Working from home has always been at least a possibility for many white collar jobs. Technologies such as the fax machine, telephone and Internet have over the years made it increasingly feasible for some workers to be productive from remote or home offices. With wired and wireless broadband speeds increasing and mobile devices proliferating, though, telecommuting is now easier than ever before – and many professionals are realizing its potential to become the rule rather than the exception in how they approach their main occupations.
Unified communications and the rapid rise of telecommuting
One of the key enablers of the remote work revolution has been the growing adoption of unified communications solutions, which supercharge traditional telephony and instant messaging with the powers of high-speed IP connectivity and centralized management. A 2015 study from Grand View Research found that the UC market could be worth more than $75 billion by 2020, thank to trends such as:
- Bring-your-own-device policies that encourage employee-supplied phones and tablets; a UC server can get all of these devices on the same page via a common application interface that requires little more than an Internet connection.
- Consolidation of legacy communications infrastructure – supporting siloed voice, video and data transmissions – into one platform that is easy to use as well as cost-effective.
- Heightened focus on collaboration across disparate offices, via tools such as VoIP and video conferencing that can, in most cases, establish crystal-clear connections between workers regardless of their locations.
In a way, we can look at UC as both a cause and an effect of the ongoing surge in telecommuting. Its improvement across on-premises (the dominant deployment model for now, accounting for 60 percent of the market in 2013) and cloud (the popular choice for new implementations and growing companies) solutions makes remote work easier, which in turn encourages further refinement of UC technologies.
Basically, there are many great options now available to telecommuters for staying in the loop, collaborating with colleagues and contributing to projects from anywhere. The predictable result has been keener interest in the last few years in simply dialing-in or working remotely whenever possible.
The second annual PGi Global Telework Survey, released in June 2015, revealed just how far telecommuting has come from its origins as a rare or unusual practice. For starters, 60 percent of respondents reported that they would resign their current positions to take others that allowed them to work remotely all the time.
"There are many great options now available to telecommuters for staying in the loop."
The survey painted a picture of the general decline of the traditional 9-to-5 work environment in favor of something with more nebulous boundaries and different methodologies. Four in five respondents stated that they worked outside the main office of their employers at least once per week. Moreover, half of these individuals sought to work from home more often, ideally up to two to threes times each week.
The motives for working remotely more often range from improved work/life balance to reduced/eliminated commute times, both of which are important considering the stress and cost now associated with many jobs. If nothing else, consider that half of the PGi respondents reported that they had commutes between 45 minutes and an hour each day.
New work environments require a fresh set of communications tools
Just as this old paradigm of work is on its way out, so are some of its most distinctive communications tools – the landline office phone, the hand-delivered memo in the mailbox and the physical whiteboard. Enter in their places the anytime-anywhere connectivity of UC solutions that provide VoIP, video conferencing, instant messaging, fax and call center capabilities supported by high-performance boxes running flexible Linux-based operating systems.
UC provides a way to communicate optimally depending on the context. Does a remote worker need to see a live presentation from someone in a board room? Cue up a video stream. Does he or she want to hash-out the details of a new proposal over the phone? Use VoIP for a crystal-clear connection. Does the organization need to keep careful records of all communications? Utilize a UC server with expandable storage capacity for easy voicemail collection and call recording.
The new normal for work, characterized by telecommuting and mobile communications, has often been described as a "flexible" arrangement. With all of their versatility, UC solutions are well suited to this evolving approach to (remote) office life.