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Telework: The New SMB Imperative

By Cindy Bates
Dec 13, 2011 5:00 AM PT

One of the most significant workplace changes of the past decade has been the steady increase in telework and flexible work arrangements. In the past, the ability to work remotely from time to time might have just shown up on a "corporate perks" sheet handed to new employees. Today, telework is no longer an employee perk but rather a business imperative.

Telework: The New SMB Imperative

Even for small and medium-sized businesses that feel they lack the resources to sustain a remote workforce, expectations for flexible work arrangements are growing, and there's a gap between what employees desire and the reality that exists in many SMBs -- not to mention the direction the marketplace is headed.

The Benefits Are Many

SMB decision makers reluctant to embrace remote working should keep in mind that telework can be a win-win situation for employers and employees alike. With remote-working capabilities in place, SMBs can access larger talent pools, increase employee satisfaction and reduce overhead costs. Additionally, client and customer loyalty stand to gain, since these audiences will benefit from faster response time from employees able to conduct business in and out of the office.

Productivity can increase when employees work remotely, since they face fewer distractions. Furthermore, employees who work remotely tend to enjoy a better work/life balance, avoid the hassle of long commutes and traffic, and can easily handle work-related tasks that pop up outside office hours.

Where to Begin

If you're motivated to mobilize your employees but don't know where to begin, here are some questions to consider:

  • Does your company already have a consistent policy around telework, or do you need to develop one? Having guidelines in place will help employees understand their limits and freedoms, and will also set the foundation for your technology implementation.
  • What are your internal and remote technology capabilities? For example, how easily can employees communicate and collaborate with one another both inside and outside of the office environment? Can they access all business data from remote locations, and can they do so efficiently? If you're not sure of the answers to these questions because remote working is brand new for your organization, experiment by working from home one day yourself, and see how much you can accomplish and the tasks you're unable to complete outside the office.
  • How secure are your internal and remote systems? When employees collaborate and access business information outside the office, the threat of cybercrime inevitably increases. Don't make the mistake of letting employees turn to public networking or social media platforms to exchange sensitive ideas and information, even though these solutions can be tempting because they are often free-of-charge. The potential for data loss and compromised information is too great, so allocate IT resources appropriately to invest in communications technologies that ensure data security and encourage collaboration via internal social networks.

Technology for Telework

A range of technology tools exists to help businesses support mobile workers, and your business might already have many of them. Tools particularly beneficial in telework scenarios include:
Smartphones that provide full access to email, contacts, calendars, office documents and productivity programs.

Shared worksite spaces that securely house and make all critical documents and data available anytime, anywhere.

Communication software that supports not just email but also audio and video conferencing, as well as instant messaging.

Cloud-based software that stores data in secure offsite locations and provides on-demand access to commonly used programs from nearly any location and device.

Encryption services that -- depending on the user's preference -- make all or some of the data on a PC indecipherable to unauthorized users who gain access to lost or stolen devices.

In an uncertain economy, SMB decision makers might hesitate to make sweeping changes or new investments in technology. Yet in an uncertain economy, what SMB can afford to be at a competitive disadvantage?

Without a doubt, businesses that enter the mobile world of work stand to gain the most and can operate with more agility and with greater productivity than their counterparts constrained by inflexible work environments. Don't wait until it's too late to embrace this new reality -- take steps today to mobilize your workforce.


Cindy Bates is vice president of small, medium business and distribution at Microsoft.


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