Remote work is becoming the new normal for an increasing number of workers and businesses. In fact, the number of companies that operate mostly or entirely using remote workers increased from 26 in 2014 to 125 in 2016, according to FlexJobs. Technology trends are helping promote the shift toward remote work. Here’s a look at some of the trends and technology that are making working remotely a reality for millions of American employees.
The Mobile Workforce Revolution
The popularity of home computers in the 1980s and the rise of the internet in the 1990s set the stage for the trend towards remote work. The mobile revolution has accelerated this trend over the past two decades. Eighty percent of small business owners now use their mobile phone for work-related tasks at least once a day, an increase of almost 10 percent since 2012, according to Manta’s SMB Wellness Index. And 25 percent use their mobile devices for work every hour.
Smartphone providers have helped accommodate this trend by developing security features that support bring your own device (BYOD) policies, such as data partitioning and remote data wiping. Internet hosting and application service providers have also supported the BYOD trend by offering technologies such as virtual private networks and encryption.
From Email to Collaboration Tools
The mobile workforce revolution has promoted a shift in preferred communication tools in the workplace. Initially, remote work over the internet was conducted mainly through email. However, email has limitations for workplace collaboration. For instance, if multiple parties are involved in a conversation, it can be cumbersome to reference an email that was sent before one of the parties joined the discussion. Similarly, it can be challenging or impossible to keep everyone’s versions of a document in synch when multiple parties are able to edit different versions of the same document.
To address these limitations, a couple major alternatives have emerged that allow multiple parties to share the same view and file version. One solution is using collaboration interfaces modeled after forum message boards, such as Basecamp. Other tools, such as Slack, use a collaboration interface modeled after social media sites.
Another innovation that has helped make remote work feel more like face-to-face office interactions is video calling technology. Video chat services and virtual office solutions with integrated video chat and conferencing capability have made it possible for remote workers to talk to their employers, each other and customers just like they were in a physical office. Video calling is now used for everything from interviews to conferencing to customer service.
Cloud-based Software Services
Cloud-based software applications have also helped drive the remote work revolution. Online office suites have emerged, prompting Microsoft to move its popular Office suite to the cloud. Similarly, online accounting apps such as Xero have prompted QuickBooks to begin offering a cloud-based version of its accounting software.
Meanwhile, cloud-based customer relationship management tools enable companies to use remote sales representatives, while cloud contact centers empower remote customer service representatives. Cloud backup tools help ensure that remotely stored data stays stored securely. Thanks to this type of technology, it is now possible for companies to run a virtual office entirely from the cloud.