Teleworking is the future and new technology will make it happen - although companies have to change their cultures and learn to trust employees more. Those are the conclusions drawn from a new report sponsored by AT&T and carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The survey asked 237 senior execs from across the world their views regarding staff working out the office and from home. A surprising 80 per cent of them said they expected to have employees that telework within the next two years. Currently, just 54 per cent of the companies questioned are in this position.
Before we get into the figures though, it is important to note the definitions. Remote workers are defined as employees that spend more than 20 per cent of their time working outside the office or home - i.e. on the road. Telecommuters spend more than 20 per cent of the time working from home. Teleworkers can consist of both remote workers and telecommuters.
Why there is the need to say 20 per cent when it means one day a week, only economists will be able to tell you. However, before we embrace the era of the free employee working from anywhere, it is important to note that large numbers of employees - particularly salesmen - have been "remote workers" for decades.
That said, there is a clear shift towards employees not being tied to desks, for which there are two basic reasons: technology and a change in corporate culture. Currently, 13 per cent of those questioned offer financial and "material" help to teleworkers. In two years' time that will increase to 32 per cent.
Asked why companies are more willing to let their paid workers out their sight, 62 per cent said because of better network access, an equal 62 per cent improved communications and 48 per cent, the globalisation of their business. Cost-cutting comes in at 38 per cent, whereas employee pressure makes just 15 per cent - but whether this is due to the fact that people love working in offices or executives are adept at ignoring employee concerns is unclear.
It has simply reached the point where the benefits of having employees not coming into the office every day - lower building costs, fewer resources used and happier workers - have started to outweigh any problems associated with people out of the office doing their job as efficiently.
Virtual private networks - where someone can connect directly and securely to their company's network through the Internet - plus mobile phone, email and broadband technologies, have meant there is little difference between someone being on the floor below you or in an airport thousands of miles away.
Companies still aren't entirely happy however, the report notes. A suspicious 56 per cent of execs fear that teleworking may mean less working and more television for employees. Consequently, they didn't feel they would be able to monitor, properly, what is going on.
Security remains a big issue with 49 percent expressing concerns. On the other hand, 41 per cent like to have their employees in the office in case a client or customer pops in (translated into "company operates in intensively client-facing environment"). Thirty-seven per cent worry about the costs of setting someone up to work effectively from home or on the road; 35 percent have faced opposition from dyed-in-the-wool senior management and 34 percent fear it may damage their corporate culture.
Culture of course has a big part to play in allowing paid employees to work outside the office. In its report Ten Teleworking Tips AT&T suggests the following:
"Good employees should be better employees at home."
"Managerial trust is the foundation of an effective remote work programme."
"Technology and culture - not job function - are the best predictors of success in remote working."
"Many telework policy issues actually belong at the corporate level."
"Telework is not an end in itself - think of it as merely a symptom of a far larger and more positive organisational transistion."
And then, as if to not to terrify execs scared of too much change, it warns: "Don't go native. Face-to-face contact still counts. There are good reasons to go to the office and they will not disappear."
The simple fact, as anyone who is allowed to work from home or out the office occasionally will tell you, is that not having to go to the same place every day at the same time is very good for the mind. Companies have reported higher morale and the report estimates that companies get an extra hour's worth of productivity out of employees working from home because they are up and ready to work at the same time each morning without facing the average 80-minute journey to and from work.
When technology means that employees can get hold of all the information they need, respond in the same way they would if they were in the office, and are constantly contactable just in case, then increased teleworking is little more than an inevitability.
What AT&T's report demonstrates is that this particular revolution is picking up speed. And you can bet AT&T is able to offer your business just the right equipment you need to ride this teleworking wave.