IT workers to management: NOW can we telecommute?

IT helps others to work remotely but rarely gets to join in. Is that fair?

man with laptop in ocean

Crumbling infrastructure, increased traffic congestion, urban sprawl that extends to the hinterlands, more frequent superstorms bringing sustained damage -- more than ever, getting from home to work can be a dicey proposition.

This could well be telework's finest hour. According to the Telework Research Network, the number of teleworkers jumped 57% between 2005 and 2012, from 1.8 million to 3.1 million.

So are IT employees at last being allowed to join in? The answer, according to a range of telecommuting consultants and IT executives, is "it depends."

In the earliest days of telecommuting, the gating factor for all workers was technology: You could take a floppy disk home and work on a document, but not much else. Those barriers have long since fallen, telecommuting consultants and IT executives confirm. With the ubiquity of broadband networking, VPNs, Skype, Web-ready cameras, videoconferencing and the explosion in ownership of personal mobile devices, most technological barriers to telework have long since fallen for many workers.

Similarly, the nature of both work in general and IT specifically has changed as well. In a world where corporations are functioning with fewer people wearing more hats, whose job is tied to one office or one location anymore? In a globalized world, whose colleagues sit close by? In a world of cloud and colocation, of offshore and nearshore developers, what's "remote"?

In short, sweeping technological and cultural change has finally shifted the attitude toward working remotely, says Gil Gordon, a consultant, now retired, who has followed the telework movement for decades. "There is [now] a basic understanding that people can work together without being physically together," he says. "Offices will never become extinct, but the notion of mobility is entrenched."

For IT specifically, globalization, outsourcing and the increased use of colocation facilities has made the idea of a dispersed workforce seem reasonable rather than radical, Gordon says.

The remaining barriers to telecommuting for IT workers are more managerial and procedural than technical, agrees David Annis, CIO of Garvin Promotion Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., who has seen IT telecommuting succeed and seen it fail. It's his opinion -- shared by other IT leaders and rank-and-file tech workers -- that those barriers are by no means impossible to overcome.

In at least some IT departments, barriers need to fall fast, because workers with in-demand tech skills have become more demanding. "Some companies that have never offered telecommuting before for their IT staffs are now considering it," says John Reed, senior executive director for Robert Half Technology, an IT executive search firm. The reason is simple: IT applicants are rejecting jobs that don't offer telework as an option. (Indeed, in Computerworld's annual Salary Surveys, telecommuting consistently ranks in the top five job priorities for respondents.)

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