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Telecommuters: How to Monitor and Manage their Productivity

The management of mobile workers, also often called remote workers or telecommuters, is a long-standing challenge for business.  Sales representatives have been 'on the road' for just about as long as business has existed.  However, over the last decade there has been an increasing trend for 'white collar' knowledge workers to get mobile and according to the Gartner Group this category now makes up around 75% of all telecommuters.

This presents a new set of challenges and threats for a business, including:

  • Security of intellectual property
  • Personal accountability
  • Performance management and 
  • Productivity

 Maria Padisetti from Digital Armour Corporation offers answers to the most pressing questions asked by people accountable for the performance of mobile workers.

Q.  Over the last 12 months what innovations have you seen in the area of mobile worker support?

Better Internet connectivity options such as mobile and wireless broadband are making it easier and more cost effective for mobile workers to connect into office facilities.  Connection security has also substantially improved.

Advancements in messaging and mobile devices have enhanced the availability of business applications on the road thereby improving the productivity of staff, enabling them to do meaningful work while away from the office.  Many applications are also now browser based.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology has now also reached a level of maturity where it truly offers seamless communication for people when they are away from the office.  A caller is generally unable to tell if the worker is office based or at a remote location. 

Q. What is the most common mistake companies make when managing telecommuters?

The biggest mistake, and it’s a common one, is not effectively managing user access.  It creates issues on a number of levels.

1. Increased support workload and costs

Users should only have access to the information they really need.  Access to irrelevant data and applications can increase the demand on your IT support services and cause your operating costs to blow out. 

2. Increased security risk

Most companies do not control user access effectively.  If access is not effectively restricted, ports are left open or the authentication system is poor, then you are inviting hackers into your system. Many small and medium companies in particular think hackers have little interest in the information on their networks.  This is incorrect.  Hackers will use smaller systems as practice grounds before they move onto larger companies.

Ensure your company has made clear policies for each individual in terms of the machines, applications, servers and printers they can access.  Ideally use a two factor authentication system rather than relying on passwords. With these systems you typically use your normal password and then the system will generate another password and send it to your mobile phone. The 2nd password will expire in a few minutes. Systems like this are relatively inexpensive.

Q.  Securing Intellectual Property is a critical issue. What are some solutions you recommend?

Firstly the connection back to the office provided to mobile workers needs to be secure. Nowadays VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are the most common method used.  Make sure you buy the most current technology you can afford.  The enhanced user access features enable you to set individual access policies and authenticate users.

There are also a number of ways you can ‘lock down’ laptops in order to protect your intellectual property. This could be something as advanced as encrypting laptop data or allowing very limited access to the office environment.

Another potential threat is devices such as DVD Burners and USB sticks on laptop computers. These need to be disabled as a rule and provided at a central location instead. 

The trick is finding a solution that is both secure and cost effective. Defining and refining remote access security can also take up a lot of your IT department’s time. It may be an area where it is worthwhile accessing some specialised advice to determine the best solution for your company.

Q.  Telecommuters commonly complain about speed of access and information availability.  Does current technology provide any effective solutions to these problems?

To some extent wireless broadband technologies have alleviated the pain however remote workers need to understand that remote access is not going to be exactly the same as accessing the system from within the office.

Q.  Telecommuting can cost organisations a lot of money including infrastructure and call costs.  Do you have any money-saving tips?

Ensure that you select the most cost effective technologies to implement remote working. You don’t need the most expensive firewall or the most expensive servers to do this. Sometimes the best option may be not to upgrade!

Define what types of access you need to provide to mobile workers before you make any hardware or software purchase decisions.

Mobile broadband is getting cheaper by the day – shop around for the best provider and make sure you pick the best plans so that you don’t get hit with enormous bills at the end of the month. Use VoIP to reduce your phone bills. We have helped companies reduce their costs significantly by using VoIP.

Q. How can organisations manage the productivity of employees working remotely?

Not all jobs are suited for remote working, so choose the positions in your organisation that suit this type of working upfront. Not all staff are suited for this either. Typically people who are self-motivated and can work independently are best suited. So ensure that you identify the right people to minimise productivity problems.

Also provide training to remote workers on how to use the technologies provided and give them the support that they need to ensure that they can work productively with minimal issues and disruptions.
Give them the necessary tools and training and see their productivity soar!

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