If you work 48 weeks in the year and spend a conservative 5 hours per week commuting to and from work, you are spending 240 hours per year driving. This takes time away from family, hobbies, friends, and much more. How can technology be leveraged to gain that time back?
Up until recent years, the only option for working was to physically go into an office to put in your 40-50 hours per week behind a stuffy desk surrounded by people you may or may not enjoy working with. As technology has evolved, so has the flexibility of whether you work at the office, at home, at the beach, or some other locale.
While technology does make it easier for employers to allow telecommuting, there is still a trust factor that comes into play. There are ways each employer can measure productivity differently, but some employers are simply more comfortable knowing for certain their employee is at their desk during a specified time every day. Another consideration for employers is the morale of employees that are not working from home while another is permitted that luxury. Should they have 1 happy employee and 10 disgruntled employees or 10 content employees and 1 disgruntled employee? Rather than examining the struggles for employers that are faced with this decision, lets examine the technologies that allow working from home to be a reality much more frequently than it was 20-30 years ago.
If an employer decides to allow telecommuting, there are several tools on the market that safeguard their investment.
· Worksnaps: This tool allows an employer to monitor how productive the work-at-home employee has been throughout the day. There are less detailed tools available but this one doesn’t leave a lot of room for a work around by the employee. Beyond monitoring the time spent in productive programs (Facebook not being one of them) the tool takes screenshots of the worker’s computer screen throughout the day to make sure the employee is productive while activity is showing on their computer. They will even count the number of mouse and keyboard clicks.
· Internet: This is rather obvious but probably the most important tool. The internet allows you to communicate with members of your team, your company, and any outside clients. Many companies have web-based products they use for housing databases or other tools that are essential to job duties of their employees.
· Google docs: This is free to anyone that has a Gmail account. It provides Microsoft based tools to people no matter where they are in the world. Google docs can be accessed to share documents whether for informational purposes or for each member of a team to edit the document. If you don’t have Microsoft programs on your home computer, this is a great way to use them. They don’t have the most current benefits of the current programs, but it will work in a pinch.
· Trello: This is a popular tool that allows for project management across your team no matter everyone’s location. This can be used for individuals to organize to-do lists or monitor projects, so everyone knows where the team is at. The program permits you to break the project into segments that can be more closely observed as the project progresses.
· Zoho: This is another project management tool, but it looks to have an abundance of features including overlapping features I’ve already discussed. There is the ability to monitor time spent on projects, offers charts and written documentation of the progress of the specific projects the team is working on, a calendar that the entire team can contribute to and view, document sharing capabilities, notes area for recording specific hurdles or bugs that need to be resolved. This is just the tip of the ice burg in terms of the capabilities of this tool. The cost is relatively inexpensive as well ranging from $0 for limited access to $100/month/employee for all access.
· Yammer: This is described as a Facebook for work. This platform allows an employer to send only relevant information to employees. Then employees can communicate within their specific teams to accomplish goals.
· Skype: This is a free service that allows face-to-face communication between employees. The tool is internet based and allows you to bring several people into the conversation/collaboration.
· GoTo Meeting: This is a great tool for webinars as it will allow you to broadcast to hundreds of people that join. In addition, for those that cannot attend the meeting or want to watch the meeting for a second time the meetings can be recorded. You can share your screen with those that signed up for the meeting allowing for project collaboration or even training.
· Viewflux: There are several sites geared towards designers, viewflux being one of them. These sites allow you to share your designs with a group of people. Those people can specify changes they want made by marking up the page. Have you ever wanted someone to change something about a graphic and you try to describe in several words what just a few words and an arrow could describe? These sites make a world of difference for designers and their clients and team members.
· Dropbox: If you have files larger than what can fit on the Google drive, dropbox is an option for a place to share files with your team. According to Dropbox, this is a secure way to share files.
· Nimble: This is a great tool for sales people and people with large networks to stay organized. This tool combines your social media and email contacts into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. The tool even links conversations you’ve had with these contacts, so you can remember the contact in that specific context.
These are just a few of the tools that people can use when they work from home or even work in the office. The collaboration potential with the tools can simplify processes that are long overdue for change. In addition, the telecommuter can easily connect with and contribute to projects that are being working on in the office. Without these connections, the telecommuter could quickly be disregarded as part of the dynamic of the department they once worked with in person.
While some may argue that society is more disconnected from one another than ever before, consider that technology is not a hindrance to our efforts to communicate but rather an advantage. I would maintain that society is communicating more efficiently, more frequently, and more effectively than ever before because of technology.
Imagine being able to work from 7:00-4:00 and being able to start dinner at 4:05 rather than 5:05. Now you have time to patiently help the kids with their homework, easily pick up the kids from soccer practice, spend time focusing on your spouse. The pressure to get things done can decrease as the level of technology increases if we leverage the two. What would the ability to telecommute mean to your life? Do you do it currently? What have you found to be beneficial about it?