IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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The perfect storm for teleworking
Sun, 1st Feb 2009
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Now is the time to do what you’ve talked about for ages – take a look at your unsustainable travel policies and do the sums.

Teleworking and the use of visual communication tools enable your business to thrive when times are tough. If you spend $10,000 or $250,000 per year on business travel to be there ‘face to face’, with teleworking you can still do the business successfully at a fraction of the cost and help to save the planet while you’re at it. For every three meetings held by videoconference rather than flying to the US would be like taking a car completely off the road for an entire year.

From reducing travel expenses and carbon footprints, to increasing and maintaining job satisfaction among employees, high quality HD videoconferencing allows businesses and government departments to save money while fulfilling their social responsibility obligations.

Initiatives and Drivers

* Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) – in the case of pandemic events/emergencies.

* Proliferation of communication tools enabling/encouraging mobility.

* Human capital issues – the challenge of reaping the benefit of experienced workers and attracting younger workers who demand a new approach to flexible life/work balance.

* Heightened awareness of global warming and the growth of a social conscience and responsibility for reducing our carbon footprint.

* Dramatic change in fuel and energy costs and social conscience triggering government sustainable growth, including sustainable travel, policies.

Continuity of Operations (COOP)

Continuity of Operations refers to the ability for an agency to continue performance of critical functions during a situation where normal business operations are disrupted.

How are COOP and telework related? Aside from telework’s benefits, such as employee work-life balance, increased productivity and reduced operating costs, telework also enables the continuation of business during uncertain economic times and human capital challenges. Continuity of operations relies more than ever on enabling employees and contractors to work from any location. Therefore, a critical component of COOP planning is an information technology framework that enables secure, remote use of the same IT resources that would be accessed from the main office location. This same secure, remote infrastructure enables employees to work remotely at any time, not just in the event of a disaster.

Doing business face to face

Our way of doing business ‘face to face’ is seriously challenged in times of dramatic cost-cutting and an uncertain economy. We know that technology cannot replace a handshake or a personal discussion over lunch. But as an organisation that has a widely dispersed team of workers, we know that integrating high-quality voice, video and content sharing capabilities enables team members to instantly come together ‘face to face’ and creates a virtual meeting that is as close to being there as you can get.

Basic tools for teleworking should include high-speed internet access, real-time quality video and audio communication tools, instant messaging, chat capabilities and content sharing.

Integrating voice, video and content sharing collaboration solutions removes distance barriers and makes meeting across geographies similar to sitting in the same room as other meeting participants. We know that visual communications change the way people talk to one another and how they engage with each other. We know there are far fewer misunderstandings and that communication is not taken out of context. And we know that in this world of multi-tasking, visual communication ensures we have the attention of our audience, our message is understood and we’ve increased the percentage of information that will be retained from a single meeting.

Real time video also improves productivity and organisational effectiveness, impacting the daily workflow. This then cascades into other key areas of the organisation, impacting upon employee and partner satisfaction, and ultimately provides financial returns in areas of key business metrics.

It safeguards continuity and speeds recovery of essential business functions. Those networks that are used by teleworkers to complete daily workflows are the same networks that can be used to enable agencies to continue to function adequately and provide essential services throughout a lengthy period of disruption.

It attracts and retains talented workers – as retirements accelerate, key skills will be lost – and most organisations face the ongoing need to upgrade skills as technology, business and environmental trends change.

There is also a need to attract the best and brightest, and often they are the younger workers who have the expectation for more flexible working environments. In addition, such flexibility enables businesses to access a wider pool of candidates such as those who are highly qualified but need alternate work arrangements.

Use of real-time video communications reduces costs and energy use, thereby fulfilling the new requirements to “do more with less” to increase the efficiency of infrastructure, as well as people. Teleworking and the use of visual communication tools can reduce the need for real estate and decrease facility costs, as well as energy use at head offices.

So what’s stopping you? Over several years working with organisations on developing a ‘teleculture’, I have noted some common themes:

* Airline rewards are the single most compelling reason to fly. Seriously! The comparative incentive of ‘video-miles’ shows promise, but is yet to take hold. Coupled with actual airpoints gained, flying can be seen as ‘status symbol or reward’ (no prize guessing why Air New Zealand’s are now termed “Status Points”).

* No agency-wide plan, where the communication tools are purchased by and for one group, without plans to share ownership or responsibility to use.

* Resistance to change – full stop. The promise of a “new learning curve” and imagining the time/energy required is the killer.

* No incentive or policy of use to do the business without unnecessary travel, nor any top-down approach.

* Technophobia – lack of self confidence and the worry of needing a secretary/techie to drive it.

* No value placed on learning best practice. Too many organisations purchase the tools but don’t invest a further 2 per cent and one to two hours of their time on the art of using the tools well. So users have an unsatisfactory experience and practise avoidance.

Why do we need reminding that this is all in the company’s best interests to communicate and engage people face to face? Because the poor practices below are repeated like a list of ‘must dos’:

* Fill the room with a huge, shiny board table with people dotted around the vast edges as peripheral to the main event

* Have empty chairs in full camera view

* Dim the lights or sit in partial shadow

* In full daylight, back to a window

* Have noisy electrical equipment on

* Whatever shot your camera is pointing at will do

* Don’t worry about the need to be ‘in view’ when you speak – who cares about protocol anyway?

* Use the wrong tools for the job, like having a group of people trying to communicate around a PC screen.

* Pay no attention to room design/creature comfort because it doesn’t show in how we communicate…

First Web 2.0, now VC2

Social, economic, and technological trends are aligning to create a unique opportunity for new and innovative forms of visual communication. This combination of factors will bring video into the mainstream and make visual communication essential in both personal and professional lives.

The current mission of suppliers is to transform traditional video conferencing into tomorrow’s visual communications – VC2.

The characteristics of VC2 are: easy & intuitive, high definition, from mobile to desktop to room, to customised theatre or boardroom. You name it, it’s totally integrated with a capacity for huge scale, combining all of your requirements with common provision and management. And it’s open and standards based.

Visual communication: truly anywhere, at any time, over any device.  This is real, and all in sight today.

Many businesses got into using visual communications in the 90s – the ‘legacy’ users.

A significant number of these are shining examples of exploiting the technology to drive a sustainable business. Sadly, others are owners of expensive and possibly dusty, ornaments – they could have been using the technology well, but for various reasons, have never got there.

What’s the secret?

Driving success in visual communications:

* Invest in establishing a teleculture throughout the organisation, including all distributed teleworkers. The edict is simply “this is one of the ways we work around here”. Visual Communications are established as a habit, especially when you limit unnecessary travel.

* Invest in a high-quality ‘all you can eat’ IP network with Quality of Service.

- don’t limit the visual comms as you’ve used up this month’s gigabytes!

- value the communication experience by providing a network that works well for video.

* The ‘top down’ approach of role modelling:

“If the CEO can, anyone can”.

* Tick the YES box for training. Why spend on the technology and not invest in learning how to exploit it to the maximum?

- senior staff can afford that 1-2 hours to train once faced with the alternative – looking like a bunny on screen.

- train the people you want as habitual and effective users.

- identify, train and value your champion.

* Take advice before you spend more than a year’s travel budget on a swanky boardroom or meeting room, so it does work for effective visual communications.

* Select the type of VC system that fits the purpose at each location/office/home base, and enhance the room environment for best VC practice – comfort is king.

* Encourage use of the visual tools beyond work requirements by encouraging access to experts, international events, social networking …

* Manage the shared use of rooms to make it work.

* Reward the habit. It will pay off in spades.