The success of your remote workers often rests with IT. The trouble is, no two companies see telework the same way. Some launch formal initiatives that include generous budgets for hardware, connectivity and IT support. Other companies add remote workers one by one, without acknowledging the cumulative strain put on the network infrastructure to support them. Many fall somewhere in between.
No matter your company’s attitude, technologies such as DSL and VPN are pushing the corporate network to the home. The trend’s even given rise to the acronym COHO, for corporate office/home office. The pressure’s on: If your CEO is banking on telework in some way, providing the best mix of services and support ultimately falls to you.
One of the biggest headaches is line provisioning. While a quick-fix solution is to rely on individual employees to contract their own consumer packages, they won’t get a service level agreement (SLA) as part of the deal. On the other hand, if you sign up 20 or 30 workers for business-class service, you’ll likely have SLAs, but may wind up contracting with multiple providers, and even then, find out that not every worker’s home is in service range.
One way to handle these problems is to hand off the whole thing. A new breed of remote network service providers such as Vitts Networks, HarvardNet, Netifice and Exario Networks offer teleworker-targeted, end-to-end broadband and VPN services over private carrier-grade networks. While features and coverage vary, outsourced services typically include 24×7 technical support, monitoring, management, and in most cases, quality-of-service guarantees. Some providers, such as Netifice and Xarionet, also offer voice integration with the enterprise PBX so workers can use their four-digit extensions and other features of their corporate phone systems.
Another option is to turn to your telecommunications provider for help. AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth, and US West now offer specialized remote worker packages sweetened with some manner of telework consulting. But if you go this route, don’t assume your workers will jump to the head of the provisioning queue. Netifice CEO Steve Shilling warns, “Most network providers aren’t prepared to deploy broadband service for 500 teleworkers, or handle 100 orders – Netifice is. Our average is 1,000.”
If your company needs more help devising the business strategy behind a wide-scale telework program, dedicated telework consultants will handle everything from determining which types of jobs can be done at home, to provisioning DSL service, to surveying employees on a program’s success. (see www.telecommute..org for a listing.)
Going a step further is Austin, Tex.-based TManage, which offers a broader range of consulting and network management services. TManage will develop and implement the business and technical pieces of your telework program and provide training, remote network management services and technical support. Although TManage doesn’t offer its own network services, the company works directly with telecom providers, handling the service contracts and line provisioning for you. “We become the single point of contact,” says Mike Marett, vice-president of sales.
Kistner is managing editor of Net.Worker and can be reached at [email protected].