By Logan G. Harbaugh
One crucial step in implementing teleworking is to ensure that groups of remote users engaging in the same project can easily work together. Adopting a collaboration method that requires 48 hours’ notice to create a teleconference or that demands administrator intervention to create a new document tree will stifle productivity and, in all likelihood, cause users to circumvent the system.
Overly rigid collaboration policies can leave telecommuters frustrated. Avoiding this undesirable outcome is not really a function of choosing the right software, since most collaboration products–Google Docs, HyperOffice, MindJet, and SharePoint, to name a few–let users easily set up conferences, shared folders, and so forth. It’s more a function of how you set up and document your company’s procedures, which users you grant administrative rights to, and how much control your IT department exerts over the process.
If the process is too rigid, the ready availability of free, cloud-based alternatives will encourage users to make an end run around the obstruction, which can lead to a much greater loss of control than would have resulted from allowing users to make their own changes in the original software.
Even if you give users some freedom to create their own groups, start new document trees, or initiate teleconferences, you will still need to enforce security policies. To serve a widely dispersed workforce, communications must pass through the Internet and documents must reside in the cloud or on remote PCs, which makes properly setting up and following security protocols essential. Key considerations include ensuring that traffic between users is properly encrypted, making passwords long enough that hackers can’t easily guess them, and maintaining data stored on systems outside the company in encrypted form when it isn’t in use.
Logistically, confirming that the collaboration process is secure and efficient is more a matter of ensuring that the software you’ll be using is set up correctly than of adding supplemental hardware or software. Most collaboration tools offer encryption of any data being moved through SSL, access control to enforce strong passwords for users, and encryption of data stores. But everything has to be set up correctly, and you need to ensure that employees use the tools properly. They should not share passwords, for example, and they should clear data from public PCs after participating in group work.