These days, it seems that working from home is hot on the lips of everyone, from hard-core programmers to school teachers on pupil-free days. With powerful technologies that make remote work better constituting a significant influence, many industries and companies aren’t ready or able to fully adopt remote workers yet.
Although further social change is needed for remote workers to become widespread, some employers are dipping their toes in the water by allowing their employees to perform one or two days work from home each week.
And, at the crux of it all, beyond making the remote scenario possible, there are four powerful technologies that make remote work better.
What is a remote team or workplace, and why use them?
I know you’re here for the tech-talk, but first, let’s establish what it means to work remotely and why you might do it.
In essence, as a remote worker, you’re performing paid work for someone else in a different location to them. You could be in the same street, city or country, or on opposite sides of the globe to each other.
In many cases, the space you choose will be in your own home; however, many remote workers are also choosing to work from shared office spaces and even in public spaces.
I’m a freelance copywriter in Brisbane, and, at times, I work under a contract. I almost always work remotely from home, despite the location of the company I am working with.
You might be a permanent employee, on a contract or working as a freelancer. Remote workers don’t usually include people who are running a business from home unless they’re managing a team in multiple locations.
The benefits of working remotely (or employing a remote team) are:
- Lower business overheads,
- Improved work-life balance,
- Improved productivity with fewer distractions,
- Reduced time spent, fatigue and stress from commuting, and,
- Reduced environmental impact and congestion from commuting.
As for the cons, I’ll leave that list to the opposers of remote work.
Technologies that make remote work better
From my first touch of computers in the 1980s, I can’t imagine a world without tech. Yet, as a society, we’re in a phase where technology can both help and hinder us.
We do, however, have the power to choose what we do with technology.
And, I, for one, love the ability to work from home, while getting better every day at choosing tech that helps, not hinders, my progress.
So, let me take you on a little journey down memory lane to identify and discuss the top four technologies that make remote work better for me.
#4 The humble laptop
With reluctance, around ten years ago, I replaced my gaming tower computer, complete with a perspex window and LED lights, with a laptop. As a student, it certainly was a smart choice to have a workplace that could fit in my bag and travel with me on public transport, but, every loyal bone in my body hurt.
While I thought I’d be able to utilise different spaces for study, almost forty years late, I’d finally caught up with computer technology that had been on exponential growth since conception in the 1970s.
Early laptops weighed in at more than 10kg, so they weren’t fit for lap-use, they were, however, portable to an extent.
As a nine-year-old in the early ’90s, I spied my first laptop. Beige and brick-like, it took up a considerable chunk of space on the dining room table at my friend’s house. I remember staring in awe at the green text glowing on the black screen while my friend dragged me away to play with troll dolls.
While I’d seen PCs before, in hindsight, this laptop had enabled my friend’s father to continue his programming work from home without requiring a second computer.
Awe-inspiring to 9-year-old-me for other reasons, this was one of the technologies that make remote work better.
#3 Collaboration tools
When it comes to collaboration, simply being about to communicate isn’t enough. Collaboration technologies that make remote work better are foundational in the remote worker movement and are why I’m giving them the most attention. Even so, I’m barely scratching the surface of what’s out there.
How the wiki made the internet better
By enabling individuals to work together effectively on the same projects, collaboration technologies that make remote work better all stem from the invention of the wiki.
While you’d likely be most familiar with Wikipedia, many SaaS technologies provide the collaboration-style of a wiki, with multiple login profiles and editing histories, including WordPress, which I’ve used to create my website, just as 35% of the rest of you have.
Major players in the conception of the internet, including Tim Berners-Lee, imagined a freely available and editable information store. However, it took until the release of web 2.0 and the availability of open-source software, including the wiki, before this concept truly came into fruition.
Collaborating on documents
As a copywriter, most of my scheduled tasks start with a writing brief set up in Google Docs. While it falls under the category of document processing, Google Docs allows multiple contributors, in real-time, to edit and comment on the same document.
Google Docs is one of the many collaboration tools available in G-Suite, which includes secure chat forums, video conferencing, cloud-based storage and more.
The beauty of Google products is in their ease of use, especially when collaborating with teams of mixed technical capabilities and on different types of devices.
However, depending on the scope of your project and the industry you work in, there are many services online that allow collaboration that may suit you better.
Either way, technologies that allow real-time collaboration cuts out unnecessary time scheduling and talking in meetings, or details getting lost in lengthy email discussions.
Project management tools
Hardcore-productivity buffs are all over project management tools like Scrum, Jira and Notion, to name a couple. In my specialty, I don’t find a huge benefit in these technologies; however, I have graced teams that have successfully utilised Asana, ProWorkFlow and Slack.
Project management tools enable multiple people with different disciplines to work on the same project while maintaining a clear picture of the end goal.
Usually, projects are broken down into different tasks to allocate to contributors. Questions and discussions surrounding the project are easily managed and kept in one place. Through the use of user tagging and hashtags, all discussions are available to team members to access at any time.
While each individual can work on their tasks on a granular level, their work is more likely to stay on-task with the overall project without unnecessary work performed on tangents.
So, the benchmark has been set for SaaS- include collaboration functionality or lose clients that work in teams remotely.
#2 Wireless technology
While wireless technology isn’t critical, it does make remote work better in so many ways that it can’t be ignored.
Having a transportable workspace, or simply setting up a home office has become significantly easier without requiring all the plugs and wires.
From working at a desk, the couch or dining room through to taking a coffee with complimentary wifi, they’re all the better without wires.
We’re saying bye-bye to yellow and blue network cables and landline phones and saying how-you-doing to wifi, wireless headsets, cameras and other devices with Bluetooth connectivity, and even Apple’s patented AirDrop functionality. Oh, and of course, 4G and 5G connections are the life of the party.
To have the freedom to take that lightweight and powerful laptop with you, have it communicate perfectly with your other devices and access the internet while lasting hours on battery life is the epitome of technologies that make remote work better.
And, to complete my set of technologies that make remote work better, all I need is a pair of noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones.
#1 The internet
Last but not least, and possibly the most apparent enabler, the internet is the godfather of technologies that make remote work better.
The internet forms the backbone of all of the other technologies. It has become everything the creators of the internet were aiming for- a comprehensive collaboration tool full of free information where everyone can be an editor.
It enables information to travel between different devices controlled by you and your colleagues.
It provides storage of shared data and a ‘paper-trail’ for your projects.
The internet is the epitome of technologies that make remote work better.
Technologies that make remote work better in the future
We’ve all been thinking it, so I’m going to say it- virtual reality goggles. However, I’m going to go one-up and add drones to the mix.
Imagine a world where you could be on-site with a drone controlled from your virtual reality goggles.
Think beyond the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon creates a crude t-shirt wearing robot, so he doesn’t have to expose himself to germs and imagine something more elegant.
Whether you’re doing it part-time, full-time, locally or internationally, you can’t deny the impact of technologies that make remote work better.
And, whatever you’re thinking, remote work is a privilege of our generation and will become the birthright of future generations thanks to technology.