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CIO Challenges: Employee Telecommuting

 

The most important task of any CIO is to oversee the technology systems of your company that can ensure the highest productivity levels from your employees. This task is pretty straight forward in a traditional business setup where all employees report to one of your several workplaces. However, with the rise in telecommuting and BYOD practices across industries, the CIO has to handle challenges hitherto unattended to.

According to various statistics, at least 40% of the working population in the United States are already working from home at least partially. This number is expected to cross 50% by 2020. Unlike popular imagination, the telecommuting workforce is not entirely women. An Inc magazine report published last year showed that at least 53% of the telecommuters were men. And further, 79% of the surveyed employees expressed a desire to work from home at least part of the time.

Telecommuting as an option is not only something that employees prefer, but according to several studies, is now being welcomed by the employers as well. As the Inc study shows, businesses save as much as $11,000 every year on rent and electricity because of employees working from home. Also, telecommuters are twice as likely to work more than 40 hours a week compared to those that do not telecommute. Given these scientific evidences in favor of telecommuting, it is fair to assume that this is here for the long run and can only increase over time.

So how does this impact the role of a CIO? There are a number of challenges to overcome to ensure productivity among employees. If you are in a business that requires high level of data confidentiality, then data security and accessibility certainly is one. In a ‘work from home’ environment, there is a great likelihood for an employee to be accessing confidential data over unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Also, there is a greater likelihood for company-issued devices to be accessed by the family members of the employee. These are massive security challenges. A study conducted by Ernst & Young proposed the following steps for better security and accountability of data on a work device accessed from home:

Develop specific guidelines and policies to address security risks
Provide clear guidance on the use and disposal of paper records containing secure information
Provide employee with tools and applications that can meet physical and security requirements
Provide privacy enhancing devices and thin clients to telecommuting employees
Prohibit the use of devices other than company-approved computers for accessing work-related information

Develop guidelines for wireless security
Prohibit the use of unsecured networks for accessing work information
Provide a do’s and don’ts for software that may be downloaded on devices used to access work information.

Another major challenge faced by CIOs is productivity related. The common perception among a telecommuting workforce is the potential delay in the decision-making process. However, according to a study conducted by Professor Paul Gray of Claremont college in the 1970s, there is no perceived difference in productivity of a telecommuting workforce compared to one where employees have face-to-face meetings. Gray found that teams that had an initial in-person meeting faced no challenge in working out of dispersed locations.

Having said that, it is the role of the CIO to ensure all the modern technologies are available at the employees’ disposal for effective turnaround. In-person meetings today can be replaced with web video conferencing. Documents that need signatures from the telecommuting manager do not have stay unattended at work till she visits the office. Instead, offering them the advantage of signing off electronically can help save crucial work hours.

According to Mary Ellen Power, the Vice President of marketing at Silanis, “The modern workplace is often awash with technology, much of which is dedicated to ensuring that employees maintain constant levels of productivity. In recent years, the majority of companies have migrated toward the Internet as a means of virtual communication and customer engagement, with the result that there is a demonstrated need for many organizations to reduce their reliance on paper-based forms of documentation.”

Telecommuting cannot totally replace a centrally located office. Neither is this applicable to all industries and businesses. However, this is a reality that CIOs have to contend with. Following in the footsteps of Yahoo or HP that have banned telecommuting could only prove counter-productive as the best brains in the industry could drift away to competitors who have more flexible work options. Given these dynamics, it is crucial that CIOs put together a process in place to establish a secure and efficient work environment that is also conducive to telecommuters.

 

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James Finnan has been covering financial markets for 10 years. He has served as Editor in Chief of CFOZone.com since 2010. Additionally he has been a contributing writer to the My Media network of sites including CIOZone.com, myITview.com, and myCIOview.com.

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