Technology can help remote workers feel more trusted and appreciated, according to the results of a survey of 350 remote workers across Europe.
When asked how they currently interact with colleagues, the leading methods by far were e-mail at 95 per cent, and telephone calls and audio conferences, 85 per cent. But the survey by IBM and the Economist Intelligence Unit found over 40 per cent said that better tools for collaboration would make them more effective mobile employees.
The survey also highlighted the relatively low level of adoption of higher bandwidth and more interactive software tools that can potentially improve the virtual collaboration experience. For example, the survey found that only one out of three used instant messaging on a regular basis, while just 10 per cent regularly took part in Web-based electronic meetings and 9 per cent in videoconferences.
However, technology forms only part of the answer, and almost half the respondents felt alienated, underappreciated and mistrusted. Most - 68 per cent - said they did not believe their company advocated mobile and flexible working.
What they said they needed was more contact, such as "water-cooler conversations", and informal office networking. It would enable them to feel part of the organisation, and to know more about the day-to-day developments, they said, otherwise they missed out on opportunities and promotions.
Some 44 per cent of respondents cited collaboration as their biggest concern. "The greatest challenge is to co-ordinate work with other mobile workers and meet the deadlines for common tasks," said one.
Despite the finding that they are likely to work harder than office-based counterparts - 61 per cent said they found it hard to switch off, and so failed to achieve the work-life balance they were looking for - remote workers said they wanted more support from management, plus the right technologies, skills and performance measures.
In addition, better communication would help them offset the impression expressed by 40 per cent of their office-based colleagues that they are not pulling their weight. The same issues surround employees operating away from the workplace for significant amounts of time.
The report also notes that the trend towards mobile working is accelerating. It said that 48 per cent of those working remotely have been doing so only since early 2002 and 15 per cent started in the past year. This rapid rise of new mobile workers reinforces the need for companies to pay attention to the broader social and technical issues that are associated with mobile working.