Many Shades of Gray in the Remote and Mobile Workforce

Carl Weinschenk
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Telecommuting's Powerful Benefits

More than 34 million Americans telecommute on an occasional basis at the least. While it may not be for everyone, the future of telework appears bright.

Surveys from iPass and Skype released at The Future of Work conference sponsored by GigaOm show how far mobile and remote work has come.


The iPass research was based on surveys of about 4,000 mobile workers and almost 30 million user sessions. The report, which was released along with predictions for the year ahead, suggests that mobile workers spend as much as 240 hours per year more than their corporate office dwelling compatriots at their craft. Figuring in vacations and holidays, that means that workers are spending an extra hour a day with their nose to the grindstone-as long as that grindstone is not in the corporate office.


At the conference, iPass President and CEO Evan Kaplan added some stats that didn't make the press release: Only 6 percent of respondents disconnect entirely during vacation, he said, and all but 3 percent use at least two devices. Half of respondents use three.


Skype chimed in with a survey conducted for it by Incites Research. The research, which queried 500 business end users and 500 technology decision-makers from businesses of all sizes, found that 62 percent employ remote workers and that 67 percent allow workers to use their own equipment. Remote workers spend about 40 percent of their time out of the office. The two technologies that are expected to shrink in use are landline phones and e-mail, while video calling is most likely to make gains. The two most important communications tools, the survey found, are mobile phones and, in a somewhat contradictory finding, e-mail.


There is a subtle difference in the wording of the two surveys: The Skype effort looks at "remote" workers, while iPass focuses on those that are "mobile." The difference is significant. In the big picture, IT departments and corporate executives must recognize that there now are three ways to work: in a company office, in a home office and on the road.


There also are shades of gray within each category. For instance, a corporate office may be a single-person satellite separated from the main corporate office by a great distance. Likewise, a mobile worker can be somebody who is on the road almost all the time or a person who likes to get a bit of work done on the train commuting to and from the corporate office.


As mobility becomes more engrained in the way work gets done, these distinctions become even more important. A person working in a home office and a person who spends 75 percent of his or her time on the road would both be classified by many observers under the banner of a "remote" worker. Most home offices are wireline affairs, however, and securing them has more in common with the corporate office than somebody who primarily relies on smartphones, tablets and other unwired devices.


The bottom line is that it is no longer appropriate to think of folks who don't work in the corporate office as a monolithic entity. IT departments must understand that folks who don't show up at the office every day are members of a varied group with extremely differentiated needs.

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