23/06/2011

Is working from home becoming the norm?

By Michael Tinmouth, Entrepreneur Country Editor

Out of the Office: Permanently

Technology continually changes the way we live and work. Today, wider access to high-speed Internet services, mobile technology and cloud-based computer services have meant that for many businesses there may never be a need for employees to be physically present in a traditional office setting.

Consumer-grade technologies such as tablets, smartphones and notebooks are now commonplace in most households and cloud-based services such as Box.net, Huddle and Dropbox are in everyday use. These powerful tools are changing the nature of business relationships, which are often global, extending across national boundaries and time zones require evolving and intelligent technologies to create effective collaborations.

These technologies are equally redefining the workplace, the relationships between staff and clients, between managers and employees and technology is a key driver.

A recent report by communication platform provider Skype examines why working from home is becoming more accepted by managers and more sought-after by employees than ever before.

The proliferation of online collaboration platforms is just one indicator that remote working is becoming not only more accepted but often the norm. Of course Skype will have a bias, they sell a technology communication service but few entrepreneurs will disagree that Skype may ultimately prove to have been one of the most influential game changers of the digital era. Skype and a host of other cloud-based services may not bring about the downfall of the high-rise office block but history may define these services as the ones that defined lavish headquarters as a nicety rather than a necessity.

Given the widening availability, affordability and understanding of technologies such as VoIP and video, the time is right for remote working. According to Skype’s report, which includes responses from 1,000 professionals at about 500 businesses of all sizes, flexibility on in-office presence is, indeed, becoming the norm.

The Shifting Physical Place of Work

The Skype report reveals that 62% of businesses reported having employees who work remotely either full time or part time. Of these businesses, 34% of employees conduct work away from the office, spending about 40% of their time either at a client site, at home or in public spaces.

The results highlight the shifting nature of the physical place of work, from traditional office spaces to homes, hotels, airports and other locations, both domestic and abroad.

The percentage of companies allowing remote work varies depending upon the size of the company with larger businesses being more likely to allow remote working than a small or medium sized business.

One of the main drivers behind changing policies is that it has become both easier and cheaper to work remotely. This is due in part to consumer-grade tools as well as a better understanding and acceptance of the benefits to both employees and employers through increased productivity, reduced overheads and happier employees.

The Future of Formal Workplaces

Flex work is now seen by many business as necessary to attract and retain top-quality candidates and what may once have been considered a privilege for workers is now an essential component for any business that wants to be competitive in the marketplace.

Where flexitime was once all the rage now flexible working has taken that concept a step further and allows an employee the ability to not only work to flexitime but also to telecommute, job share, temp/contract and work as a freelancer.

Businesses now regard remote working positively and almost 56% of decision makers believe that working remotely makes employees more productive – a sentiment shared by nearly half of all end users.

The report draws the conclusion that in the future workplaces will be built on “even more trust” than ever before; a trust between the business and the employee, a trust between the manager and the worker. This trust will be based on a confidence and faith that employees will not only do their jobs but will also use the available tools and technologies judiciously.

There is no doubting that new technology continues to impact and change the way we live and work. Work as a physical act conducted by people is evolving, losing its centuries long dependence on time and place. Technologies such as video communication tools are making remote working possible whilst maintaining the benefits of face-to-face communications.

The future landscape of working looks set to continue to be dominated by an ever increasing use of video communication and fast-maturing technologies such as smart phones and social networks. Reflecting on future advancements the Skype report concludes that nearly all existing technologies first found their way into the hands of consumers who then took these tools and technologies and applied them to a work setting. The consumerisation of IT and the impact of consumer-oriented technologies on the way we work means that social networks, smart phones and video communications will in future play an even more significant role. These technologies impact not only the workers themselves but also an entire business, which can easily extend their search for talent globally as well as use technology-enabled processes to conduct operations effectively and empower workers across the enterprise.

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