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

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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 and Citrix. 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 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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