Do Remote Workplaces Have Higher I.T. Costs?
Remote workplaces are no longer a utopian idea – they’re an ever-encroaching reality. Despite an abundance of skepticism (and a few outright bans), researchers keep finding that remote workers are more productive, less likely to quit, and generally better at their jobs. While some still find it hard to cut their ties to the office, the trend toward more remote work is clear.
From an I.T. manager’s perspective, however, the benefits of remote work are not quite as obvious. Those remote workers are saving the company quite a lot when it comes to the real estate, utilities, and other overhead costs associated with a physical office. But I.T. managers who look at the cost per employee may actually see a higher bill when workers are outside the office.
Everyone who works from home requires a computer, after all. Those computers can’t be quickly and easily serviced by I.T. personnel when they’re dispersed. Remote workers can’t just pop into their neighbor’s cubicle for some impromptu support, although that may be an advantage for beleaguered I.T.-savvy workers.
Smaller issues can still be dealt with remotely in many instances, particularly as more and more applications are being moved to the cloud. Yet in the case of a catastrophic problem (which we all face every now and again), remote employees are usually out of luck. That sort of down time could well negate the productivity gains from remote work in some circumstances.
Remote workplaces also have to cope with loss of equipment. The computers and phones of remote workers are more likely to get lost in transit or stolen from coffee houses than their in-office counterparts. The bring-your-own-device trend is in part a hedge against these kinds of losses, but employees’ own devices are just as likely to wander off, incurring a similar loss of productivity.
Infrastructure quality can also be an issue. In an office, I.T. managers can assure the same standards, or at least create a solid baseline that everyone can count on. But out in the wild, there’s a huge difference in what infrastructure employees are plugging into. Remote workers may be relying on shared Starbucks wifi. Or perhaps they’ve done their research and are using blazingly fast connections of Chattanooga, Tennessee. A dispersed I.T. infrastructure has to allow for both possibilities.
There’s also an increased cost for keeping remote workers connected to each other. A dispersed workforce means that more money goes to remote meeting technologies – negating at least some of the gain from getting rid of those physical conference rooms.
Do these potential disadvantages add up to the end of the remote workplace? The answer isn’t very clear in the end. A survey by the firm Global Workplace Analytics found that the average overall annual direct spend per virtual office employee was $2,710, with support costs averaging $1,231. Depending on the dataset you use, that’s not altogether different from office-based workers, although the results vary greatly by the size of a business.
In the end, calculating the costs and benefits of a remote workplace isn’t necessarily about comparing hard numbers. The impact of remote work on employee morale, retention, and productivity can be difficult to measure against stolen computers and the cost of a videoconferencing system. The motivation behind a remote workplace may be just as important as its technical architecture.
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