The number of “flexible” workers is growing rapidly, and will soon outnumber their office-bound counterparts in many enterprises. By flexible, I don’t mean limber office workers doing backbends or twisting themselves like pretzels as part of their jobs. Rather, I’m referring to an ever-increasing group of employees who are untethering from typical workplaces in favor of doing their jobs from home, coffee shops, hotels, airports or other remote locations.

A man opens his Dell laptop while traveling in the back of a car

In a recent global survey of 8,000 employees and employers worldwide, respondents were asked to extol the benefits of flexible working practices. Not surprisingly, the majority cited productivity improvements while more than half said their company’s profits had actually increased as a result of greater support of flexible workplaces.

The survey also pointed to new technologies that are reshaping the traditional workplace, from high-speed mobile data networks and fixed-line broadband to the latest collaborative cloud services.

Clearly, mobile technologies that facilitate anytime, anywhere data access and shifting mindsets are forever altering our notion of where workers really are when they’re “on the job.” Giving employees the ability to work remotely is no longer a nice perk but a necessity to attract and keep the best talent. It’s equally important to ensure that this demographic can connect and collaborate with the same quality experience as their office-bound colleagues. Yet moving from a managed communications system inside the enterprise to an unmanaged environment outside of the corporate firewall and not under IT control, presents serious obstacles for employees and IT departments alike.

The impact of remote workers on unified communications efforts is reinforced by the results of a recent Dell-commissioned survey of more than 200 IT pros responsible for managing unified communications (UC) across the organization. According to 95 percent of the survey participants, the ability to deliver quality of service to remote workers was the biggest challenge. Equally concerning, 79 percent of the respondents were forced to rely on users to alert them to UC quality or service issues because they lacked sufficient monitoring capabilities to identify problems.

What’s really troubling is that 71 percent of those polled have invested more in UC tools and platforms to better support remote workers. Despite those investments, significant barriers to adoption persist. In some cases, the quality of the experience is poor, so remote employees apply workarounds to get their jobs done. In other cases, UC platforms are difficult to use, so remote workers abandon them altogether in favor of unsupported solutions that ultimately exposes the business to risk.  

The result for IT is the same: an inordinate amount of time and effort troubleshooting problems, expediting solutions and addressing data security and compliance issues. An overall lack of visibility into UC usage keeps IT in the dark when it comes to realizing ROI on existing UC expenditures, which can prolong or even prevent further investments to spur adoption and bolster productivity.

It’s no wonder that 98 percent of the participants in the Dimensional Research survey saw value in having greater visibility into the specific capabilities and usage of UC platforms by remote workers. Having the ability to monitor both the use and user experience of each UC feature provides much-needed insight into what, why and how employees are leveraging the platform.

To lower UC adoption hurdles, companies need to embrace solutions that deliver much-needed usage reporting and analytics about flexible worker deployments. Armed with greater insights, IT can apply best practices and tailor training to address specific employee needs while driving increased acceptance rates across the board.

That’s an essential step to optimizing the UC experience while minimizing IT administration and maximizing ROI. Better visibility and UC analytics enable IT to better understand UC utilization. Moreover, the ability to keep basic tabs on traffic volumes and abnormal usage patterns can help pinpoint operational problems and reduce data security risks. The bottom line: greater insight and UC analytics are key to ensuring a positive experience that will keep flexible workers engaged, connected and productive.

What steps are you taking to support the new normal? Connect with me on Twitter at @InsideSkype to share your insights.