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Endless work possibilities, thanks to the cloud

Recently it was Work From Home Week, and more people than ever are interested in working from home; 83% of employees want the option of working from home (Business Matters). Technology has evolved to make this more realistic than ever, so what’s holding us back?

There’s still a stigma attached to working from home, it seems. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that gives me the freedom to work from home – in fact, it’s a necessity because of what I do. I’m often on the road doing demos and presentations to customers and prospects, so it’s not feasible for me to be tied to an office desk. When I talk to office-based friends about this, they’re sometimes gobsmacked. Some are afraid to work from home because they feel like their boss would check up on them constantly, worried that they were dossing about watching Homes Under the Hammer. Or playing with their new puppy…

This is an assumption that needs to be stamped out. 2014 research carried out by Stanford University’s Economics Professor Nicholas Bloom found that home workers from a Chinese travel centre made 13.5% more calls on average when working from home; this was equivalent to a whole extra day of work across the week. This study also found that workers clocked in more hours, thanks to fewer breaks and distractions and no commute. Employees were more productive per-minute, thanks to an environment with fewer distractions. This also increased workers’ job satisfaction, and we all know how important a happy workforce is to a business’s productivity.

Similarly, O2 piloted a scheme in 2012 ahead of the expected disruption of the London Olympics. Of 3,000 staff based around Slough, only 125 “mission critical” staff worked from their desk, while the rest trialled working from home. 36% of those taking part in the trial felt they were more productive, and a total of 1,000 hours that would have otherwise been spent commuting, were instead spent working.

If these results aren’t enough to convince business owners to take working from home more seriously, there are some significant cost savings too. Global Workplace Analytics data shows businesses can save around £6,810 per year, per employee who works from home for at least half of the time.

Cloud platforms mean it’s easier than ever for employees to work on the road or at home. We no longer need our desktop PCs to access files and information critical to our jobs, because it’s all in the cloud and accessible from our home PCs – which, FYI, are often more advanced than office-based machinery according to Business Matters.

O2’s experiment relied on an upgrade of its Virtual Private Network (VPN) so workers could remote in to access their files and internal websites like intranets and CRM systems. Although VPN is still useful and even critical for some remote workers, advances in technology in those 5 short years means it’s easier than ever for people to work from home without relying on a VPN. It’s particularly handy for those days we’re stuck at home thanks to the weather, without our work laptops. For us, Office 365 is the driving force behind our home-working staff.

Personally, I work primarily on my Surface Pro 4, a device I can (and do) wax lyrical about for hours. Similarly, most TSG homeworkers have a work laptop they use for both home and office-based work, allowing for more flexibility. But what about those workers that could benefit from a day or two a week working from home, with a long public transport commute? Or that severe (ish!) British winter weather that brings the roads to a standstill?

With Office 365, you don’t need access to your work machine thanks to its cloud hosting. We can simply log into the Office 365 portal in our browsers and access everything within that – business-essential productivity tools Word, PowerPoint and so on, and all of our files in OneDrive. I can communicate with my colleagues in a variety of ways – email, Skype instant messaging, video calling (all through Office 365), or even going old school and picking up the phone.

Teams has added a new dimension to the way I collaborate with workmates too; you can read my thoughts on Teams and pick up a few useful tips in my previous blog. Office 365 has evolved to bring a new meaning to communication, collaboration and teamwork. Sure, I need to go to the office sometimes for an important meeting, but more often than not I can collaborate using this wealth of tools at my disposal. It saves me money in petrol, but also saves the company money as they don’t have to ship me off to London on the train quite so much.

Advances in hosted telephony also mean workers can log into their desk phone, receive and make calls to and from that number, from the comfort of their own homes. Our telephony expert Warren Free has written about the opportunities presented by modern telephony in more detail on our blog.

Cloud-based platforms have revolutionised the way we work. It would be considerably harder to do my job without them as I’m not office based, but they give both businesses and their employees flexibility. Can’t get into work because that light dusting of snow has gridlocked the roads? No problem. Travelling across the country to a big client meeting with a to-do list as long as your arm? Working on the train is a piece of cake.

Work From Home Week is designed to raise awareness of the benefits of working from home, and to make employers consider this option on a part or full time basis for some or all of its employees. For me, it's an opportunity to highlight the technology that makes working from home not only possible, but easy, straightforward and productive. The ability to work from home is a huge part of digital transformation; in fact, it can be the first step on the journey towards digital transformation for many businesses. We’ll be breaking down what digital transformation means, and how you can achieve it, at our Futuretech North event. Sign up now.

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