Telework on a shoestring

The relationship between IT and teleworkers can be a prickly one, especially in a down economy. IT frets over remote security; teleworkers fret over lost productivity.

          The relationship between IT and teleworkers can be a prickly one, especially in a down economy.

          IT frets over remote security; teleworkers fret over lost productivity. Teleworkers are frustrated, using older cast-off company equipment that's slow or unpredictable, or forced to use their own, which IT is loathe to support.

          Being remote puts a strain on the relationship; teleworkers can't know why helpdesk response time is slow. ("What're those guys out playing bocce again?") Likewise, teleworker support is extremely time-consuming, chomping away at IT's resources. Add the inherent stress of troubleshooting problems over the phone, with trouble tickets backing up on one end, project deadlines looming on the other - and I'm surprised cases of "remote rage" haven't made the papers.

          If times were better, all teleworkers would be outfitted with company-supplied best-of-breed equipment, net execs would invest in slick remote access and management tools to keep things humming along, and there'd be plenty of back-patting all around. Since they're not, it's no surprise a new survey by Gartner's Dataquest reveals the relationship between teleworkers and IT is somewhat dysfunctional.

          In the report Teleworkers settle for less in service and support, Gartner Dataquest conducted two separate studies, one of 316 IT managers, the other of 200 teleworkers. First, the research found that some network managers don't always know how their remote workers are working, which results in incorrect support decisions being made continuously, according to the report's author, Ron Silliman. IT respondents reported that 45% of all teleworkers are mobile, when 68% actually connect from their homes.

          The findings also revealed a "profound gap" between teleworkers' satisfaction with IT support, which is reasonably high, and with the services (equipment, connections) they receive. Seventeen percent of all teleworkers (and 19% of full-time teleworkers) report they have no employer-owned equipment.

          Though support satisfaction was reasonably high, additional findings indicate teleworkers' expectations of IT support are probably pretty low. Teleworkers seeking software report informal or underground peer support is the rule, not the exception. Seventy-one percent report relying on a colleague for help. Eight percent of teleworkers are expected to fix their own systems or buy new ones when they fail, and 42% schlep their systems into the office for repair.

          Though the report seems to paint a much darker picture than I've seen, one thing's for sure: Dedicated telework tools go a long way in greasing the wheel between IT and remote workers. The up-front investment might hurt now, but some services are affordable and most others pay for themselves quickly in regained productivity.

          And while it's still considered taboo for corporate teleworkers to use their personal equipment to connect to the network, people still do it, regardless of security risks. Fortunately, a new VPN managed service company called Positive Networks makes the practice safe. Other tools that give network managers better control over the home office environment include SonicWall's Tele3 TZ and VPN service provider Axcelerent.

          Last, whether you're on the telework or network manager side of the fence, I'd like to know how things are going. What can the other side do to make your life easier? What's on your wish list - besides a bigger budget? Write to me.

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