Snow never stops anything, unless the electric goes down, for virtual offices – great for business; rubbish for sloping off to go sledging with the kids because you ‘can’t get to work’.
This last winter more and more companies are turning to remote-working technologies in a bid to keep productivity levels up during the cold snap, an IT communications firm has reported.
As temperatures plummeted to lows of -23°C and many people were left unable to go to work due to transport problems, there was a sharp increase in firms enquiring about online working, according to outsourcing group Outsourcery. This has been supported by many VAs, many of whom report being ‘swamped’ by requests. In addition, more and more and more firms are turning to hosted IT solutions such as virtualisation or remote server technologies, which are great when they work – and frustrating when they don’t!
However, it is wise for businesses to be utilising the flexibility offered by technology since business groups have widely predicted that the cost of absenteeism as a result of the snow could cost the UK economy up to £2 billion, with The Federation of Small Businesses reporting that 10 per cent of the UK’s 30 million workforce was unable to get to work on the 6th January, at a cost of £600 million.
Piers Linney, joint chief executive of Outsourcery, said: “The disruption caused by the recent snow has created immense problems for thousands of small businesses across the UK with many employees not being able to make face-to-face meetings.
“With large numbers of workers having to work away from the office in the harsh weather conditions, businesses are finding that they need more effective ways to stay in touch with their colleagues and clients.”
Mr Linney added that the current weather conditions would only “further underline” the importance of remote technologies in the modern business age.
However, experts at independent IT consultancy specialist NCC Group plc have warned that businesses face a number of challenges before implementing remote working to bolster their business continuity strategies, and believe a lack of education is hampering the effective use of this technology.
Roger Rawlinson, managing director of Assurance Division at NCC Group, said: “The business case for remote working is undoubtedly strong. Remote access to data, video conferencing, IP telephony and collaboration software all offer viable options for staff to work from home and allow business operations to remain unaffected by adverse weather conditions.
“However, what many vendors are not publicising is the challenges businesses face in implementing remote working. In most cases, this requires a dramatic shift in business culture and working practices, which, across large, medium and small businesses alike can mean significant planning, and a period of education and training. Some companies with entrenched processes often find considerable resistance to this new technology.
In addition, if an organisation forces, sorry encourages, its employees to work from home but without having put in place proper support and home based equipment, the results can be highly stressful for staff. Reports coming out of West Berkshire Council at the moment, for example, suggest that they have effectively forced their Social Services and Education Offices to ‘move out’ but with a ban on paper – so no files or printing at home because they haven’t provided guaranteed safe storage; no expenses allowance – so no heating or electric allowance for home use as an office and won’t allow them to post letters and claim it back as an expenses but instead insist that everything is posted from the office base – an hour’s rigmarole when you take in to account the travel and all the hassles and expenses of being unable to park near the office as they don’t have a parking council permit – because they work from home now, obviously; no cabling for internet connections , so it’s all slow wifi;. Staff are said to be very unhappy and it is a perfect example of what happens when an organisation moves a department out without having planned it first or set it up, or when front line staff are left out of the loop.
Interesting West Berks council are reported to cite Vodafone as their inspiration for implementing remote working, but if that is the case they certainly didn’t investigate Vodafone’s much admired ‘Best Practices’ very closely, else they wouldn’t be in such a pickle. And as staff say, “it’s not that we don’t want to work from home, it’s just the way its been implemented without due consideration for our needs that is so appallingly bad – and while services are continuing as usual at the moment, that’s only because of the sheer dedication of the staff.”