February 9, 2012

Delivering UC to Teleworkers

Extending unified communications (UC) to an enterprise's teleworkers involves more than just connecting them to an IP network. Are the teleworkers stationary or mobile? How much of the UC menu should they see? And, beyond the technology required, what management and career issues need to be addressed?

Delivering UC to teleworkers can mean increased productivity, reduced commuting time, more flexible work schedules, access for mobile workers, disaster work alternatives and improved worker lifestyle. Many vendors and cloud services already offer the technologies to accomplish all of this. The enterprise's first challenge will be to decide what and how much UC should be supplied by the enterprise's own facilities versus third-party cloud services. This decision was discussed in a recent TechNote, "Deploying UC Apps: CPE or Cloud?"

Network and Endpoint Considerations

The teleworker will of course need a data connection. If it's wired, an Internet or private network connection supporting IP operating at T1 speed or better will be necessary; access that's too slow will lead to voice and video quality problems. The endpoint can be a PC, laptop, notebook or tablet with the appropriate voice and video application software or even a multimedia IP phone. Each endpoint will need a microphone, speaker or headset and a camera. Camera quality can range from being merely adequate for video conferencing to supporting HD video or personal telepresence, as noted in a recent TechNote on the subject.

While the mobile user's endpoint can be a laptop or tablet, it's more likely to be a smartphone, so a data plan with a reasonable amount of data capacity will be required. The use of video connections and voice recognition technologies (such as Apple's Siri) will only increase the data volumes. Exceeding the carrier's volume ceiling can spike costs and/or lead to reduced transmission speed that negatively affects voice and video quality.

Another issue: whether the teleworker is stationary or mobile, security is paramount.
For protection, the enterprise must provide:
  • Access control with both device and user authentication
  • Threat protection through the use of security appliances
  • Transport through a virtual private network (VPN) or other encrypted connection to ensure privacy
  • A security policy with associated enforcement
  • A plan for coping with teleworkers' personal use of their devices that might open security holes in their operation.

Beefing Up Performance Monitoring

The performance of the IP network connecting to teleworkers will need to be monitored. Can the enterprise's existing network management system report and troubleshoot performance problems in real time? To do so, it will have to monitor firewalls, session border controllers and endpoints as well as the network itself. Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) might be required to ensure adequate voice and video performance. Although the Internet does not support quality-of-service (QoS) controls, the endpoint and enterprise sites can implement QoS by prioritizing voice and video transmissions over data transmissions as they enter the Internet.

Because a move to teleworking means that IT must monitor more remote devices, existing management systems might have to be expanded. The enterprise should test its teleworker connections to make sure they meet performance requirements prior to implementing UC. Business analytics should be added to the mix so that enterprise management can see how well teleworking technology is performing.

Creating the Right Culture

Management and career issues can rise up to hinder the effectiveness of any teleworker program. One such issue is management distrust of remote workers: "How do I know they are working?" Some managers have a need to oversee their employees often during the day so they can feel in control. This can be addressed through policy changes, training and possibly the use of UC presence technology to determine the status of remote workers.

While some enterprise employees' jobs require their physical presence at the office, many are good candidates for teleworking. Yet some employees cannot see the personal benefits, or they resist teleworking for other reasons. Others have problems working remotely and alone; they miss the social interactions at work or feel more comfortable when supervised. Still others might feel that out-of-office work means they are less likely to receive positive evaluations and promotions. The enterprise must undertake to guarantee teleworkers as solid a working experience as if they worked in the office.

1 Comment

Steve- This is a good quality note for management review.
Carroll Perkins

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