In today’s 24/7 digital economy, it’s hard to believe that just a decade ago many organizations were still trying to establish how – or even if – they could deploy email in their offices. Now, thanks to the mass adoption of high-speed communications and advances in hardware and software, the office can be wherever your Internet connection and laptop/smartphone/tablet device is.
However, with this change comes a new set of challenges for the modern workforce. When do you switch between personal time and work? How do you ensure that you remain productive and motivated? How do you cope with the onset of cabin fever? What are the security issues?
Let’s start with the issue that strikes fear into the IT manager’s heart: security. A recent study conducted by Vanson Bourne and TNS discovered that almost nine in 10 UK IT managers fear the security risks caused by remote working practices. As laptops/smartphones/tablets holding company data venture beyond the office walls, this concern is hardly surprising. Add to this the fact that employees may take paperwork and USB sticks home to access the information they need and you can understand why management and IT teams worldwide break into a cold sweat at the mention of remote working. Intel’s Billion Dollar Lost Laptop Study revealed that 329 U.S. businesses had collectively lost more than 86,000 laptops, worth $2.1 billion. For freelancers, the cost of losing their laptop or smartphone is not just the cost of replacing the device but the loss of trust from clients, which can be devastating.
So what can be done? To keep information on devices safe, there are numerous options: hard disk encryption, data back-up, and security tools that wipe and kill a laptop if stolen. Intel and Fujitsu are just two vendors that have such offerings. Another option, which avoids people needing to carry around USB sticks or notepads, is using the cloud. There are now a number applications out there, including Huddle, which enable content to be stored in secure environments that can be accessed from anywhere at any time , with no VPN access or USB stick required. Gone are the days of the sheepish confession: “I left it on the train/put it in the wash /dropped it in the restaurant” and all the data protection and legal issues that can come with it.
Working Long Hours
With 24/7 access to information comes the challenge of switching off. Most web workers will have been there: the last check of emails before heading to bed, working over the weekend because you only have to travel as far as your sofa, developing that great idea that popped into your head at midnight because you only have to switch on your laptop. The solution is discipline. One of the beauties of web working is the fact that you can work when it’s convenient for you, but this doesn’t mean you should be working all hours. As pointed out by Simon last year: long hours aren’t healthy. Get a personal trainer or start going to gym classes to break up the day and force you to stop working. Don’t forget to take a proper lunch hour and get out into the fresh air. Arrange to see people and get out of your home office. These may sound like simple tips, but it’s all too easy to get into the routine of continually working.
A related issue is cabin fever. Especially if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, you can get caught up in your own web worker bubble and forget about the world beyond your home office. My tip is to use tools such as Plancast to find out what events and meet-ups are in your local area. Whether you want to meet like-minded people, build your network or just go out for a few drinks, Plancast is a great place to get started. When I relocated to San Francisco last year to set up a U.S. team, it proved invaluable.
If you’re a remote worker for an organization, make sure that you don’t miss out on vital interactions with your colleagues. Use tools such as Skype to share the snippets of information that you’d normally communicate via face-to-face chats or in passing in the corridor. When there is a company-wide meeting, make sure that you are included via phone, web or video conference so that you have visibility of what’s going on across the business. You are part of the bigger picture, even though you’re not in the office all day, every day.
These tips aren’t rocket science, but hopefully they can help you cope with being part of the 21st century workforce.