Getting started with Telework

If, after assessment of your workforce, tasks and organisational mission, you decide that teleworking could work for your organisation, to implement telework successfully and sustainably you will need to get an idea of what kind of telework arrangement will work best for your organisation. 

  • Hybrid telework: Involves employees combining teleworking for some days a week with office based work for the remainder of the week for an agreed time.
  • Fulltime telework: Enables your employees to work permanently from a location remote from your office, including overseas.
  • Telework from a locally-based ‘smart work centre’: Where your organisation has secured dedicated telework-station office space, from where your employees can telework to the office.
  • Telework within a virtual organisations: Whereby all staff, including the CEO, work from diverse locations and collaborate virtually, and face-to-face on an as-needs basis.

It is important to have the right infrastructure to support telework staff in achieving their outcomes. No matter where it is established, a telework workspace should be as practical and functional as any other office workspace and must still comply with workplace health and safety (WHS) guidelines and organisational policy. This includes considerations such as furniture and space, lighting, freedom from distractions, internet connection and technology. 

Technology

Technology needs must be assessed against the nature of the work, the individual needs, the organisational culture and budgetary constraints. There is no one technology solution for teleworking but there are essential needs that go beyond the basic technology requirements of a traditional office. Teleworkers must feel connected and able to collaborate with their team and there are specific technologies and applications, outlined below, that assist with this need.

As with staff at your main office, teleworkers must be setup with hardware that will support the applications they will be using to complete their work and stay connected. 

Basic hardware requirements will most likely include a computer and telephone – consider the amount of time the employee will spend teleworking, what types of tasks they will be performing and what applications or software they will need to use. Read more about choosing the right computers for your organisation

Smartphones have become permanent fixture in the communications landscapes and are an extremely useful tool for teleworkers as they are capable of a multitude of communication methods (telephone, email, IM and video calls), are inexpensive to run when connected to wifi and are, of course, mobile.

On top of these basic needs it is useful to have a more informal way of communicating such as instant messaging (IM) or voice chat. Integrated solutions such as Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 have built in IM applications (Google hangouts and Lync) or you can use online hosted solutions such as Skype or Trillian.

Connectivity and communication applications

Your teleworkers will need to be able to access online applications such as email, and communications and collaboration application, as well as the office networks in some cases. The main driver of all telework solutions is a reliable internet connection. Whether broadband, ADSL or wireless, the main requirement is that there is sufficient speed and reliability to support efficient work and communication. Read more about connecting to the internet.

Feeling connected to their workplace and colleagues reduces social isolation, being able to collaborate improves productivity and team cohesion, and communication between employees and managers is essential for teleworkers to complete tasks in a productive manner. There are myriad combinations of applications at various price-points from free and fairly basic (for example, Google apps) to more costly options that are fully integrated and feature-rich (for example, Microsoft and Citrix). These combinations will depend on your budget, the work you are doing, the size of your team and the culture of your organisation.

Video conferencing

The visual element of communication is something that is often reported as lacking in a telework environment. Body language plays a large role in communications and visual connection plays a role in preventing social isolation. Videoconferencing assists in overcoming the visual barrier. There are professional videoconferencing tools offered by companies such as Cisco and Citrix, Microsoft Lync has a video meeting option and there are free application such as Skype and Apple FaceTime.

Shared calendars

Sharing calendars can assist in timely communication and can also reduce the feeling of isolation teleworkers experience when they are left out of the loop. Integrated email solutions commonly offer calendar sharing which can be easily enabled or there are a number of free online applications that offer open or collaborative calendars.

Collaboration tools

There are many options for working collaboratively online. Collaboration tools allow multiple users to work in one application on one document or project, sometimes at the same time, for example Microsoft SharePoint and Google Drive. There are also collaborative project applications such as Trello or Evernote, that allow team members to communicate on their progress within a project or assign tasks to colleagues.

Social media

Social media is also a useful tool for communicating and socialising. You could set up a private team or organisational page on a network such as Facebook or use a network that is targeted at business such as Yammer.

