June 4th, 2018

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Remote work has become the norm for millions of Americans. In 2016, 43 percent of Americans who were employed spent at least some of their time working remotely, a Gallup poll says. This represented a 4 percent increase since 2012, illustrating the growth of remote work since the rise of smartphones. Many remote workers are working from home, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that 22 percent of employed Americans did some or all of their work from home in 2016, representing over one in five of all workers.

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The popularity of home work has been fueled by the rise of new technology that facilitates remote labor. Here are three technology tools and trends that are shaping the growth of remote work.

The Rise of the Virtual Office

One way the rise of remote work has transformed the way we work is by redefining the nature of the workplace itself. Traditionally, going to work meant commuting to a physical office or worksite. With the rise of the Internet, laptops and mobile phones, workers can now telecommute to a virtual office without having to travel to a physical office. Mobile technology has allowed many companies to even dispense with a physical office entirely, setting up shop in the cloud. Workers can connect to cloud-based companies from any location using a laptop or smartphone. For instance, remote customer service workers can deliver support through a cloud contact center that allows them to assist customers from any location no matter where their employer is located.

The ability to run business from a virtual office has empowered both companies and workers with greater flexibility in selection of work location as well as shift scheduling. It has also made it possible for companies to serve customers from any location, allowing local companies to compete globally. Nearly six in 10 small businesses now have international customers, and over seven in 10 plan to grow international operations, a USForex survey reports.

The Shift Away From the Email Paradigm

The migration to a virtual office space has also changed the nature of workplace communication. Traditionally, phones and email were the backbone of workplace communication. Email has become one of the biggest time drains in the workplace, with the average worker spending almost three hours a day reading and replying to emails, Forbes says.

With the rise of the virtual workplace, the email paradigm of office communication is being displaced by newer communication tools modeled on social media. The social media paradigm is more suitable than email for virtual communication for a number of reasons. On social media platforms, a group of people can see an entire conversation thread without the need to forward old emails for participants who joined the discussion late. All participants can also see the same current versions of shared files, eliminating the risk of one participant modifying a file without everyone receiving the updates. The social media paradigm also allows more real-time conversations, avoiding the delays that can come with email exchanges.

The Growth of Telepresence Technology

One of the challenges in the remote workplace is the lack of face-to-face communication. When workers cannot see or hear the people they’re working with, they can start to feel disengaged from their coworkers and employer. Fully remote employees who work from home 100 percent of the time are 3 percent less likely to feel engaged with their job than the average employee, Gallup research says.

To address this issue, many employers are incorporating telepresence technology such as video chat into workplace communication. Video chat can give workers a sense of visual connection to other workers and supervisors even when they’re not in the same physical location. Employers are also using video chat to make a visual connection with recruits during the interview process. Two-thirds of recruiters use video chat interviews frequently, Office Team says.

The popularity of technology such as the Internet, laptops and mobile phones has promoted a virtual office culture where the traditional workspace has been replaced by a digital workplace. This has shifted workplace communication away from traditional phone and email tools to favor tools modeled on a social media paradigm, where all participants can see the same conversation thread simultaneously. The rise of the virtual workplace has also promoted the use of telepresence technology such as video chat to bridge the visual gap between workers and supervisors at different locations. Together these trends have transformed the nature of the workplace, promoting a new business model that will reshape the way we work for decades to come.

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