Telework Arrangements Gain Momentum in IT

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If you’re tired of coming into the office all the time, you are not alone. The most recent installment of “Telework in the Information Age,” a report published on Earth Day this year, said telework, also known as telecommuting, will play a big role for information technology professionals in the future.

Josh James, senior manager, research and industry analysis of AeA, a national, nonprofit trade association that publishes the report, said the push for telework flexibility likely will impact all sectors of IT, as well knowledge-worker positions. He said employees will demand it, and employers will see more benefits, particularly as baby boomers transition out of management roles and are replaced by more receptive managers in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

“These new managers are less likely to associate telework with shirking work responsibilities, sitting at home in pajamas and watching daytime TV,” James said. “It may hit IT in a unique way because it’s IT that’s making this possible. More and more IT functions can be done remotely, whether that’s an IT person working from home and supporting an office or remote workers, or IT people in the office supporting other remote workers in their homes.”

Trying to convince the powers that be that telework is a good option is easier when dealing with software or Internet issues handled remotely, but what about a hardware issue or if a server goes down?

“More and more of that stuff can be done remotely, as well,” James said. “For example, awhile back I was having a problem with my laptop. I was doing tech support with someone in our IT department, and they were trying to walk me through it. Whatever we were doing wasn’t working. Finally, he said, ‘OK, let’s do NetMeeting.’

“NetMeeting is I basically authorize them to take over my computer, and they see my desktop and are able to take over my mouse and keyboard. Instead of trying to walk me through it, or someone even less tech savvy than me, they take over your computer, try to fix the problem, and they do it remotely. When this happened, I was in Washington, D.C. [and] our IT guy was out in California. Within about 15 minutes, it was fixed.”

Convenience and applicability aside, IT pros are demanding the telework option more than they did in the past, and after some initial resistance for cultural reasons, James said most employers reap substantial benefits.

“Across the board, companies that have enacted this and done internal or external studies on it show that employees are more productive,” he explained. “Organizationally, you also see lower overhead costs. We reported in the paper that a survey of various organizations that did telework found they can save up to $10,000 per employee per year just in the amount of office space you can shed.”

Telework also offers the IT industry access to a larger workforce. In IT, as in other industries, there is a major exodus of baby boomers retiring from the workforce. But not all of them want to retire completely. They just don’t want to go into the office every day, James said. They want more freedom.

“[Older workers] want to retire but not entirely stop working. [They want] stimulating things to do. If you offer telework programs, you can actually keep those people on,” he said. “You also bring in people with disabilities who may have a hard time getting into work. You bring in stay-at-home parents who are trying to balance raising children with work. Younger people coming into the workforce now – particularly IT workers – are going to want more of that flexibility and demand it.”

Skittish organizations hesitant to implement telework initiatives should understand that at its core, flexibility is the name of the telework game, and that means it’s not an all-or-nothing situation. James said his telework arrangement is only one or two days a week.

“I love it, but I would not want to telework 100 percent of the time,” he said. “I want to come in and socialize with my co-workers and collaborate and attend meetings and that kind of thing. It’s something that can be done on a part-time level for most people.”

Because maintaining current skills in the IT is a constant challenge, James said the telework trend likely will impact the skills companies look for when recruiting.

“For example, traditionally, IT workers come to work in an office, and their main responsibility as far as security is to maintain a firewall around a perimeter, a local area network. Now the challenge is going to be, if you have all these remote workers at home – in offices and in various places – how do you safeguard that?

“It’s not a huge challenge; the technology is out there. But [IT pros] need to be aware of VPN or security solutions. Employers are going to want to implement these programs, and they’ll come to IT people and say, ‘How do we make it happen?’”

The career-focused, forward-thinking IT pro will be prepared to answer that question.

“IT in general – because of telework and other reasons – is going to become more and more interested in outside consulting because you can now get so many IT services done through third-party vendors,” James said.

“Fewer and fewer IT workers will be employed by an actual company. They’ll be consultants who work with multiple companies. It’s not that IT employment will decrease. I think it will increase; it just won’t be the same model as in the past where most of the IT shop was in-house.”

– Kellye Whitney, kwhitney@certmag.com

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Kellye Whitney

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