Cuts inspire new work habits

Auckland people who've had a taste of working from home during the power cuts may be keen to stay put when power resumes normally. Spurred on by the power crisis, some companies considering teleworking brought forward planned projects or found they were suddenly in the midst of an impromptu project.

Auckland people who’ve had a taste of working from home during the power cuts may be keen to stay put when power resumes normally.

Spurred on by the power crisis, some companies considering teleworking brought forward planned projects or found they were suddenly in the midst of an impromptu project.

However, many still feel they need to overcome issues of data security and staff management first.

Netway Communications is considering a teleworking environment for professional service and project staff.

Information services general manager Chris Carter says without the power crisis teleworking would have remained a low priority and wouldn’t have been considered for another six months.

He says security is a major issue. Netway has done another teleworking implementation, but with a fixed point of access, for staff working on customers’ premises, which was reasonably secure.

He says there are relatively simple solutions available for giving access to things like a mainframe or one application.

“But providing the full suite of office tools and LAN tools and access to all the corporate information in a secure mana-ged way, where you’re not exposing your network to attack and everything else, is another challenge again.”

He says Netway is redesigning the configuration of its LAN and firewall, and making sure its exposure is minimalised. He says it will be another month before it can start the new teleworking project, but a general approach will be decided on within the next two to three weeks.

Carter says another challenge is how to manage teleworking staff.

“How do you ensure that deliverables are achieved and commitments are met, and how do you measure performance?”

Compuforce general manager Greg McKenzie believes many people will choose to continue teleworking after the power crisis is over, and the way people work will change.

“My father worked for one company, I’m into my fourth company, and my children will work by the hour, telecommuting from home or whatever.”

A Compuforce survey last year showed nearly 22% of Auckland companies and 32% of Wellington companies, had tele-commuting available to all staff.

McKenzie expects telecommuting to grow with technology such as low-cost video-conferencing, and because of the high cost of premises in the CBD.

During the power cuts most Compuforce staff came into work, because they couldn’t remotely access the company databases.

“Like a lot of organisations we’re not ready to allow people to have access remotely because of problems with firewalls, and people getting in and hacking into the system.”

He says the importance of social interaction also can’t be ignored.

Dorothy Gaudie, chairperson of the Warkworth In Focus group which tried unsuccessfully last year to set up a tele-working centre in Warkworth, says some people can’t work in isolation.

Gaudie believes the power crisis emphasises the importance of such centres.

“Often you need a place away from your home, but not in the CBD, and that was what our telecommuting centre was about, where people could come and be set up in their home area.”

Greg Dyer, general manager of Galileo, a travel distribution company which runs a computer reservations system, believes more business travel agency staff will work from home in future.

When the power crisis hit, it fast-tracked the launch of a new product, Access Point, which wasn’t due until April. Access Point gives travel agents the ability to connect to the Galileo host computer in Denver (which has 579 airline databases, 170,000 hotels, rental firms and holiday activities), via the Internet, without the need for the leased lines that are normally used.

It meant 24 travel agents could move out of the CBD during the power crisis but continue to operate — an unrealistic option with leased lines.

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