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Unified Communications and the Telework Explosion

Posted by Kevin Gulley

Nov 6, 2014

At The UC Buyer, we're big fans of working from home when it makes sense, and as anyone who has been on a conference call recently can attest, we're not alone. The number of employees working out of their home office at least part of the time seems to have exploded in recent years. One reason for this is the numerous benefits businesses are realizing from the deployment of unified communications technology. Necessary networking infrastructure like VPN-connectivity and secure access to corporate files and applications have been in place for years, but UC solutions like presence management, IM, web conferencing, video conferencing, VoIP and telephony via soft clients represent an exponential leap in the way employees communicate and work effectively from home (not to mention how managers can manage remote employees). telework_pajamas_telecommuting_UC

According to Global Workplace Analytics, since 2005 the number of employees that work multiple days per week from their home has grown 80% to over 3.3 million, or about 2.6% of the total U.S. workforce. This growth even continued during the great recession as telecommuting grew by 3.8% from 2011 to 2012, while the overall non-self-employed workforce actually declined 1.5% over the same period. When it comes to less frequent telecommuters (those who do so less than half the time), estimates vary but is probably around 25 million U.S. employees. These are some big numbers and would explain why my dogs are not the only ones barking on many phone calls I'm on. Another reason for this growth is the implementation of the Federal Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 which encourages federal agencies to promote telework where appropriate in order to improve continuity of operations during emergency situations, promote management effectiveness, target reductions in management costs, lower real estate costs, reduce environmental impact and transit costs and enhance work-life balance (and thereby retain a more resilient Federal workforce able to better meet agency goals). And it's been working. According to Global Workplace Analytics, the Federal employee workforce has the highest percentage of teleworkers of any class of worker at 3.3%. For comparison, only 2.6% of private sector for-profit employees telework, and 1.2% of local government employees.

Public-private partnership proves benefits of teleworking

After the signing of the Telework Enhancement Act, the Federal Government started a public-private organization called Telework Exchange (now called Mobile Work Exchange). In addition to putting together best practices (like technology recommendations and ROI and Commuting Cost Savings calculators), one major goal was to encourage Federal agencies and employees to participate in Telework Week, an event in which Federal workers pledge to work from home in order to prove the effectiveness of telecommuting. Say what you will about the Federal Government, they know how to collect data. This organization (supported by major technology sponsors and associations has collected some powerful insights into the effectiveness of telecommuting since the event's launch in 2011. This year's event which took place a few months ago received 163,000 pledges to work from home (about 94% of which were from Federal employees) about 4 times more than the first event. Some of the mindblowing stats:

  • The average pledge teleworked 2 days during telework week (OK, not so mindblowing, but I'm setting you up).
  • The average worker saved 4.5 hours and $90 in commuting costs for the week
  • If each participant worked from home 2 days a week for the year, they would save over $4,500 per year and recover almost 10 entire days of their lives per year that are currently spent commuting (14 days if you only consider the 16 hours most of us are awake each day - yeah, that's half of February!).
  • In one week over 14 million total miles were avoided
  • Over 8000+ tons of CO2 were not released into the atmosphere (the amount sequestered by 186,089 tree seedlings grown for 10 years)
  • Employees gained back over 716,000 hours - many of which were put back into work. According to a recent Harvard Business Review Article, some businesses are seeing more than a 13% productivity increase and lower turnover among home workers.
  • If all Telework Week 2014 pledges teleworked for one year, they would collectively save $702 million
  • According to Forrester Research if all U.S. eligible employees teleworked one day a week for a year, they would collectively save $36 Billion

Unified Communications Driving Flexible Work Arrangements

One thing that has been interesting from these studies is the increasing acceptance among managers to having employees work from home. Having a culture that accepts employees working from home and believes they can be productive is important. A big aspect of this is the ability to easily and effectively communicate with their employees to be sure they are on track. Providing Unified Communications technology is proving to be a real driver of adoption. According to a recent article in FedTech, more and more Federal agencies with remote workers are leveraging UC to improve collaboration:
Teleworkers and field examiners at the Securities and Exchange Commission now have access to unified communications tools to conduct video conferencing sessions and share documents with staff at headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“We have expanded telework, and for many people who work remotely, these tools are very effective,” says Pamela Dyson, deputy CIO and deputy director of the SEC’s Office of Information Technology.
With the trend towards telecommuting and mobile working continuing to grow and more management teams getting on board, expect to see more companies touting the benefits of UC and their teleworking program.

Topics: collaboration, Business Case, Mobility, Employees, Unified Communications,, telecommuting

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