The Hidden Costs of Working From Home
Working from home (“WFH”) has become a standard part of the workplace environment over the last two years or so. While there are advantages to the organisation and individuals, there are direct and hidden costs associated with it, costs which a business needs to be aware of.
One such is the additional cost of providing Remote IT Support, both centrally and to the remote worker.
The corporate environment will need to be tweaked to be able to provide remote IT support. Security becomes a big issue when remote users can access corporate systems and data, and new software, and possibly hardware needs to be installed and configured. Operational procedures will also need to be revised.
IT used to have control of the devices attached to the corporate network. With the advent of remote working, “Bring your own Device” (“BYOD”) is now the norm for remote users. Users connect via smart devices, phones and tablets, and a variety of desktop PCs.
Smart devices are usually connected via WiFi or cellular 4G or 5G. Desktop devices tend to be connected over home networks via FTTH. In both cases, IT doesn’t have any control over the anti-malware status or configuration of the device and its connection.
Responsibility for securing the connection and anti-hacking and anti-malware protection lies at the corporate end. Smart devices can be a problem.
Some install management software that allows a remote device to be remotely scrubbed and reset to factory settings if it is reported as lost or stolen. Others prevent the device from storing information locally.
Setting up VPN access is an absolute must. In effect, a VPN extends the internal network security wall to remote users. It encrypts traffic between the corporate systems and the remote user, meaning that even if data is intercepted and stolen in transit, it will be useless.
Traffic is also routed through the VPN secure servers that can have the benefit of hiding the IP address of the remote user and of the central systems. This stops hackers from identifying sites they can attack.
A VPN is vital for mobile users, who will be able to connect using public WiFi facilities in sites such as malls and coffee shops. In these cases, the anti-malware and anti-hacking configuration of the WiFi connection is not known.
Again, having a firewall is an absolute no-brainer. The necessity of having a firewall and up-to-date operational rules is well known. If the current firewall is weak in managing remote access, it might be necessary to use capital expenditure to replace it with new hardware and software.
Users working from home will still need technical support from time to time. A business may already have a support desk, and this will need new resources to support remote WFH users.
Collaborative and team working between remote users will need new software, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. This will need to be installed, configured and managed. In some cases, it might need hardware upgrades.
This will be a matter of corporate policy. If a remote user does not have the infrastructure to support working from home, the organisation will need to decide whether it will provide or subsidise a domestic WFH environment.
The availability of a connection will also depend on geography. Some homes will be able to install fibre or use 4G or 5G services. Others, particularly in more remote rural areas, might be able to connect only over cellular data. In some parts of the world, it might not be possible to connect at all.
There is evidence that many corporates are subsidising home connectivity costs because they are now seen as an essential part of the work environment.
Corporates do not usually extend to providing equipment or supporting any structural changes at home to create a home office. However, in some cases, equipment that is surplus after an equipment refresh is offered or given to staff to help set up their home office.
An individual moving to a WFH basis will incur some additional costs. They may need to acquire or repurpose furniture, such as a desk or chair. They may need to create a workspace which will be used as the home office.
Because they are now working from home, corporate supplies are no longer available. Unless they are acquired during a visit to the office, the WFH user must buy consumables like pens, paper and printer ink. Don’t forget to buy coffee and biscuits if they are normally supplied by the company.
WFH is an attractive option for users in particular, but it does bring additional hidden costs to an organisation. Additional management support, additional comms costs are only part of these additional costs, but they can be offset by cost reductions in other areas.