The IT management impact of home working
Got it all sussed?
Workshop We’re pretty familiar with the kinds of issues that cause hassle for help, support and service desks the world over. Indeed, few requests for Reg reader feedback have engendered such a response as desktop support.
User support is never easy, but at least in the old days when most IT equipment was contained in the same set of buildings it was possible to make desk-side visits. Today it’s a different scene, as people are being actively encouraged – indeed, incentivised in some cases with ‘grants’ for furniture, kit and so on – to work from home.
While we have no statistical evidence for this (feel free to help with that), based on our conversations we do have the feeling that such gung-ho teleworking initiatives sometimes take place with scant regard for the impact on IT operations. It’s not just the computer and phone equipment: little things, such as inkjet cartridge availability, can often make the difference between user happiness and strife.
Just as in the office environment, there’s plenty that could go wrong. Contrary to the ads, many users are blessed with less-than-adequate broadband communications, through which they are expected to run all manner of stuff – not just accessing remote files and applications, but also somehow squeezing collaboration tools and voice-based services down the pipe as well. And that’s without even looking at users trying to set up a VPN connection from scratch or work out the application license impacts of home workers using their own machines on company business.
Meanwhile, certain things that are already difficult when attempted within the organisational boundary can become downright impossible when attempted remotely. Backups and more general data protection, asset and configuration management, patching, service level monitoring and so on all have their foibles – but just how practical is it to extend the tendrils of IT management into the home office?
The alternative, of course, is to expect end-users to look after their own equipment, to patch, update their antivirus signatures, keep tabs on personal backups and so on. Perhaps they should all just be issued with fire-proof backup drives and be left to get on with it – but this does suggest an expectation of IT literacy that is beyond the ken of most users.
Today’s teleworkers are no brighter than their office-bound counterparts, but they are just as demanding – if not more so, given that home and remote environments can be harder to lock down than centralised desktop configurations. We’ve heard your feedback about the tribulations of users expecting their own devices to be supported, or at least understood, by IT staff. It’s difficult to see this getting better any time soon, given the gadget-hungry nature of the human race, and the increasing number of shiny things out there.
I don’t want to be too downhearted – perhaps in your experience things are relatively straightforward, and you’ve got everything organised in operational terms for your home workers. If so, please do tell, as we imagine you are not in the majority. ®
At Home, No One Can Tell If You Have Your Pants On
An interesting point when it comes to managing home workers, quite aside from the IT issue, is that as the above posts note, you can't tell what a person is doing at any given time, because you can't see them, short of occasionally video conferencing then, I suppose.
A lot of shops seem to find this problematic, and it is one of the reasons why home working is not more widespread. The traditional approach to management is very much 'bums on seats'. Arguably though, even when you do have everyone's bum on a seat you can't actually tell if, or how efficiently, they are working just by looking at them, it just feels that way.
Unless you are literally stood behind someone all day long, you;ve no idea how many work hours are spent actually working, and how many are spent chatting, wandering around looking purposeful, popping to the vending machine, sending personal email, and putting together oh so hilarious powerpoints featuring cats.
So in one sense, it arguably doesn't matter if your salaried worker does spend some of their day watching lunch slags, provided that they are still able to meet their workload and deadline obligations. Technically, you aren't paying them for their time, but for their output.
Frankly, if your only metric for worker productivity is being able to see them for seven hours a day, you're almost certainly doing something wrong.
Of course, there are abuses. I've lost count of the number of managers and execs I've known who start to take Friday as a "work from home day" as soon as they get their VPN access set up, only to be later discovered, uncontactable, on the golf course or doing DIY or gardening. The point being that these are senior people who aren't afraid of losing their jobs when they slack off.
Successfully dealing with home workers requires you to be very clear about what you're paying your workforce for, and to measure it very carefully. Management has to be by metric, not by the seat of the pants. Doing it this way eliminates the oft quoted 'trust' issue rather neatly.
Who in their right mind is going to let a remote worker use their machine as anything other than a dumb terminal? That way there is no data/backup issue, and precious little security issue.
A virtual network adapter for the VPN can solve the printing issue; Just need the VPN system to hand out REAL IP addresses for he corporate network and properly handle the packet route advertising... Then VPNd machine ends up having a "work network", a "local network" that includes the printer, and "everything else" all running over one NIC.
$FormerEmployer had this entirely sorted. Second phone line for work purposes (calls all paid for) backing up VoIP service with smart call-routing software, VPNs from company-provided workstations (they'd have to provide workstations anyway, right?) with high-capacity external hard drives for backups, and overnight courier service for handling hardware failures or software problems that couldn't be handled with support IT staff VNCing into workstations over the VPN. They even shipped Steelcase chairs to home offices. And it was STILL cheaper than paying for leased office space. Productivity skyrocked as employees tended to start work within an hour of waking up, worked straight through until evening with no time wasted in office gossip or milling around outside meeting rooms waiting to scrounge pastries, took actually LESS personal time for things because it largely didn't matter when that happened so people picked times when whatever they were out doing would take as little time as possible, and there was no time wasted with commuting. Even the *marketers* cheerfully put in 50-60 hours a week.
I don't see the problem
I write this from home with a virtual system running of my works laptop connected via VPN. Granted I could just use the laptop but it slow and old and my main desktop is much better. Anyway I digress; I don't see the problem with home working. I understand that it takes a little bit more infrastructure investment but this won't blow the budget and the cost saving from office space will easily cover the costs of the investment in any new infrastructure.
As for the management side I have clear deadlines and I work to them, so if I feel like having a little bit longer in bed or watch working lunch then I can as long as I hit my deadlines. What it really means is that I can work when I feel like working which increases my productivity and quality of work. After all how much code has been re-written because you were not in the right mindset!