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Original Posting on LinkedIn
In 2013, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer shocked the business world when she abruptly put an end to the company’s work-from-home benefit. In a memo to staff, she wrote that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side”, and that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”.
Her views weren’t new – employers had been voicing concerns about telework’s effect on collaboration and productivity for decades. But they did strike many of her peers as being surprisingly behind the times.
Telecommuting – or working from a location that isn’t your employer’s brick-and-mortar location – is rapidly on the rise the world over, bolstered in large part by a wave of new technology helping to tackle the very drawbacks Mayer was pointing to. By leveraging the powers of collaborative software, mobile apps, and cloud based computing, small and large businesses alike are more equipped than ever to bridge the gap between in-person and at-a-distance work processes.
Here are just some of the ways these advances are changing the telework game, and how we think about work as a whole:
You don’t need to be desk-to-desk to be face-to-face
While the days of phone calls and emails alone made meeting and brainstorming at a distance difficult, technology is inching us ever-closer to being able to replicate the face-to-face experience from afar. Just as in traditional meetings, collaborative tools like join.me, WebEx, and GoToMeeting allow presenters to instantly share their screens with attendees, and even pass presenter duties to others by switching screens, or granting remote control access over their own. What’s more, most of these tools include video conferencing capabilities, so you can read the body language of your colleagues while simultaneously reading the data.
For more informal sharing, Apple’s FaceTime app and Google’s Video Hangouts have become a true asset to mobile workers. The moment that inspiration hits – no matter where you are – you can get in touch with team mates and bounce ideas around the exact same way you would in person, facial expressions and all.
Harnessing the power of the cloud
For remote work not to affect productivity, employees need to be able to access and use all of their “tools” – from company data to applications – as quickly, easily and seamlessly as they would if they were sitting in the office. And for businesses to even consider telework – let alone benefit from it – they need to be able to provide that access in a way that makes sense, both logistically and for their bottom line.
Enter the cloud.
Gone are the days when companies needed to set up and maintain complicated and expensive virtual private networks (VPN) in order to connect with remote workers. Employees can now instantly access their files and programs from anywhere, at any time, using any device – no software installation required. And businesses are able to shift the challenge of storing and securing data to external cloud service providers– leading to reduced costs and fewer headaches.
Of course, the greater the number of disparate, unrelated programs you have, the more difficult it will be to work with, and the harder it will be to track the output of employees – remote or otherwise. Cloud ERP systems are a great solution. Acting as a centralized location for almost all of your company’s information – from time tracking, to sales figures, to marketing activities, and more – they give telecommuters one program to link to for all their needs, and allow managers to quickly and easily track their performance, even when they can’t physically see them. Skeptics like Mayer are able to clearly assess if their fears are well-founded, or if it’s time to adjust their thinking.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, investing in the technology that will allow your employees to effectively work from home is just smart business. Study after study has pointed to an endless number of benefits for all parties involved – from reduced stress, to an expanded talent pool, to less turnover and lower overhead costs. And by putting the structures for remote work in place, you’ll be giving all of your employees the ability to do their jobs on-the-go, whether they’re travelling, at a client’s house, or at the doctor’s office with a sick kid.
But perhaps the most important point is this: it’s simply the way the world is going. More and more people – employers and employees alike – are getting on board with telecommuting every year, and 70% of workers say that the ability to take part will be an important factor in picking their next job.
Companies that choose to ignore all of this in favour of outdated fears aren’t just bucking the trend – they’re risking being left behind.