Frost & Sullivan research shows that a growing number of organizations are supporting an increasingly virtual workplace. In such a scenario, a large number of employees regularly work in a location that is different from that of their colleagues, managers and direct reports — not to mention their business partners and customers, who almost certainly work not just in a different building, but possibly in a different geographic region. The benefits of virtual workers are many, and include the ability to hire the best employees, regardless of where they live in relation to the company; savings on facilities and related expenses; reductions in the company’s and the worker’s carbon footprint; and the ability to offer employees a large degree of flexibility, which is one of the best ways to boost productivity and increase retention rates.
But while technology has made the virtual workplace possible—thanks in large part to the Internet, as well as near-ubiquitous voice and data connectivity—IT and line-of-business managers must ensure that their remote employees have the right software and services to be as productive as possible whenever they work outside the traditional office.
Here is a look at some of the most important tools to deploy to virtual workers and their office-bound counterparts, ensuring everyone in the organization can communicate and collaborate whenever they need to, wherever they are, and on any device.
Conferencing: Audio, web and video conferencing allow far-flung employees to participate in team meetings and collaboration sessions without having to travel, which saves time and money, and which makes their overall work experience more productive. Web collaboration and video conferencing, especially, make it easy for remote workers to work together on documents, share ideas, brainstorm on projects, and deliver feedback and action items with clarity and understanding. More companies are looking at desktop video services that also include some element of web-based collaboration, such as file sharing and PowerPoint presentation capabilities, to avoid the high costs and management headaches often associated with room-based video conferencing systems.
Presence and chat: By allowing users to see who among their colleagues is online, on the phone and/or available for a chat, call or conference, presence and instant messaging (IM) applications simulate what it’s like for everyone to be in the same office, even when they’re miles, or even continents, apart. This allows them to get information as soon as they need it, accelerating decisions, making it easier to take advantage of opportunities in sales and marketing, and speeding and improving customer service. It also lets remote workers focus on work when they need to, by setting their presence status as unavailable when they want to be left alone to work on specific projects and deliverables.
Social software: By letting users learn more about their colleagues’ experience and skills, as well as encouraging them to share ideas and work product, social software enables more and more-effective collaboration. Applications and services that include profiles, status updates, file sharing and content management tools help ensure that everyone in the organization has access to everyone else—making it easier for virtual workers to be part of the larger team. They also encourage and help maintain a sense of community throughout the organization. When users post personal information as well as their work-related knowledge and skills, they connect more often and more readily with other employees, and those personal connections improve teamwork and productivity down the road.
Mobile solutions: More employees are using smart phones and tablets to stay connected and productive when they’re on the go. This is true not just for so-called road warriors, who may spend most of their time at client sites or other locations; increasingly, it’s true for knowledge workers who want and need to be available to their colleagues and customers outside of “normal” business hours. Companies should deploy communications applications and services that will also work on mobile devices, so that all employees have access to the technology from anywhere.