Bedminster, N.J. -- A strong swing has taken place in favor of remote working over the last 12 months, according to a new survey and report on networking and business strategy from AT&T in co-operation with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Two-thirds of executives surveyed said that at least some of their staff work from home regularly, a substantial increase from the same survey conducted a year earlier. The survey underscores that remote working is a key factor driving corporate success resulting in reduced costs and increased employee productivity.
Remote working also is uppermost in most executives' minds when drawing up their technology strategies: 81 percent of them said that giving remote workers full access to the corporate network is a "critical" or "important" objective.
Broadband access and voice over IP (VoIP) are two crucial enablers of remote working, and, according to the report, adoption of both technologies is skyrocketing. The 2004 AT&T/Economist Intelligence Unit survey reveals that, in the case of 46 percent of companies, broadband access is now installed in the homes of half or more of the workforce, up from just 27 percent in 2003.
Moreover, this proportion is set to leap to 70 percent in 2006. The survey also shows that 21 percent of companies today use VoIP for remote working, and that 79 percent of executives expect their companies to be doing so in two years time. In addition to lowering telephone costs, VoIP gives a remote worker more functionality at home than is available with the traditional office-based private branch exchange (PBX).
"The survey highlights the critical importance of enabling employees to be productive in a 'network-centric' enterprise and shows that effective remote working strategies are now considered vital for success in today's business environment," says Kathleen Flaherty, AT&T Chief Marketing Officer. "The benefits that remote working can bring -- such as lower costs and increased productivity -- combined with technology drivers such as increased broadband penetration and the coming of age of Voice over IP, mean that remote working is no longer just an option for business but has become an essential part of the networking toolbox."
Remote working policies however, require careful planning and ongoing monitoring by managers to work effectively, according to the AT&T/Economist Intelligence Unit survey. The report offers practical advice for companies looking to introduce effective remote working strategies including:
- Carry out an audit throughout the company to find out which jobs are suitable for remote working;
- HR, IT and facilities management needs to be brought together to manage a remote working program effectively;
- Engage the support of departmental managers. They are often the sticking point for remote working programs, as they perceive it as a threat to their control;
- Avoid hasty implementation. The technology and HR issues must have been fully resolved or the program will flounder. How to maintain a distinct corporate culture among a dispersed workforce also needs careful consideration;
- Security in the form of a virtual private network (VPN) is recommended. A home is not inherently less secure than an office and is likely to have fewer strangers passing in and out;
- Consider offering to finance home office equipment and to pay for monthly broadband charges; and
- Ensure that interaction between managers and remote workers is sustained and includes regular appraisals. A remote working program cannot succeed if this is overlooked.
"Telework arrangements -- by their very nature -- encourage managers to pay special attention to employee productivity," says Joseph Roitz, AT&T's Director of Teleworking.
AT&T itself has successfully embraced remote working, and the most recent figures show the company benefits from $180 million per year in operational savings from the policy. Most of this is due to increased productivity ($148 million), and savings in real-estate costs ($34 million). The percentage of AT&T managers who telework full-time in a "Virtual Office" increased to 22 percent during 2003, more than doubling since 2001.