The Remote Work Force – Here to Stay

Since the mid-90’s when the internet became a public tool, its communication capacities have expanded exponentially – growing from email to social networking sites, teleconferencing capabilities, file sharing and more. Recently, economic turbulence and a societal push towards greater environmental stewardship has some industries (insurance and finance for example) using remote workers to reduce expenses and carbon footprint.  As technology advances continue, it enables more people to work from any location, contributing to a growing remote workforce. 

In an article titled, Remote Workforce Management Broadens and Empowers Companies (pdf), Insurance Industry Manager, Lynn Lang, writes  “With an ECM solution, not only is it cost effective to employ remote workers, but it also creates a competitive advantage for companies as efficiency improvements are realized.” In this article she cites a 30 percent improvement in claims handling efficiency.  A recent Gartner report titled Telework Will Become Essential for U.S. Banking encourages the financial world to take advantage of the “significant cost reductions” incurred by utilizing remote workers.  These “cost reductions” include the need for less space, power and office equipment and the ability to minimize utility and HVAC usage and expense. 

According to an article posted on B NET about remote workers and security,  another Gartner study indicates that numbers of off site workers are steadily increasing. The article cites Gartner’s findings as showing that 46.6 million people will work at home at least once a week by the end of 2011.  Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter applauds this trend. In the Harvard Business School blog, her post titled Stay Home and Work states that if working at home one day a week became the norm, the overall effect would “raise productivity, save energy, decrease pollution, reduce traffic congestion, cut household expenses, increase quality of family life and keep educated women in the work force.” 

“Workers of the world,” she writes. “Go remote!” 

She’s not alone in her battle cry; a quick Google search reveals that her sentiments ala environmental stewardship, quality of life and increased productivity are echoed again and again across the blogosphere. In fact, several bloggers say that the business model of commuting to an office for a 9-5 workday is becoming outdated and that it is time for us to restructure our work paradigm. 

Time.org blogger Seth Goodin denounces cubicles as relics of the past in his blog, The Last Days of Cubicle Life (which includes entertaining photos of finely decorated cubicles from around the world). “More and more,” he writes “the need to actually show up at an office that consists of an anonymous hallway and farm of cubicles or closed doors is just going to fade away. It’s too expensive and it’s too slow.” 

Preparing For Your Remote Workforce

It is impossible to predict whether Goodin’s vision of an all-remote workforce will manifest. But it is clear that the remote work force is growing. It behooves companies to start researching and planning for the increase of this popular work trend since it is likely that they will have to provide the right technology to support a remote infrastructure. A white paper published by document management solutions provider Cabinet NG titled, Remote Workers and Document Management (pdf) provides some guidance. In it author Jon Clark writes that although the internet makes it possible to access information from any coffee shop with wireless, remote workers, contractors and third parties still encounter viewing blocks when they have to “rely on people in the office to retrieve files from file cabinets and fax or email those documents”. In order to alleviate those blocks, he outlines some key recommendations including:

  • Centralization – Companies need to eliminate decentralized and small document silos. They can start this process by creating a centralized filing system through one or more electronic document repositories. Those repositories may be located on the internal network, or hosted externally. Either way, they will provide storage facilities in which important content is consolidated, organized and accessible to authorized parties.
  • Standardization – Pre-defining naming conventions, storage formats, retention policies and document workflow in specific templates will create a standardized filing system. The people who scan, create and file documents will be able to apply programmatic conventions that will simplify and streamline the search and retrieval of files.  With search terms clearly defined, workers won’t have to waste a lot of precious time and energy trying to locate a document.
  • Roles and Rights Management –Auditing your remote work force will help you define how to assign permission levels. Think through what they will need to do with the documents to perform their jobs effectively. Some may only need to view, some may need to scan and file, some may need to print, edit or annotate; on the executive level, there will be those who need to approve or reject proposals. The audit should help you provide a balance between vital document security and the access needed for your workers to be productive.

Viewing Technology for the Remote Workforce

One consideration that Clark overlooks is how viewing technology can eliminate barriers to access.  He encourages companies to consider investing in a web–based document portal (an access system for customers to retrieve and view documents). The downside of such a system is potential incompatibility with diverse client systems. A better approach for companies who work with remote employees, contractors, and/or third parties in which they can’t control external systems and document support (or lack thereof) is a Zero Footprint HTML5 document viewer. A quality Zero Footprint viewer provides universal document viewing and processing capabilities regardless of which platform an end user has.  It can display documents directly in a Web browser by converting files on-the-fly to a temporary JPEG or PNG image.  This eliminates viewing problems that may arise due to end user environments, incompatible applications or unsupported document formats.     

An additional benefit of a browser-based document viewer is that it requires no client-side maintenance and gives the company more control over permissions. Updates can be made quickly through the centralized server component without any disruption to the end-users. User permissions can be carefully controlled and set at group or individual levels to enable more efficient business processes for reviewing and approving documents. 

When supporting internal employees who work remotely, a Java-based applet viewer may be worth consideration. A well-designed Java applet viewer can be used to access documents and images from a desktop, a server, or a URL. It is especially useful when supporting remote workers who need to process and work within the documents and therefore need more extensive processing capabilities like document creation, manipulation, annotation or redaction. 

Try as we might to predict the future, it is not possible to know whether the remote workforce model is destined to become the norm, rather than the exception. There are jobs out there that require humans to be physically present in particular buildings. But information workers - whose work often consists of writing, coding, researching and designing -  can do most tasks from almost any computer. The IT industry is now deeply rooted in the culture and integral to our economic growth. So the remote work force is here to stay and is likely to keep increasing. Companies that have the right tools and support in place will be contributing to a more healthy environment while reaping the financial benefits that come with significantly reduced overhead expenses, increased efficiency and expedited customer service.  

For more information on how Snowbound’s web-based viewers can provide benefit to you and your remote workforce click HERE.  

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