Manage Telecommuters Without Losing Your Mind

If you could roll out of bed, commute just 40 feet, work in your robe and fuzzy slippers, and save thousands of dollars on travel expenses, would you do it? And, as a business owner or manager, would you offer the same benefit to your employees?

According to a survey commissioned by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), 67 percent of survey respondents said their organization has experienced greater worker productivity as a result of allowing employees to telecommute, either full- or part-time. The main reason for the increase in worker output: less commute time.

No doubt telecommuting offers numerous benefits to employees and employers alike, but with the distractions of home life beckoning, children to drop off at school, a kitchen to clean, and laundry to wash, can a telecommuter be as productive as employees in the office? More important, can technology keep your data secure, your teams connected, and your employees accountable? It can, as long as you plan well.

Plan First

Whether you decide to allow employees to work from home one day a week or all five, the key to implementing a successful telecommuting program lies in developing a well-thought-out plan, says Steve Simmons, vice president of software development at VIPdesk. VIPdesk's outsourced, home-based customer service representatives provide technical support to clients. But with an entirely work-at-home customer-care group, the company needed to implement a failproof telecommuting plan in order for the business to succeed.

Understanding the software and tools that employees use during their day-to-day activities, how often they use them, and any associated security risks involved in allowing company data offsite will inform your overall telecommuting plan. After a review, you might determine that accounting or human resources information should be required to stay in-office only, while sales data could be viewable outside the walls of your headquarters, for example. You should carefully assess such things prior to allowing employees to work offsite, to avoid technical glitches and data leaks.

"Don't do it by the seat of your pants," Simmons advises. "Don't let some sales guy sell you some product that will solve all your problems. One of the things we found is that, a lot of times, vendors will say device X is compatible with that VPN, but that's not always the case. You don't always get a straight story."

Know the Technology Involved

The first technology layer of a secure telecommuting plan is the VPN (virtual private network) that will provide encryption between the employee working at home on their own connection and your office's internal network. VIPdesk uses two-factor authentication for added network security. (One-factor authentication requires only a user name and password, and doesn't offer a high level of security.)

A network access control device, or NAC device, is another important piece to consider. A NAC will query each machine--before it's granted access to the network--to check whether certain software, such as an antivirus utility, is installed. When a user logs in, the NAC can even ensure that the user has a firewall set up and that patches are up-to-date. If the set criteria are not met, that user's computer will not be allowed on the network.

If your company stores credit card information or other data, consider installing a third-party application on company PCs that can disable external USB devices when a user is logged in to your office network via VPN. This arrangement protects your sensitive data and prevents a remote employee from downloading client data. If the software detects the presence of an external USB device, such as a thumb drive, it will terminate the connection. (VIPdesk uses Secure It Easy.)

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