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Struggling to Support Remote Workers? It's Only Going to Get Worse

Struggling to Support Remote Workers? It's Only Going to Get Worse

Your IT department will soon need to support more remote workers than ever before. Both technology changes — such as video adoption — and cultural issues — such as user expectation — will require that your company embrace telecommuting. Doesn’t that just cheer up your day?

Technical and sociological trends require that CIOs learn to manage the remote workers in their organizations, and learn what to change to cope with them

Look inside your briefcase. In addition to your laptop computer, you probably also have a smartphone, a digital camera, a thumb drive, an iPod and at least one special-purpose gizmo for personal or business use.

Your IT department has to support all of those devices, doesn't it?

The need to integrate existing IT infrastructure with the end-user and consumer technology adopted by remote workers is a far cry from the absolute control that IT departments long had over the office desktop computers. But new trends imply that the challenge is just beginning.

That's the picture painted by Jay Pultz, a Gartner analyst and vice president, speaking at the Gartner Emerging Trends symposium in Las Vegas. In a session called "The Remote Worker: An Instruction Manual," he said technical and sociological trends require that CIOs learn to manage the remote workers in their organizations, and learn what to change to cope with them.

Getting a Handle on Who's Working Remotely

The first step is simply learning how many remote workers your company has, and how much it costs to support them. According to Pultz, Gartner last fall did an extensive survey of 260 enterprises, in which it learned that 90 percent of enterprises worldwide have remote workers. But 25 percent of the organizations don't know exactly who those remote workers are or what "remote" looks like, he said. Were they executives, salespeople, engineering? Were they teleworking full time or only a few days a week? The IT departments often had no idea; they just provided the same service to everyone.

In many IT shops, end-user desktops are predictable; "We know what [traditional in-house end users] have because we [IT] gave it to them," said Pultz. But not every remote worker is the same. They use whatever technology they have, with a wide range of tools and functions — a range that is growing rapidly — and IT support is no longer only about networking. "Don't think of them as only one category of user," Pultz cautioned.

In answer to IT departments' need to grapple with these staff needs, Gartner put together a model detailing the different classes of users and their work styles. There are four ways for a remote worker to work: a fixed location at the employee's home, employees working at different office campuses, staff working at a client site, and the true nomad or "road warrior." The needs of these people vary, too, from someone who needs only alerts (such as a price change being sent to a sales force), to staff who work primarily with forms (like taking orders or providing customer service), to knowledge workers and power users. One size of IT support and infrastructure does not fit all, Pultz explained.

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