The future of telework technology: A wish list

We have the basics, but now what?

As telecommuting has evolved from a radical idea into a common concept, it’s undergoing a familiar cycle with technology: with the basics down, providers seek to expand in new directions.

Although the possibilities for technologies that enable teleworking and remote collaboration are practically endless, members of a panel of experts, speaking today at a Telework Exchange conference in Washington, D.C., agreed that the best course for next-generation teleworking is high-quality video.

“There is a difference between teleworking to work alone and collaborating. [To collaborate], you need video. It’s far more than just words. It’s the presence, through video, that is key,” said Rod Turk, director for organizational policy and governance in the Office of the Chief Information officer at the Patent and Trademark Office.

“We need high-quality video and the bandwidth to support it. We need to feel if the crowd doesn’t like something you said,” said Wayne Leiss, chief information officer at the Treasury Department’s Office of Thrift Supervision.

Other items on the wish lists of telework managers include:

  • The ability to share documents and edit jointly, and large screens to keep the documents readable.
  • Better virtual private networks and more use of them.
  • A wider array of options for devices, including a range of laptop computer screen sizes.
  • Access to applications based on individual needs rather than enterprisewide delivery.
“You can’t telework with paper. We need to get to where we can work on documents on a screen. Did you ever see anyone on 'Star Trek' carrying a clipboard? We need to get to a point where there’s no need for a desk except as a place to put your lunch,” Leiss said.

“There are challenges: you get less face time, you can’t do all the work from home, there can be limited accessibility, people might think you aren’t really working,” said Steve Koenig, director for industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association.

“I predict the telework name is going to change, maybe into something like telejobs. As we move forward into the future, more jobs will be done entirely at remote sites,” Turk said.

According to Turk, 83.5 percent of jobs at the USPTO are eligible for some form of teleworking, and more than 4,000 employees are taking advantage.

Turk said with the necessities in place, teleworking organizations need to focus on items such as programs tailored to different types of teleworking, security awareness training and the latest technologies that enable remote collaboration. “Security is key. You need two-factor encryption, you need hard drive encryption,” he said.

“What does it mean to be able to work from anywhere? What capabilities do we need to provide? What tools do we need to be able to support? You have to keep asking the questions,” said Darren Ash, deputy executive director for corporate management and chief information officer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “We’re working on piloting, experimenting, long-term planning. [But] we create an environment so locked down, we prevent employees from doing a lot. So what’s the sweet spot?” Ash said.

“A lot of it is the cultural nuances” of the organization, said Daud Yamin, senior systems engineering manager for Cisco Systems. “How much risk are they willing to take on? What is their budget like?”

Meanwhile, some say nothing will replace a real face-to-face meetings.

“Getting together in person will always be the best solution. Teleworking is always second best, so you need to have a reason,” Weiss said.

Yamin agreed, saying, “Collaboration becomes real when you can sense the passion in the person you’re communicating with."

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Reader comments

Wed, Apr 28, 2010 Kevin Dayton

Your wishes come true... at least a few. For joint / collaborative work, use Google Wave. A variety of screen sizes? How about using whatever computer hardware you have on hand, be it GFE, personal or public? Read on.... And a few more -- how about carrying a secure way to enter internal networks in your pocket? Its called Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) and its free from the Air Force Research Lab. See spi.dod.mil. LPS-Remote Access is so secure you can CAC-in from any personal or public computer and bring up the NIPRNet. Yes, LPS is smartcard-enabled (supporting several formats now, several more coming soon) Plus SPI's free Encryption Wizard allows you to securely and easily encrypt files/folders and send them almost anywhere. Again its free from spi.dod.mil

Fri, Apr 9, 2010 Long Time Teleworker everywhere

Most government middle managers are BSers and control freaks that want to see their people in cookie cutter cubicle bull pens or in tiny little boxes on their wide screen monitors that are the electronic equivalent, when staff are telecommuting. Government managers fear giving their staff the freedom to succeed and be creative, and most are too lazy to coach their staff or to measure staff performance against well defined criteria. Most supervisors are not capable of working in an asynchronous environment probably because they fear upper management may notice that they really produce nothing but a loss of staff productivity. These middle managers cut the productivity of telecommuting staff as well with their constant instant messaging (whether via textual or video tools). Managers often arbitrarily require telecommuting staff be in the office a set day/days each week (irregardless of client or job needs). Telecommuters find themselves waiting outside the boss' private office to shmooze them or brief them on information the boss has already been emailed but was too lazy to read. Supervisors (what government mostly has rather than managers) need to measure results against detailed and well defined performance plans that focuses on client satisfaction. Instead supervisors too often kill performance via control mechanisms and time wasting meetings. Insecure supervisors try to reduce creative thinking staff work to mindless cookie cutter approaches and dumbed down decision logic tables. Face to face meetings (whether via expensive video or free instant message tools) are surely effective occasionally, but really are mostly a waste of productive staff time spent to listen to egoistic spouting from supervisors with no agenda except self promotion or the relay of irrelevant policy BS. These supervisors should be individually coaching their staff and focusing on the real customer needs. Remember the billions spent on fancy looking teleconferencing rooms that were never used? That immediately came to mind when I read this article. What is needed is 21st century managers that can think and interact asynchronously using a wide variety multimedia tools though the web. These tools are second nature to the under 30 set who do not need a training course to learn how to click a mouse. Glitzy video tools are just a reprise of the teleconference room fiascoes of the past. Free web security tools like Windows defender, PGP and Avast are really quite effective. Tools are irrelevant unless they are used effectively to foster staff productivity in service of real customer needs.

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