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."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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