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Barriers to Remote Work: It’s The Mindset, Not the Tools

As broadband erases the boundaries between places and time zones, companies can take advantage of remote workers and virtual teams, but two new surveys show that many organizations aren’t. Generally, it’s not because they don’t have the tools, but because they don’t have the mindset. It’s not just technology, but the culture, that needs to change, according to reports issued today by Cisco (s csco) and Citrix (s ctxs). Both companies hope to make huge sales on collaboration software and gear.

Despite the fact that SMBs are far more likely to have employees working remotely than larger organizations, they haven’t invested in collaboration tools to the extent that enterprises have, according to the Citrix Online report: the company behind tools such as GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting. The study, carried out by Forrester Research, looked at the working habits of employees in the U.S., the UK, Germany, France and Australia, and revealed that while 31 percent of SMB employees work remotely at least some of the time (versus 21 percent of enterprise employees), SMBs are using collaboration tools significantly less than enterprises. Some 35 percent of SMBs use audio conferencing tools, compared to 58 percent of enterprises, while just 14 percent of SMBs use video conferencing tools, versus 40 percent of enterprises.

The results of the Citrix survey might sound somewhat surprising given the availability, usefulness and low cost of many web-based collaboration tools, and illustrates this gap in culture. Perhaps some businesses feel they don’t need such tools, or feel they can’t fit them into their workflows. Some organizations might even be unaware of the benefits that collaboration software can offer to remote workers.

The study also looked into differences in attitude toward flexible working from companies in different countries and found that U.S.-based workers tend to have less flexible work arrangements than those in other countries. Twenty-three percent of workers in the U.S. work from home at some point during the week, vs 34 percent in the UK, for example. And just 11 percent of U.S. employees work while traveling (at a coffee shop or airport, for example), compared to 30 percent in France.

The mindset of U.S-based firms toward flexible working will have to change in the future, however, if companies want to attract and retain the best talent. Data released today in anther report — Cisco’s (s csco) Connected World survey — revealed that most workers (66 percent) would prefer to have the option of flexible working over a higher salary. The Cisco study (which draws on a survey of end users and IT decision makers in a variety of countries) says that two-thirds of workers would like to have the option of flexible working, with 60 percent of workers feeling that they don’t need to be in the office to be productive.

This begs the question: If flexible working arrangements could help businesses to attract talent and could also mean lower overhead in terms of salaries, why don’t more companies offer it currently? One of the primary reasons is also revealed in the Cisco report: 45 percent of IT professionals are struggling to make their workforces more mobile and distributed, with security, insufficient budget and corporate culture cited as the biggest obstacles.

If you’re interested in learning more about the opportunities that broadband, mobility and collaboration tools have created for connecting work and workers, and the challenges that organization face as they move to more distributed working, you should check out our Net:Work conference, coming to San Francisco on Dec. 9.

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7 Responses to “Barriers to Remote Work: It’s The Mindset, Not the Tools”

  1. I think if the SMB’s saw the cost advantage, they’d be more apt to deploy remote work strategies.

    A Telework Research Network study shows that a company could save $1,100,000 if they allowed 100 workers to work at home just half the time. For an SMB, a savings of $10,000 per employee is a big deal.

    Conducted independently, the study quantifies the business, individual, and societal impact that regular telecommuting could have on the nation, and for small to mid-size companies. Nationwide, the impact would exceed $645 billion.

    Businesses with 100 teleworkers would annually:

    – Increase productivity by $575,000 by getting more work done with the same number of people
    – Save $304,000 in real estate, electricity, and related costs
    – Save $113,000 in absenteeism related costs
    – Save $76,000 in employee turnover
    – Improve continuity of operations
    – Avoid environmental sanctions, city access fees, etc.
    – Improve work life balance and better address the needs of families, parents, and senior caregivers.
    – Avoid the ‘brain drain’ effect of retiring boomers by allowing them to work flexibly
    – Be able to recruit and retain the best people
    – Better address the needs of disabled workers, rural residents, and military families

    More than 30% of U.S. workers say they’d take a pay cut for the opportunity to work at home. Eighty percent of U.S. workers say they want to telecommute. 40% hold jobs that are compatible. Yet still, less than 2% of U.S. employees (not including the self-employed) consider home their primary place of work.

    The Telework Research Network’s findings have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and dozens of other publications. A free calculator that allows communities and companies calculate their own potential telework savings is available on their website at Similar models for the U.K. and Canadian markets are currently being developed.

    Kate Lister, Principal Researcher
    Co-Author of Undress For Success—The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home (Wiley 2009)

  2. Andy Moles

    You’re absolutely right, It’s high time the SMBs realize the benefits of remote working. There are some really cool tools like Taroby which makes remote working easier. But what you need is the mindset to explore the opportunities remote working provides to the employees as well as the organization.

  3. Joe Patel

    Guess what. There are no difference between you and the guy in China and India when you can work remotely. There are existing consulting firms like IBM promoting remote employees. And when they are remote workers, the job changed to an Indian job. If you count that into the charts then you probably will be surprised on the difference with the above chart.

  4. I’m getting tired of articles like this with lots of pretty charts and graphs and pulling all sorts of conclusions out of a hat. There is ZERO information presented about the TYPES of jobs the surveys represented – were the types of jobs represented in identical percentages between the US and UK? If not, then the data is worthless. Larger companies are more likely to have large sales and marketing teams, while SMBs might be lucky to have one person. Do the large companies include travelling service technicians in their numbers? Also please note that most short haul travel in Europe is by train, where there is far less of a hassle to setup and work. Is Europe suffering the same backlash against coffee-shop slugs that the US is? You know, the people who take up a seat in the coffee shop and order one cup of coffee while sitting for 5 hours?

  5. Very interesting data. I’m doing my best to help organizational leaders become more comfortable with distributed work by putting the stories and lessons learned by successful dispersed teams online at Wide Teams. I hope that as more of us share our stories the attitudes will change for the better.