Years after businesses and government organisations started rolling out teleworking policies and companies were producing graphics of what the office of the future would look like (cue man / woman sitting in their living room surrounded Jetson-like gadgets), the remote working debate is still raging.

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned the company’s employees from home working it started a veritable Twitter storm. In home working’s defense, Richard Branson declared - no doubt from Necker Island - that Mayer’s move is a "backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever" and that “to successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other”. But hot on the heels of Yahoo, Best Buy stopped its home working programme (Results Only Work Environment), which started in 2005 again provoking a media backlash.

In contrast to this, many companies actually celebrated working from home in the annual ‘Work from Home Week’ in January. According to the Office of National Statistics, there are already about 3.8m homeworkers in the UK and a recent study has suggested the Treasury could save £15 billion by increasing the number of public sector employees that can work from home. Allowing employees to work from home can save money on office estate and other office overheads, and it provides much needed flexibility for staff. As many companies, including Cisco, have found, home working can also increase productivity.

But despite the benefits, Mayer didn’t feel it was right for Yahoo. Her decision was based on VPN logs and she felt that the activity just wasn’t high enough. IT obviously plays a significant role in supporting remote workers and there are a number of great technologies that can support them, such as instant messaging services, online meeting services, video conferencing and collaborative technology.

Delivering this innovation is now becoming a balancing act between the IT department that holds the keys to the shiny new devices and business managers which want greater control and flexibility for their teams. These managers don’t want to waste time on technology that will just encourage people to talk about work rather than actually getting it done. The cloud is increasingly becoming the go-to solution as it offers the flexibility and security that businesses need to coordinate and collaborate with remote workers.

But regardless of how innovative the technology to support people, technology and culture need to work together to make remote working a success. For example, LoveFilm has created ‘pizza teams’ - a team small enough to share a pizza that has all the skills needed to complete a project. This boosts team morale by seeing a project through to completion rather than transferring ownership part way through. Booz Allen allows employees to work at home or at a desk it another branch, helping them build relationships with employees throughout the company. American Express offers its employees the option of Hub (fixed desk), Club (flexible), Roam (on the road) and Home.

It’s important that companies create a great culture in the office as well; one that will retain employees and make remote workers feel involved in the company. Everyone in the team has ideas and something to say, providing opportunities to collaborate and work on these ideas will go a long way. Have regular meetings that everyone can dial into so they can keep up to date on company updates and demonstrate what they have been working on. Don’t underestimate the little things, free food, chill out areas and lifestyle bonuses will go a long way to keeping your employees happy.  The Google campus has been eyed by many a jealous employee.

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