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So You Think You Can Telecommute?

The recent weeks of teleworking controversy has been interesting to follow for anyone passionate about collaboration technologies. There is no doubt that teleworking offers significant work/life balance benefits, as exemplified by Cisco´s own Angie Mistretta in her recent blog post. On the other hand, it is equally evident that companies that do not invest in the right tools or training for effective remote collaboration aren’t realizing the true potential and benefits of teleworking.

Being part of a leadership team with people scattered from the Russian border, through Oslo, Boston, Texas and California has made it very clear to me that a lot of innovation, time and money would have been lost if we did not have the proper collaboration tools. Simply said, bringing all the right people into the same office is generally not an option in a global operation.

In my team, the primary tool for collaboration is the Cisco TelePresence EX series personal systems; we all have endpoints on our desks at the office and at home. This is essential to us because, be it late night or early morning, the number of overlapping hours when we are in our respective offices are just too few. Personal telepresence ensures in-person communications within the team whenever we need to meet, and it also allows us to attend other meetings over telepresence at any hour ensuring we’re able to capture all of the details and have maximum impact.

This brings me to the point that is often forgotten when measuring the success of teleworking initiatives. Remote workers save fuel and reduce environmental impact, travel time and real estate costs, but moreover they have improved productivity and quality of life. But often, remote workers may not feel truly connected to the rest of the organization or have the necessary impact in meetings when decisions are to be made? In critical meetings, I want to understand if people are truly engaged and I want to see their reactions. That happens best with high-definition video.

Finally, as some of you might argue that investing in personal telepresence for teleworkers is overkill and that you can achieve the same objectives with soft clients. Well, while Cisco has world-class soft clients for scale, reach and mobility, it is a fact that the limiting factor of these clients is the quality and speed of 3rd party hardware they are running on. In addition, soft clients require the user to optimize both near-end and far-end experience, so the quality may not be consistent. I am just in too many meetings where people are barely audible on a poor mobile line and have a blurry web camera pointing to the ceiling -- if they are sharing video at all. Therefore, for full time or part time teleworkers and frequent time-shifters, my firm belief is that investing in a dedicated collaboration device with high fidelity voice, video and content sharing will result in a high return on investment for employers and a great experience and work satisfaction for employees.

Additional information and best practices for supporting teleworkers can be found here: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/ns1007/UC_teleworkers.html#~Products.

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Are you a teleworker who is benefiting from video communications or looking for the right tool to improve your teleworking experience? Please share your best-practice stories or desires for better in-person communications.

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