One of the outcomes of the rapid growth in technologies like cloud, mobile, and social media over the past 7 years has been a major surge in the number of professionals working from home. Breakthroughs in communication technologies have been a key enabler of this trend. Thanks to computers, smartphones, email, instant messaging and video-conferencing remote workers today have access to multiple ways to fulfill their job responsibilities without commuting to the office. The implications of these new technologies are profound from an economic standpoint and are leading to significant new ways of thinking about the world of work.
The New Global Virtual Worker Economy
According to one study, 34% of small businesses globally feel a greater urgency to encourage mobile or flexible work practices than five years ago. And almost 20% of all small businesses in the United States, Canada, and Australia are experiencing productivity gains of more than 30% by allowing their employees to adopt mobile lifestyles – which involve working wherever, whenever, and however they prefer.
In a 2012 survey of 1,500 business owners, Elance, a website that matches employers with employees who can work remotely, noted that nearly 75% of businesses surveyed planned to hire more online freelancers than the previous year. Respondents also estimated that 54% of their workforce would be online by 2017.
Companies like oDesk, the world’s largest online staffing site, have provided major impetus to the work from home trend. With a network of thousands of active contractors, oDesk is a global job marketplace that provides collaboration tools for these contractors to undertake jobs ranging from web development to graphic design to administrative support.
For businesses remote work translates into considerable cost reductions and benefits. This savings comes in the form of real estate, office equipment, utilities, electricity, less attrition, transportation, road maintenance, and much more. One source has estimated that teleworking could save the U.S. over $700 billion annually. The writer himself heard a rather surprising statistic at a technology conference last year: 7 out of every 10 dollars in the IT industry are spent to keep the lights on.
Despite the clear cost savings of remote work, there is simply no substitute for in office presence where casual face-to-face conversations allow for easy collaboration and camaraderie. A brand new spate of technologies and tools have emerged in recent years that provide exciting options for keeping remote workers engaged with their in-office counterparts. Telepresence is a form of innovation that has gained a lot of attention in recent years. Telepresence is defined as “a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.” Telepresence is an intriguing market and has gained enough attention that it potentially has significant implications for today’s growing global virtual worker economy.
In the following series we’ll explore in more detail some of the salient features of the expanding Telepresence market and what’s in it for the remote worker. Here’s an overview of the path ahead in this discussion:
Please join us in Part 2 as we kick things off by looking at Telepresence videoconferencing and why it’s an ideal time for small businesses and individuals to take a serious look at this market.