Thoughts on Telecommuting

Evolution of business practices

Weather on the east coast did deliver on a promise of utter volatility. In January, the city of New York was beaten by six winter storms resulting in the closure of schools, shutdown of transportation system and multitude of accidents. According to The Wall Street Journal, New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, had declared a weather emergency in the city as the snow began to accumulate far earlier than expected on the morning of January 26. Forecasters expected levels of accumulation of nearly two inches per hour. Newark Liberty International Airport suffered the worst brunt of the storm because of delays caused by all the snow and ice.

Lightning, rain, thunder, strong winds and power outages are not uncommon in most corners of our country. When emergency situations such as snowstorms or the flu epidemic strike, organizations which are reluctant to authorize work from home may (or should) consider telecommuting as part of business continuity and emergency preparedness plan. Although “shortcuts” during temporary emergency situation are common, a strong telecommuting policy or a comprehensive emergency contingency plan could prevent companies from suffering huge losses in productivity and income.

Telecommuting has become an increasingly common practice in various industries made possible by the availability of high-speed internet, and the continuous development of remote access, messaging and hosted IP telephony. Continued climate-related natural disasters are now fueling a new wave of interest in the work-at-home arrangements, and our research shows that telework as a practice is escalating in at least 20% of the surveyed organizations. Through the advantage of telecommuting, employees enjoy a much more relaxed workplace. Not needing to appear in the office can be a huge motivating factor. Not fighting traffic, not needing to dress up, or combat a restrictive policy make actual work employee is hired to do a much more enjoyable experience.

A steady growth in use of remote employees continued through 2010. When transportation costs go up and communication technology cost go down, this trend is likely to accelerate. The reality is, however, that many workers prefer to work in the office, and many of the functions of staff actually require physical presence. While for some organizations, telecommuting is a part of key strategy, majority appears to consider this to be a costly employee benefit. Remote workers putting in over 40 hours a week are likely to remain an exception rather than the rule for the most part.

On the other hand, temporary and part-time telecommuting is becoming increasingly commonplace, offering benefits in the form of increased productivity and prolonged employment. Businesses, however, need to have sound telecommuting guidelines and methods in place to reduce potential security and communications problems.

A growing number of communication tools available over high speed Internet services is responsible for recent boom in the number of Americans who telecommute or “telework”. Laptops, Web conferencing, VoIP services, voice mail, and fax options, have fundamentally changed the landscape of workplace.

New breed of Hosted PBX Services: IM, Fax, Desktop Sharing, Web Conferencing and Video

There are numerous tools a team can use to help stay connected. The most popular include e-mail, instant messaging, VoIP, video and audio conferencing. Some of these products are either presently supported by our Hosted PBX or will be supported in the near future. I will mention a few:

  • Instant Messaging

What was once looked upon as a generation X language, instant messaging (IM) has matured into an effective communication tool. IM is making inroads into the business world. According to the second annual survey of instant messaging trends, over 27 percent of IM users now use instant messaging at work, that is 71 percent more than in 2003. In addition to doing away with waiting for response to your e-mail, IM presense, a common feature of the chat offers you a quick view of who is active on the IM service at any time. IM cuts down unnecessary “chatter” of a phone call, and helps to avoid irritation caused by the game of voice mail tag. In short, IM is a great way to quickly communicate with a colleague or partner. In business, the IM presence often facilitates search for the right person to manage an emergency situation. By the summer of 2011 our Hosted PBX will offer corporate instant messaging service at no additional cost to you.

  • Video-Conference Phones

Video conferencing technology for businesses and individuals is slowly gaining ground around the world today. It helps bring people together, build successful collaborative meetings, and grant remote students the same opportunities as their counterparts in traditional classrooms. Application of videoconferencing technology will go far beyond the ways it’s used today, and the market has immense potential for innovation and growth. Here at DLS I manage a 5-person Network Solutions and Services team with our weekly meetings sometimes occurring over a 5-way video conference delivered by an affordable eyeBeam soft phone and a laptop computer or a Polycom VVX1500 desk video phone – all routed through the DLS Hosted PBX.

  • Fax to Email

Having a fax to email service is very cost effective for any business. You can eliminate costs like paper, toner, and equipment maintenance. Increased productivity benefit from faxes arriving directly into your e-mailbox is self evident. DLS Hosted PBX has been offering a FAX-to-Email service module since 2007.
Regardless of the specific tools employed, telecommuting can go a long way in helping business operate during disaster as long as everyone knows what resources are available in an emergency, possess access to these resources, and knows how to use them. In other words, it is never too late to start implementing a telecommuting plan.