In this article I’m going to look at the results of a survey by GFI on remote worker habits and offer my own opinion on the findings on telecommuting. I’ll also discuss some of the technologies by Microsoft that offer solutions that enable businesses to offer a better or more suitable working environment for their employees.
Why I Work Remotely
This morning I spent 80 minutes driving to work, thanks to some rubberneckers who caused a 15 KM tailback, gawking at a car on the hard shoulder that was going to be towed. I could do that journey in 25 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and in around 35 minutes when the schools are closed in the summer. On a Friday evening I’ll spend at least 90 minutes on the drive home because morons on the motorway step on the brakes at the last second to change lanes for their exit and cause a 20-mile traffic jam.
The office that I work in is open plan. Three-quarters of our staff are telesales, working on the phone. I sit beside our accounts team who have a radio. Some members of our staff are cold bodied and want the heat shoved right up to the max. I feel like I want to go to sleep for half the day and can’t concentrate. In fact, recently I’ve had to work in a meeting room or simply stay at home to get anything done.
Is it any wonder that my family and friends think that I’m a grump? And I don’t even have kids!
Survey Finds Mobility Makes for Happier Employees
So I do not find it at all surprising that a story on Silicon Republic reports that a survey by GFI found that “mobility makes most employees happier.” The traditional response in Ireland is the typical closed-minded HR/manager one: “People won’t work from home and they’ll watch Jerry Springer or Judge Judy all day long.” Poppycock! The survey found the same thing that I experienced personally – that people put in more hours at home than they would have at the office. In the past, I’ve found myself looking up from my laptop and realized that it was dark, I was hungry, and it was past 8 pm! Sure, my lunch might run a little longer, but my total hours go up and I get more done. In the end, an effective employer cares more about results than clock-watching.
Remote working habits of effective employees (infographic images via GFI).
Benefits of Remote Working
Taking the stress of commuting, allowing me to get an extra hour in bed, and giving me a working environment that I can concentrate in makes me a more effective employee. Luckily my boss is good with me working from home. Most of my time in the office is spent in the lab, and I have remote access to that environment (Windows Server VPN along with Remote Desktop and HP iLO and Dell DRAC).
There are practical business reasons for enabling home/mobile/remote working. There are some employees who work on the road. Allowing them to work with the device(s) that suit their work habits and allow them to maximize profitability just makes sense.
Here in Ireland we have an awful concept called “upwards-only rent reviews” where a landlord has it written into a contract that a tenant’s rent must be reviewed every X months and be increased. So it makes sense that a business (small or large) should look to reduce their space requirements. Allowing employees to work from home enables that. In fact, I have heard of some companies that force their employees to work from home by restricting how many days they can be in the office!
Many times I have heard of companies complaining about not being able to hire good people or retain employees after training them. I can tell you that the benefits of working from home are huge. Not only can the employer save money by reducing office space requirements, but the employee can save thousands of dollars per year by not commuting. That’s a win-win for employer and employee. The employee is happier, more productive, and has more time at home. Remote working is an employee honey pot and golden handcuff!
Enabling Remote Working
Enabling remote working is possible; it has been for a long time with technologies such as Remote Desktop Services (or based on it), VPN or Direct Access, Lync, Exchange, and so on. In recent years cloud computing SaaS has simplified these concepts. Office 365 makes it easy for the SME and the large enterprise alike by moving the key services into the cloud so the end user only needs Internet access without on-premise complications (which you can still do for a hybrid deployment).
Newer on-premise technologies have been introduced by Microsoft in recent years. A few instantly come to mind. Some companies will be keen to allow employees to use their own devices for work (BYOD). That brings up all sorts of complications and there is more than one way to tackle this.
One is to use Windows To Go, a feature that we’ve had since Windows 8 in the Enterprise edition. You can install Windows 8(.1) Enterprise onto a special USB 3.0 device, pop it into a USB 2.0 (or higher) port in your personal PC and boot up into a company deployment of the operating system. This hides the disk that is in the PC/laptop and isolates the work environment from the employees’ environment, and the malware that their kids have been downloading. That Windows To Go image is easy to distribute (it’s a USB stick), can contain the corporate software in the image, can be domain joined, can use Direct Access (to extend the corporate network to them), can use VPN (to punch their PC into the corporate network), or use Remote Desktop (to access servers in the company). I like WTG – I think it’s an elegant and pretty simple to deploy solution.
Employees using all kinds of devices.
Earlier that I stated that employees need to use all kinds of devices. I recently had an insurance adjuster visit my home. She was using an Android tablet. I use an eight-inch tablet to stay connected when on the move and a touch Ultrabook when I want to produce while on the road. When I’m presenting or teaching I see iPads, smartphones, and Windows tablets being used by the audience (hopefully I’m not that boring!). The fact is that employees will use the device that suits their needs best, even if the company has not purchased it.
Microsoft has recognized that the era of BYOD has arrived, even if CIOs and senior engineers are in denial. Does BYOD make life more complicated? Yes. Are their compliance and security issues? Absolutely. Are there lots of online point solutions and legacy software vendors offering short term fixes for BYOD? You bet there are! Microsoft has a unified vision that glues together mobility, on-premise deployments, and public cloud. That glue is a hybrid deployment of Active Directory, spanning traditional on-premise domain controllers, and Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD) so each user has a single identity to access services.
- Traditional on-premise systems: File services, web applications, and so on are all available as usual when a user logs into a traditional domain-joined PC on the company network.
- VPN/Direct Access: for traditional remote access to on premise systems
- Remote Desktop Services: to enable simple to secure remote access to server-based computing, although this complicates management of the user state
- Web Application Proxy: to have single sign-on for on-premise web applications
- Workplace Join: An employee can register their device (Windows, Android, or iOS) and local profile in Active Directory via the local network or remotely via the Web Application Proxy.
- Work Folders: An employee can synchronize their personal folder from an on-premise file server to Windows 8.1 devices instead of using third-party cloud solutions. The data is secure, and IT can perform a remote selective wipe of the folder and its contents.
- Windows Intune: to manage and secure widely distributed, mobile and remote devices, such as PCs in small branch offices, tablets, smartphones, BYO devices, or home PCs. A lost or stolen device can be completely remotely wiped
- Office 365: Email, collaboration, and communications are easily enabled for users anywhere with just a few clicks.
- Windows Azure: Systems that are deployed in Microsoft’s public cloud can authenticate against WAAD.
The pillars of users, devices, applications, and security/compliance are glued together in this tightly integrated solution.
My advice is that you don’t get caught up in the concepts of enabling people to use iPads or smartphones. Instead, look at a bigger business objective to increase productivity and increase employee retention. That may include features such as BYOD, but it’s more than just a technology solution – it’s a business solution that will require buy-in from directors, managers, HR-types, and should be an easy sell to employees, both current and future.