When choosing communications applications, assess your needs and budget and work within your means. An ICT provider can help make recommendations and there are many reviews and help articles online. iTaNGO is a useful resource specifically setup for not-for-profits to share and discuss ICT.

Presence indicators

Most IM and online phone applications have a presence or status indicator. The application can automatically show when the user is online, away from their computer, or offline. There are also options for custom statuses to show what the user is doing or why they may be unavailable. Presence indicators are particularly useful in the management of teleworkers as it is a way of building trust through the visual communication that someone is at their desk and working or available to be contacted.

Remote access

*Link to remote access page* If your teleworkers have a need to access office networks, files and programs while working remotely there are different configurations that will support this:

Cloud computing

The Cloud is a popular term to describe computing that happens over the internet. Programs and files are stored on a remote server owned and maintained by another organisation. Cloud computing can be used purely to store and share files or it can be used to deliver a number of programs such as email, word processing, communications etc. Popular Cloud hosted solutions include:

  • Microsoft 365 – offers the Microsoft Office suite of programs via an online server, as well as file sharing, collaboration tools, email and other programs all hosted online by Microsoft.
  • Google Apps – offers communications, Office-type programs, file sharing and communications applications, hosted by Google.

Benefits of cloud computing include:

  • Potential for cost saving and resource efficiency
  • Data is easily accessible from any location
  • Updates are easily delivered and maintained

Risks of cloud computing include:

  • Privacy – if your organisation stores confidential and sensitive information on clients you may be subject to privacy legislation that does not permit use of cloud or overseas services to store or transfer this data.
  • Security – Your information will be stored offsite by another company. Be sure you understand the risks and know the credentials of the cloud host. Also be aware of backup and anti-virus policies

Cloud computing is an increasingly popular way to store and share information but isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Read more about the cloud

Virtual Desktop and Virtual Private Networks

If you need more control over your data than the cloud can offer, there are ways you can use the internet to connect to your private office network.

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) – this is a connection from your Local Area Network (LAN) or internal connection, over the internet to a remote location. It offers slightly more security than cloud computing as everything is hosted in-house and simply communicated via a secure channel online.
  • Virtual Desktop – a virtual desktop uses software to host a computer’s desktop outside of the physical computer. This means the desktop can be accessed from other machines and can operate outside of the local network.
  • Local Desktop and portable storage

If online hosting of information or online networks aren’t suitable or necessary for your organisation you can opt for a simpler local desktop model. Remote workers have a laptop or other mobile device fitted with the applications they need, that can be connected to the office network when need be. Data can be transferred via the mobile device or another portable storage solution such as a USB drive.

Whichever model works for you, keep in mind your data security. Policies around anti-virus software, backups, and technology use will help protect your data and networks from malicious damage or accidental loss.

Security

The transporting of data between various locations, across different networks on and offline, means there may be cause to reassess your information security protocols – especially for organisations handling sensitive information. Privacy and security policies can assist in clarifying what is and is not acceptable practice with regards to data transfer, downloads and protection.

If working in a cloud computing model, it is important that you are fully aware of the risks of utilising an external server. Be sure to investigate the privacy and security policies of any potential cloud hosting companies, as well as the legislation relevant to the information handled by you organisation.

BYOD also poses a risk if managed poorly. Again, strong policy and education around acceptable use and data protection will help mitigate risk.

Begin with an assessment of your current security measures and allow these to form your telework security arrangements, adjusting policies accordingly.

Telework policies and governance

Before you implement any telework arrangements ensure you are familiar with workplace legislation in your state or territory. Workplace legislation applies to all employees, both onsite and teleworkers.

It can be beneficial to produce a formal telework policy and agreement. These are legal documents that can act as a foundation for your telework arrangements and ensure all parties are clear on the guidelines agreed upon by your organisation. If you already have an ad hoc arrangement you can review and use these processes to begin your policy. Some example policies: