A perfect storm is building around cloud computing that promises to usher in an era of telecommuting.
Already, many of the building blocks are in place: now what is required is a corporate recognition that this is an optimal way to work, even if it's only for part of the workforce, and for part of the week.
Let's look at the factors that are bringing telecommuting into the mainstream:
* The pressure on the working day. Hundreds of thousands of people every day commute for hours and often hundreds of kilometres, only to get to an office and spend all day behind a desk working on a Web-enabled PC. The impact of such a life is intense: stress, cost, environmental pollution and gridlock, to mention a few.
* While the concept of spatial development frameworks would seem to indicate the potential for people to live closer to their place of employ, the fact is that knowledge workers are seldom if ever going to be concentrated around one hub. Rather, young knowledge workers, in particular, are acquiring property where it is affordable, and that is typically in newer developments far away from the office parks where they are employed.* The advent of cloud computing as a realistic option. Today, an increasing number of business-critical applications are available across the Web, and companies are satisfied that key issues, such as security, data integrity and system availability have been addressed. Just to recap, cloud computing refers, generally speaking, to a scenario in which business applications are not delivered via an on-site server, but rather via "somewhere out there", in the cloud, which tends to characterise the Internet in schematic diagrams.
* The higher speed and lower cost of bandwidth in South Africa. As recently as three years ago, cloud telecommuting would have been impractical; but today bandwidth has soared in speed and dropped in price and availability as regulations have eased.
* The current working generation has grown up with the Internet as part of their lives. They spend most of their day on Internet applications such as Twitter and Facebook, either on a PC or on their mobile phones. Working from home will be a natural migration for the new "I want it now" workforce.
One of the fastest growing areas of cloud computing is the contact centre market. Thousands of call centre agents in South Africa have been moved from dedicated call centre facilities to a multi-tenant situation where their employer no longer acquires, owns and maintains costly call centre equipment. Rather, they share a hosted contact centre, paying a monthly fee that comes out of Opex rather than Capex budget.
Agents log in from anywhere using IP (Internet Protocol) lines, which in theory means they could be working from home. Similarly, software developers can log into the corporate virtual private network (VPN), and develop from home. As long as they know their role in the greater scheme of things, and are working within the framework of a well managed project plan, they can be highly productive for long periods.
At MIP, we have begun applying this kind of thinking, moving from a standard five-day working week to allowing many of our developers to work from home one day a week. The consequence has been a 20% gain in productivity, and we will soon look to allow these developers to work from home two days a week.
Telecommuting also allows companies to make use of skilled workers on a part-time or flexitime basis. As an example, the current situation has new mothers taking three months off, then shipping their new offspring off to a day-care facility and returning to work.
Depending on their job spec, cloud-based telecommuting could allow these mothers to provide a remote service to their employer while maintaining a more stable and balanced home life.
Cloud-based telecommuting also makes it possible for companies to gear up for seasonal or campaign-based spikes in staffing. You need another 30 agents for a compliance project? Let them work from home? Your business has grown and you need more employees for form capture and claims fulfilment? Design your workflow to include agents working from home.
It is surely only a matter of time before more companies consider all the factors and incorporate cloud-based telecommuting into their overall strategy.
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