Nikolaus Kimla| Wired
Throughout history, there have always been visions of the future. Jules Verne showed us submarines and flying machines long before they came about.
Gene Roddenberry shared his vision of computers that would greatly assist in every aspect of an organization and even fully run some of them – and this has come to pass. Isaac Asimov described robots that would replace laborers and domestic staff. All of these are here or are well on the way.
But with cloud computing and the technological advancements all around us, it doesn’t take a science fiction writer to point out how our corporate world will soon appear. The advent of the cloud is bringing about a new corporate environment in which there is no office. Everyone is working remotely from their own locations and the physical building is a thing of the past. In addition to many other benefits, this scenario spells the end of office politics.
Forward-thinking businesses are now asking themselves questions such as “Do we really need an office building? Why do all employees need to physically report there? Why must we spend a fortune paying for it? And why must we waste valuable time sitting in traffic to come back and forth to work?
The answers to these questions were rather obvious in 1950 or so. We had no substantial way to coordinate and synchronize activities, other than by having everyone physically present. Besides the telephone, the 50s didn’t even have a way to communicate over long distances, and the telephone didn’t give us anywhere near the capabilities we really needed to fully conduct business. So through the ubiquitous office –supported by cars, trains and planes – physical contact was constantly maintained and was the only way things got done.
But with today’s tools at our disposal, these questions have created a new mode of conducting business. Picture this scenario: the president of the company is at his house in California. The vice-president of sales is some distance off the coast. One sales rep is in Paris while another is in Vienna and yet another is in Sweden. Most of these people have never met each other in person and the business is highly successful. All employees are in great rapport and coordination. Yet, they have no central office and no corporate headquarters that employees have to report to. Each employee is working from his or her own location. So what makes such a thing possible? The infrastructure.
The infrastructure of yesterday was made up of brick, glass and steel offices full of tightly compacted bodies furiously typing away. Today, the corporate infrastructure is composed of lightning fast servers, high-speed connections and the careful choice of software applications to make it all possible. Fortunately, we’ve now come to the point where all of this can exist on the cloud.
The drastic difference of today is that virtual employees no longer have carefully spelled-out direction coming from just down the hall. They must gain a full understanding of what they are doing, and be to some degree, engineer innovative and creative methods for getting things done. With employees so enabled, it is much more of a democracy than the old structure of an enterprise.
Overall, the new employee democracy brought about by cloud computing fosters a new corporate culture in which each employee is working at his or her full potential, from the bottom to the top. How do you think that affects businesses futures and bottom lines? One study conducted by Cisco found that it saved $277 million a year by allowing employees to telecommute.
Another study by Stanford found that home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment). But for every positive reaction, there will most likely be a negative one and it is up to companies to decide whether to partake in the future or be stuck in the past.