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Unified communications slow to change U.S. work culture

Unified communications implementation is still high, but many enterprises have yet to allow users all its advantages.

Unified communications has promised to revolutionize the work culture as we have known it -- giving workers greater flexibility and mobility. But a recent study has found that it has yet to live up to all its promise to improve how we work.

A recent study commissioned by Dimension Data, a specialist IT services and solutions provider, and conducted by Datamonitor, an online database and analysis services provider, determined that unified communications (UC), while continuing to be a global industry driver, is still slow to inspire all the changes it is purported to be driving.

The survey, which involved more than 500 workers and nearly 400 IT managers in various industries, was designed to investigate the different elements and trends of the UC market. Workers and managers were asked the same questions so that the survey could evaluate the perceptions of those who use these technologies as tools to perform their work against the perceptions of those who implement and maintain them. The survey also specifically included workers who use the computer for even just 10 hours a week.

UC implementation continues to be driven by workers, according to the survey's findings. Most consumers maintain a high level of connectivity and technology in their own homes and now expect that same level in their work environment.

"Unified communications is involving more than desktop applications now," said Mark Slaga, CTO for Dimension Data North America.

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Survey results indicated that while UC adoption is still strong among U.S. companies, these same organizations are markedly behind their European and Australian counterparts when it comes to adopting and implementing flexible work environments, though they already have in place the technologies that would allow greater flexibility.

For example, the survey found that 75% of French companies and 73% of Swiss companies offer their workers a fully supported flexible working environment, whereas only 55% of U.S. companies said they offered a fully IT-supported flexible working environment for their workers.

Dimension Data found that U.S. employees are less likely to have a flexible working environment than their European counterparts, despite U.S. organizations' leading the charge to implement UC.

"We wanted to determine if UC is the driving factor behind adopting a flexible work environment -- if a need to develop a flexible working environment was driving UC adoption or if it was a need to raise productivity that was driving UC deployments," said Datamonitor analyst Vuk Trifkovic.

The U.S. companies do lead actual UC implementations, but EU and Swiss companies are more willing to offer their employees more flexible working environments that are fully supported by the IT department. One factor contributing to the results could be that European laws require employers to be more flexible with their employees' work hours, and companies have to show compliance with these laws.

Though European companies are not implementing UC at the same swift rate as their U.S. counterparts, they are developing and encouraging greater flexibility in employee work options. In addition, by providing greater flexibility for the sake of compliance, most European companies also seem to believe that offering a flexible work option improves worker productivity; whereas in the U.S., the companies that do offer a flexible work option tend to do so because they believe it increases employee retention -- an important factor in light of the current competitive market for workers.

But further results showed that U.S. companies also have reason to be less accommodating to flexible work options because of a more rigid regulatory framework and stricter employee practices -- offering flexible work options has less to do with UC adoption. U.S. companies appear to be quite decisive and predominantly on one or the other side of the spectrum -- either they offer a fully IT-supported flexible work environment or they do not offer employees any flex-work option.

"It is interesting to note that U.S. enterprises either offer flexible work and full IT support, or they do not offer the option of flexible working at all," Trifkovic said.

When U.S. companies do allow employees to take advantage of their UC implementations and participate in a flexible work environment, the majority cite employee retention as the chief driving factor for that decision.

The study also noted that half of the respondents believe that VoIP technology will be a routine technology in most corporate environments within two years.

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