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Remote workers: Avoiding double trouble that comes with them

Roy Harris | Sept. 28, 2011
As if to underscore the growing importance of the topic, a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs tackled a single question: corporate acceptance of arrangements for offsite workers. But how the finance executives answered the question was just as noteworthy.

As if to underscore the growing importance of the topic, a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs tackled a single question: corporate acceptance of arrangements for offsite workers. But how the finance executives answered the question was just as noteworthy.

Asked whether "remote work arrangements within your company increased, decreased or remained the same in the last three years," fully a third told the researchers at temporary-accounting services firm Accountemps that such arrangements had risen. And those saying such arrangements had increased greatly totaled 11%. Only 4% saw a decrease, with 57% citing no change, and 7% saying the question didn't apply in their case.

"It's something that has been evolving every year for five or more years now," says Dawn Fay, district president of Robert Half International, the parent of staffing and consulting services firm Accountemps. "There's a host of reasons for it, and technology is the biggest" --- especially in broadband expansion and the development of collaboration software tools, says Fay, who is responsible for 15 Robert Half offices in New York and New Jersey.

On the cost-saving side, of course, corporate adopters can slash real estate, energy, and other outlays by reducing permanent offices and other operations in favor of remote workers. But the same activity is attractive to the many modern employees who seek flexibility in their work arrangements.

Indeed, a still oft-quoted Forrester study two years ago predicted that the 34 million U.S. telecommuting population at the time would "swell to 63 million by 2016," noting that the new commuters alone, "lined up five abreast would stretch from New York to LA!"

Being Secure, and Productive

But in an interview, Fay notes that the cost-saving and employee-pleasing advantages -- and the rapid growth -- come with two huge challenges for corporate finance departments. An each challenge has the potential for undoing all the positives of remote work arrangements.

"Security, for starters," she says when asked which of her concerns is greater. That's especially true because the offsite employment trend has been accompanied by another technology-based expansion: the use of personally owned communication devices for company business.

"You've got to make sure the individuals working remotely are on company equipment" when possible, or at least that the personal equipment that they use "has all the needed security in place, so that a random person can't hop on their smartphone and laptop." She adds: "The trend toward personal equipment has been a very hot topic for the whole C-suite, not just CFOs. You've got to make sure you have a really good technical team in place."

Perhaps the more difficult challenge --- because of the element of psychology it entails -- is keeping productivity high in the new age of offsite employment. In Fay's work with companies in the field, she says, she often encounters managers who are blindsided when an individual's level of output deteriorates. "Some think, 'Oh, that person has worked for me for years; now he's going to start working remotely, so things can only get better.'"

 

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