without the need for travel. Keeping staff from the different locations separate from each other is a sensible measure to include within a well-defined emergency contingency.
It is easy to panic at the thought of something as potentially damaging as Swine Flu, both on a personal and business level. However careful planning and effective communication can help to take the element of uncertainty away and provide a level of control over what is often an unpredictable situation. Now is the time to make sure these plans are watertight and that all members of the team are fully briefed on them. The attention being paid to the potential pandemic also acts as a reminder that there are many types of potential disaster and it is sensible to think through the implications and plan the best ways for a business to survive and flourish through the disruption.
Therefore businesses should consider “working from home” as a potential solution for any number of issues – attracting the best staff, shortage of the right staff in the locality, or providing a contingency plan for staff not being able to get into work eg Swine Flu, train strikes, winter snow.
What solutions are available for working from home?
Business owners need to consider a variety of options if ‘Working from home’ is going to be considered. James Nicholson-Smith of The FD Centre and IT expert Robert May of www.ramsac.com looked at the options for “virtually working at your office PC” and “making and receiving calls from your desk while you are at home”.
Remote access to your office PC is something that FDs of most companies know is possible but the costs are perceived to be high. However, over recent years more cost effective solutions have become available. Companies can facilitate remote access in various ways starting with access to the users’ actual PC with products like Logmein Pro (circa £6 per user per month) which requires the employees’ office PC to be switched on and logged in, through to more sophisticated server based technologies such as Microsoft Terminal Services or ultimately Citrix which is used by virtually all of the FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies.
Assuming the employees have a PC and printer at home then businesses that rely on hard copy can print locally. With Citrix employers can enable remote printing for selected members of staff only which is an attractive option for people worried about sensitive data or transient staff.
Document sending technology is booming with easy to use sophisticated hardware easily available to automatically scan piles of post direct to users email accounts, or even for the most frugal business this can be achieved with a fairly cheap scanner.
When it comes to using your office phone to make and receive calls Robert May comments “ramsac are enabling more users to have Unified Comms (UC) or Voice over IP (VOIP) phone technology and this means the employee can simply use their PC with a softphone or indeed their mobile to receive phone calls as if they were sat at their desks with clients unaware of their actual location.”
The biggest perceived risk for encouraging ‘working from home’ is that the business cannot be sure that staff working from home are actually working. Therefore FDs and entrepreneurs alike need tools to monitor activity of staff ‘working from home’. Robert May continues, “In our experience, staff over perform when they are working at home although the IT sector may be abnormal in this regard.” As a solution unified comms has the ability for employers to see the status and availability of their staff at all times. This often deals with the concern of most FDs and business owners when remote access is first introduced as to whether people will work efficiently and diligently away from the office. For the real pessimistic employer, there are additional systems outside of UC which ramsac can deploy to give daily reporting on what applications are actively in use, by whom and for how long each day.
Video conferencing is another great enabler and is saving time and money by allowing conferencing in virtual meetings with employees, clients or suppliers. This can be achieved for little or no money for one-on-one meetings or you can purchase or hire the facilities of sophisticated technology such as Cisco’s Webex, dependent on how often you want this virtual face to face facility and for how many users.
The cost of doing this can obviously vary depending on your existing IT systems. However, as a guide, an office system with an existing MS Exchange and File & Print Server wanting to add full blown Citrix should budget approximately £400 per seat and a more basic Terminal Services office system will cost circa £175 per seat.
Companies like ramsac can provide businesses with remote solutions in this area that can be deployed quickly and cost effectively. However, it’s important to note that organisations who wait until the end of November before putting an action plan in place, may be struggling with availability of professional services as the industry predicts an incredibly busy last quarter.