Last year President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act into law, requiring all government agencies to determine which employees are eligible to telecommute and to develop policies and processes to allow them to do so. Now the June 9 deadline set by the Act is fast approaching, and agencies are winding up the process of complying with its requirements. What lessons do their efforts hold for businesses interested in starting, expanding or improving their own web work programs?
To find out, we spoke with cloud computing expert and CEO of InfoStreet Siamak Farah, who explained that the experiences of the government will definitely — if not immediately — change the environment and expectations faced by the private sector, offering four takeaways for businesses:
- Determining eligibility is tougher than it seems. It’s a rare occasion when the government blazes a trail for the business community, but this might be one such case, with agencies figuring out how to best implement distance working. The first step, according to Farah, is to overcome fears of appearing discriminatory and take a long, hard look at who really can telecommute. “You really need to look at the job function,” says Farah. “Not all people are created equal when it comes to teleworking. If you’re a heart surgeon, you’re not doing it,” he says. While Farah’s example may make determining eligibility sound simple, the government’s experience shows this is actually one of the tougher aspects of implementing web work and an important foundation for a successful telework program.
- The security advantages of the cloud are under-appreciated. While fear of hackers and online security abounds (often for good reason), many times the greater threat is simple human fallibility – just look at the U.K. government’s struggles to get employees to stop leaving secret info on trains. “When everything is in the centralized cloud … there are no files on a physical laptop which could get lost or hacked into,” points out Farah, who notes that storing data in the cloud will allow for innovations like fingerprint log-ons and offers often-undervalued security benefits. The cloud might not be up to CIA-level security, but for most functions, current data protection measures in the cloud should suffice, says Farah.
- Worker expectations are changing. Companies have long held back on telecommuting because they worry about not being able to monitor employees’ productivity. But that objection is eroding, according to Farah, due to the amalgamation of work and life. “It used to be that you punched in at nine and you went home at five and left every single worry at work. But now with iPhones, BlackBerry [devices], iPads and email accessible everywhere, many times personal time is being interrupted for work because that’s what the work requires. The natural progression of that is that employees come back and say, ‘Hey listen, if my time at home belongs to you than how come my time at work doesn’t belong to my house?’” Businesses will need to respond to this demand for quid pro quo.
- Government demand is changing cloud offerings … for the better. This process “is going to increase the number and quality of cloud solutions so businesses have more choices,” concludes Farah.