Tech shines as companies move to hire telecommuters
For a growing number of workers, going to work no longer requires leaving the house.
Over the last decade, the number of telecommuting workers in the United States has grown by 103 percent, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Last year alone, telecommuting jobs grew by 6.5 percent.
TechCast estimates that 30 percent of workers could be telecommuting by 2019. This trend is part of the reason why a recent article in Forbes branded telecommuting “The Future of Work.”
Traditional workplaces considering bringing on far-flung talent should first consider the many tech implications. Will your new worker be able to access and share documents with other workers? How will the offsite employee attend office meetings? How will this person collaborate with their fellow employees?
The answers to many of these questions involve re-evaluating a company’s entire tech setup to ensure telecommuting workers are tied in to their workplace versus leaving them stranded on a home-office island.
Your office certainly has phones and email. But these tools can’t replace the nuances of face-to-face conversations or the short, informal workplace chats that can move a project forward.
Fortunately, there are many ways to get connected. Google’s Hangouts service offers a way for workers to have video meetings, chat with text messages and even share their computer screens with each other. As part of the company’s Google for Work service—which includes several other features—the product costs $5 per month per employee, or $50 per year.
If your office is reliant on Microsoft Office, you might consider Skype’s business communication service, which is available for $2 per month per employee. Because Skype is no owned by Microsoft, Skype now ties in directly with popular apps such as Outlook, Word and PowerPoint.
No matter which service is chosen, businesses must realize that for these tools to be effective, they have to be rolled out to all employees, not just the home-based employees. It would be pointless to offer remote employees video technology if their coworkers don’t have compatible technology back at the office.
Many workplaces already benefit from the power of online document collaboration. Using these tools, multiple coworkers can work together on a document at one time. This replaces the old method of emailing a document back and forth.
These tools are perfect for collaborating with off-site workers. As mentioned above, Google’s tools for business run $5 per month per user and include online document collaboration tools. Microsoft’s popular Office software is also online now as part of the Office 365 service. Microsoft has three pricing tiers for Office 365, but most businesses would probably opt for plans that cost either $8.25 or $12.50 per month per user.
The robot option
Even with all the new tools available to help home-based workers feel connected to the workplace, nothing can really replicate the feel of being in the office—except, perhaps, having a robot body-double.
That’s the idea behind the telepresence robot available from Double Robotics. Double’s telepresence robot combines an iPad video screen and speaker with a set of wheels. Using a web-based remote control, telecommuting workers can maneuver the robot throughout the workplace, attending meetings and stopping by coworkers’ desks.
The Double telepresence robot starts at $2,499, not including the required iPad. It’s a good idea to try the company’s “test drive” offer to make sure the robot can successfully maneuver around any obstacles in your office space.