Virtual Office Featured Article

Did We Ever Telecommute Before the Cloud?

December 26, 2013
By Mae Kowalke - Virtual Office Resource Contributor

Telecommuting and the home office has been around for a long time, and since the Internet burst onto the scene as a popular communications medium in the 1990s, so too has the virtual office. But we’re currently in the middle of a profound change in both use and volume of virtual office environments.

That’s because in the last five to 10 years we have also seen the emergence of cloud computing, which is turning every business function into a service that can be bought and used online. This has made the virtual office profoundly easier to implement, and it has therefore greatly increased the number of workers who use a virtual office. Almost every business pro with any real responsibility now does some computing outside of the office, and many (such as myself) have gone virtual full-time.

The cloud has done much for the virtual office.

First and most importantly, it has meant that telecommuting workers no longer are crippled workers. All company databases and files now can be accessed by remote workers. Incoming faxes can be picked up by email instead of only being accessible at the office (thanks to fax-over-IP cloud services). Design software and office applications come over the web. Casual collaboration can happen through services such as Google (News - Alert) Hangouts, no longer just when you are in the office. If it is done for business, there now is a way to do it remotely thanks to the cloud.

The cloud enables robust communication, making virtual workers as present as those in the next cubicle. This is thanks to voice-over-IP (VoIP), video conferencing, chat, collaboration suites, etc. Before the cloud, workers off-site were out of mind even if they were only a phone call or email away. But with the cloud, communications services have been kicked up a notch and everyone is using the same communications methods no matter where they are working. So there’s less of a social and collaborative downside to telecommuting today.

Due to the ease and frequency that people now work outside of the office thanks to the cloud, there also is a network effect. People now know how to interact with remote workers. Before, telecommuters knew how to interact with telecommuters, but frankly a fair amount of workers in an office did not. They didn’t understand the workflow or the pacing.

Likewise, the very fabric of business was less amenable to telecommuting and the virtual office before the cloud. With cloud adoption and more workers doing their job remotely, business processes have shifted in a way that is much more modular, much more asynchronous, and much more flexible. This benefits those not working in a cubicle.

Finally, of the major benefits of the cloud, one of the biggies is mobility. The cloud not only makes the virtual office as good as the physical office, it also enables workers to take their office with them in a way that until very recently was not possible. Workers always could tote around their laptop, but until the cloud they could not tote around the company’s databases, its files, its whiteboards, its office phones. Laptops and smartphones help with mobility, but without the cloud these devices would not have the digital resources that make them such essential tech. The cloud makes smartphones, tablets and laptops useful.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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