Why "smart" companies have no choice but to support remote employees

Recently, I read a post on an app that facilitates collaborative brainstorm sessions for remote teams. It takes the principles of an in-person Ideo workshop and turns it into something accessible for employees anywhere to contribute. It’s an amazing piece of technology with the buy-in of clients like IBM and Disney.

As the remote workforce grows, many of tech companies are focusing on collaborative tools like cloud, social applications, and advanced conferencing solutions that will drive productivity no matter where employees are based.

At Splendid, we regularly work virtually and make the most of tools like Office 365 to work collaboratively and stay connected. Having previously worked at a traditional organisation that valued having people in the office, I wonder if either is a better way of working. Entrepreneur recently published a post on why "smart" companies are going remote, including reasons such as happier and more productive employees and creating superior long-term business performance.

Regardless of whether going remote is better for business or not, there are some macro trends influencing a shift to remote workers and none of them seem likely to go away.

Millennials desire work-life balance

Once upon a time, there was a generation of people who stayed with one company for decades and was motivated to climb the corporate ladder. Millennials aren't interested in structured hierarchies, but by "communities of mutual interest and passion". Instead of wanting to reach the top at all costs, research found that three out of four Millennials reported that work-life balance drives their career choices. To attract top talent, accommodating a desire for work-life balance through flexibility is essential.

Economic factors

Living close to work has become fiscally challenging for many people. If you live in Sydney, New York, San Francisco – the list goes on – you know what I am talking about.  The result is “super-commuters” who buy homes in more affordable suburbs far from city centres – only to spend hours a day on a train or in a car. For employers, even part-time remote workers save money on overhead, including rent, utilities, office supplies, cleaning, and those old biscuits in the kitchen. On the upper end of the scale, IBM, who has been supporting a remote workforce for years, saved $100 million from allowing 42% of its workforce to work remotely. Now that’s a lot of biscuits.

Tech that keeps getting better and better

More and more, technology is enabling greater productivity from employees. Cloud and collaboration tools like Office 365, Google Docs, Skype for Business, Yammer, and Slack are enabling employees to work together from anywhere on any device. On top of it, applications and hardware, like Skype for Business, Mural, and the Microsoft Surface Hub, are improving the experience not only of meetings, but as collaborative sessions that would have previously only been held face to face. Now companies can increase the value of these sessions by incorporating skill sets, not matter where team members are placed (so long as some attendees aren’t supposed to be asleep at that time in their part of the world).

Globalisation

Whether you’re a proponent or not, companies expanding out across countries has resulted in international colleagues working side by side at all hours of the day. When an employee is expected to be on a call at midnight or answer urgent emails at six in the morning, employers need to extend flexibility in return.

An entire generation of workers. The reality that homes and offices aren’t getting cheaper. Technology that grows exponentially. Businesses tapping into the benefits of extending into international markets. These are undeniable factors, which organisations cannot ignore if they want to stay competitive. The challenge will be how they support a remote and flexible workforce and encourage productivity. 

What are the biggest barriers to cloud adoption?

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With compelling reasons to embrace cloud like cost savings and ability or organisations of all sizes to scale efficiently, what could be holding organisations back from cloud adoption? The most recent available ABS research puts adoption of paid cloud computing services by Australian organisations at just 19%. While the trend in cloud adoption would indicate that this number would have grown since this data was collected, it's a far cry from what we'd expect given Australia's reputation for being ahead of the US and some European countries in embracing cloud technology. 

How can cloud service providers and resellers help more organisations to get value from cloud services? 

Education Understanding cloud services is a barrier to adoption: "Insufficient knowledge of cloud computing services" was cited by nearly 23% responders as a factor. While many tech experts take for granted the market's understanding of cloud, there clearly is the opportunity to assist those early in their cloud journey. What's key is not relying heavily on over technical language or use cases, but talking about cloud's contribution to overall business strategy. 

Managing perceptions of cost The "high cost of cloud computing services" was cited by large organisations (200 or more employees) as factor. While smaller organisations have the flexibility to implement cloud solutions relatively easily, large organisations require strategies for implementation that involve migrating from legacy systems and applications. What these companies aren't prepared to spend on moving to the cloud could actually hinder their growth and financial results into the future as more nimble, cloud-enabled competitors come after them.  

Addressing privacy and security concerns Large organisations in particular cite factors around location of data and security as primary barriers to cloud adoption. This is not new news, especially for those looking to target industries that have huge amounts of customer or citizen data; however, it's a critical communication point that, if addressed, can set your offering apart. 

Why are we selling cloud instead of the benefits of cloud?

You may have heard that as many as 86% of Australian businesses have been using cloud for a year or more. The ABS puts the figure much lower – as low as just 37% for businesses larger than 200 people. Just when we thought we had done our job and sold as much cloud as we could in a highly sophisticated market like Australia, it turns out there are more cloud sales to be had. 

So do you want to buy some cloud?  

Does anyone ever just want to buy some cloud? Sure, maybe there are organisations that feel pressured to jump on the cloud bandwagon because that's what every IT company and publication has been talking about for the last seven, eight, or more years.  

Yet, as indicated by search trends, interest actually peaked in Australia some time in 2011. Did people just decide that they couldn't bother with cloud? Well, according to the ABS research, "no factors" was preventing 59% of orgnanisations of all sizes from adopting paid cloud computing. And between 22 and 24% cited insufficient knowledge as a barrier. Perhaps ignorance is bliss and many are happy to continue on as they have before. 

Or have organisations just become more interested in what cloud can do for their business rather than cloud as a buzzword? Here are just a few of the ways businesses are getting value from cloud solutions. 

Ability to scale quickly Access to enterprise level infrastructure and software levels the playing field. It gives small companies the same resources as their largest competitors. Smaller companies who have embraced cloud since the early days have an even greater advantage in that they are not weighed down by burdensome licenses or infrastructure, which prevents many large enterprises from getting the most out of cloud. 

Creating a collaborative working environment Gone are the days of version control issues. Now cross-discipline teams can collaborate together on their work, leveraging all of the benefits of cloud collaboration solutions. From collaborative documents to cloud-based communications applications like Skype, working together has never been easier or as effective. 

Disaster recovery While the cloud is not immune to natural disasters (as AWS recently experienced during some heavy Sydney storms), cloud back up and recovery solutions offer a relatively cost effective solution for organisations of all sizes. 

Supporting a mobile workforce As workplace trends shift towards more employee flexibility (and more demands during what was once time off!), cloud is enabling a mobile workforce to add equivalent value to an organisation to those occupying desks. Cloud solutions allow access to data and applications across devices and locations and facilitate effective communications (again through apps like Skype), increasing employee productivity no matter their location. 

From reducing capex for expensive licenses or infrastructure to lowering the time and resource spent on maintenance, cloud solutions let organisations invest efforts elsewhere – like strategy, sales, or improving their offering to the market. The benefits of cloud to organisations are massive. We need to stop selling the technology and start selling the benefits of the business transformation that cloud enables.