For the past eight years I've been telecommuting, first for Network Computing Magazine and now for F5. In fact, Don and I have been telecommuters (or teleworkers, depending on whom you ask) for so long that our children don't realize that most people actually have to get dressed and go to work on a daily basis. Granted, that's because we telecommutehappen to live (and want to stay) in that great technological mecca of the midwest (Green Bay) even though F5 is headquartered in Seattle, but F5 being the best high-tech company in the Pacific Northwest (really, I'm not just saying that) has employees who routinely telecommute despite living in the Seattle area.

Obviously there are personal benefits to telecommuting that cannot be measured, particularly if you have a family or hate to shower on a regular basis. But there are also plenty of disbenefits (that is too a word, I just made it up) that come from being "in the office" all the time, particularly with the lure of "getting just one more thing done" constantly in your face and at your fingertips.

There are many corporate benefits, as well, and some that are often more far reaching than just saving office space at corporate headquarters. The positive impact of the reduction in carbon emissions saved even by employees telecommuting one or two days a week should not be underestimated, especially given the number of employees who commute to the workplace and the length of time they spend doing so.

Mindy S. Lubber at the Harvard Business Online Leading Green blog ponders the effects of physically commuting to work:

quote And it makes me wonder--are we really maximizing the impact of open work as a strategy to combat rising energy use, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and the greater climate change crisis? In my home state of Massachusetts, more than 3 million people commute by car each day--74 percent of those commuters driving alone. Every year, urban commuters in the U.S. waste 2.9 billion gallons of fuel idling in traffic--the equivalent of 58 fully-loaded supertanker ships.

But it's more than just environmental consciousness that is driving the march toward more telecommuting options. As Ted Samson of InfoWorld noted last year, there are many financial benefits to telecommuting to consider.

quote For starters, the ITAC found that employers can realize an annual per-employee savings of $5,000 through implementing telecommuting programs. "Your organization could save one office for every three teleworkers (that's about $2,000 per teleworker per year, or $200,000 per 100 teleworkers)," according to the Canadian Telework Assocation(CTA).

Case in point: Through Sun's telecommute program, called Sun Open Work Practice, around 2,800 employees work home three to five days a week; another 14,219 work remotely twice weekly, according to reports. The company says its efforts have resulted not only in 29,000 fewer tons of CO2 emissions -- but the company reaped $63 million in the last fiscal year by cutting 6,660 office seats.

With those kinds of green savings - both financial and environmental - the question has to be why more corporations aren't jumping on the telecommuting bandwagon.

THE TECHNOLOGY FACTOR

In the past, the cost and complexity of the PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) necessary to support corporate access via a VPN were often prohibitive and made telecommuting an unfavorable option with corporations. But the advent of SSL VPNs reduced both the cost and complexity of providing secure remote access to corporate resources from remote locations and have virtually eliminated both cost and complexity as a reason to not implement a telecommuting policy.

Even in the past few years the ability of SSL VPNs to integrate with the rest of the corporate infrastructure and support connectivity beyond the desktop via Apple's iPhone and Windows Mobile devices has expanded and improved, making corporate connectivity a breeze no matter where a telecommuter or roaming employee might be.

THE HUMAN FACTOR

The bigger question is, of course, whether employees are good telecommuters or not. A high drop in productivity can offset the savings realized by telecommuting, so it's a somewhat risky proposition.

An SSL VPN is perfect for implementing a trial program for telecommuting. Because it requires no hardware or software telecommuting at remote sites (client connections are proxied through a web-based client in almost all cases at the time the user logs in) there's less time and effort and money invested in giving employees a chance to try out telecommuting and see if it works for them - and you. All you need is an SSL VPN at corporate headquarters and you can implement a trial run to see what works best for you and your employees. Maybe it turns out to be an incentive program, or a reward for service - on par with how most employees accrue more vacation days the longer they are with the organization.

IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE ALL OR NOTHING

Even if a telecommuting initiative doesn't work out, having an SSL VPN available will still turn out to be a good investments. Everyone has days when they're too sick to come into the office, but yet could work if they could just do it from home. Likewise, children get sick and need parents at home who could be working off and on rather than losing the entire day.

Traveling employees can still have access to corporate resources if need be, which is another great use of the investment, whether it's used for a telecommuting initiative or not.

SSL VPNs provide a wide variety of options for secure remote access regardless of the reasons why that access is required.  Whether you're into green cash or green grass, there's a good reason to consider deploying (and using) an SSL VPN.

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