Professionals working on information technology (IT) help desks and in human resource IT are reporting a rise in the number of tickets filed by remote workers, according to a study from research and advisory firm Gartner on running effective IT service desks.
A June 2020 global survey from technology company Riverbed found that 94 percent of company leaders said technology problems had impacted their business and employees while employees worked remotely. Survey respondents said the four biggest problems remote workers face are being frequently disconnected from corporate networks, slow file downloads, poor quality of video meetings and long response times when loading apps.
Business leaders in the study also cited a need for greater visibility into network and application performance to reduce problems that remote workers encountered.
Implementing Early Warning Systems
One way some companies have addressed that visibility challenge is by implementing tools that can automatically monitor employees' at-home use of networks and applications and send early warning signals or reports of problems. One such technology comes from New York-based Knoa Software, which gives organizations detailed insight into what remote workers encounter when they interact with enterprise systems.
"Companies have employees working at home with HR and other enterprise systems but rarely have real-time insight into how user-friendly and efficient those systems are to use," said Brian Berns, CEO of Knoa. "If the workflows aren't intuitive, if things are taking too long or if there are too many system errors, employees get frustrated, but management doesn't often know about it because workers don't always speak up. We help surface those problems for organizations."
For example, a remote worker might be using a system from a provider like SAP or Oracle and encounter issues the Knoa software can identify and help diagnose. "The software knows which screen should come at the start of a transaction, which screen occurs in the middle of the transaction and which screen comes at the end," Berns said. "It can tell how long on average it should take to complete that transaction and send reports if it's consistently taking users too long to perform certain tasks, so management can follow up to diagnose the root cause of technical issues."
One metric Knoa measures is idle time when employees are using networks or applications. "Before someone clicks on a mouse to take an action, they may stare at their screen for three or four minutes, and the system can record that," Berns said. "Why are they pausing for that long every time at the same step in the process? If hundreds or even thousands of employees are pausing in the same way at the same step, the problem compounds."
Idle time my indicate that system screens are not intuitive, for example, or that employees may not know what step to take next because they didn't receive the proper training. "Or maybe they hit enter and received an error message that needs to be investigated," Berns said. "Many of those error messages might be coming from just one module, for example. You want to be able to pinpoint those problems for IT or HR so they can follow up. Workers often don't raise their hands to say they're having a problem because they're embarrassed or don't want to cause a stir."
Reducing Cybersecurity Risks at Home
Another rising concern is data security and cyberattacks. A recent survey by research and advisory firm PwC found that 61 percent of chief information officers said they're seeing an increase in risks due to the use of nonenterprise devices and software as more people work remotely. In some cases, employees are flouting security rules by downloading unsecure apps or sharing their work devices with family members, the study found.
The survey also found that the training and communication efforts companies provide workers on cybersecurity and cyber acumen often fall short. Only 30 percent of survey respondents said their employer offered training on the do's and don'ts of protecting company and personal digital information and assets. The PwC study surveyed 1,100 U.S. workers in July of this year.
Security experts say there are solutions to these growing data-security risks: Zero-trust security policies ensure that no one inside nor outside a corporate network is trusted by default. The use of adaptive multi-factor authentication requires employees to present multiple forms of ID to access corporate networks, and it enables the flagging of suspicious attempts to access networks. Reducing the number of passwords required by employees through single sign-on also can reduce the odds of cyberattacks occurring.
Also, HR can work in tandem with IT to produce short videos that educate employees about risky data practices they're more likely to engage in while working in distracted home environments. They include actions such as leaving browsers open, downloading unapproved apps or sharing work laptops with children, all of which security pros say can widen the "attack surface" for hackers.
Gauging Remote Workers' Productivity
Beyond preventing technology problems, organizations also are looking for ways to gauge how productive workers are at home. Employees, too, increasingly want their bosses to know how they're performing remotely. A recent survey by Prodoscore, a provider of productivity assessment software, found that 90 percent of workers want their managers to have more visibility into their productivity and performance at home, perhaps to ease bosses' minds that they're using their "unseen time" wisely. Almost half (47 percent) of survey respondents also reported feeling frustrated about not being recognized for the work they do at home.
Leaders can use software from companies like Prodoscore to help assess the productivity and efficiency of their remote workforces. The software aggregates activity and data from the multiple technologies workers use daily—such as customer relationship management systems, e‑mail, chat and phone systems, or business intelligence software—and creates an overall score that gauges employees' daily productivity. Reporting tools for various work activities typically live in disparate systems, but Prodoscore merges all data from multiple cloud tools into one dashboard.
Employees receive regular updates on their individual productivity scores, with the software able to suggest areas for improvement or show workers how they stack up against colleagues in certain areas. The data also can be used as a coaching tool, said Prodoscore CEO Sam Naficy, with managers providing feedback on the volume of worker activity or highlighting factors that result in success, such as a combination and sequence of activities, and then finding ways to replicate them.
Experts caution that management should be fully transparent with employees when using monitoring software, and the tools should not be employed punitively. Instead, management should use monitoring selectively to help employees improve how they spend their work time at home. Misuse of the software can damage worker trust, make employees feel their privacy is being invaded and negatively impact morale.
Joe Mignone, chief customer officer for Boston-based DTiQ, a provider of data analytics and surveillance solutions, uses the software to track the productivity of his customer success and sales teams working remotely. The tool tracks the hours employees are engaged at work and times of day they're most productive. Mignone said he's been able to correlate those activity trends to new sales, cancellations and other key performance indicators.
"We felt being able to have more data around our team members' activity was crucial to our organization's growth strategy," Mignone said. "Having one aggregated source that gives us accurate information really paints a picture. Prior to using the software, we had used multiple tools to track employee activity and engagement, as well as some guesswork at best."
Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.