Can we Work from Anywhere?

This week there’s been more commotion than usual within London’s Tube network.

Whilst the strike went on, Microsoft decided to release an advert promoting working from home.

So is travelling to an office set to become a thing of the past?

Well, no, it isn’t. But technology has enabled us to make more choices about where and how we work.

The UK is still hurtling towards providing mobility and communications, available round the clock no matter where you are.

Before the Olympics two years ago (yes two years ago now), Virgin Media and the London Underground set up a partnership to install public WiFi hotspots across the network. Thereby allowing visitors, commuters and the like to access their Facebook, Twitter and even their work emails when waiting for their next train.

So, you could potentially do some work from the Tube platforms (though I wouldn’t necessarily advise it…)

Being connected is something we’ve pretty much come to expect. In fact, my frustration as I write this is that I am in one of the only places where I’m not connected to the world (I’m flying to visit one of our customers in Glasgow).

The BBC ran an article recently about ‘extreme commuting’.

It included stories from people who travelled massive distances to get to work – most of these people were commuting 5, sometimes 6 hours a day. One person crossed four international borders before he arrived at his office.

Two questions spring to mind:

  • Firstly, is it really necessary?!
  • Secondly, is it really the most productive and cost-effective use of time?

One of the guys in the BBC article was commuting 3 hours each way, although at least he was using this time to take part in conference calls from the car (on his hands free of course).

Conference calls have been around for a while but many are not exactly cheap and even though there are free services available 0844 numbers are expensive to call on mobiles.

At TSG, we’ve made a conscious decision to reduce the amount of unnecessary travel by deploying Microsoft Lync – their unified comms (UC) solution. It means we can talk to colleagues in TSG’s 12 offices around the country from the comfort of our own desk – or for those who work at home from the sofa!

Better still, Lync isn’t just voice, it’s video too. And all accessed from your PC or mobile device. Unlike traditional video conferencing there’s no need for expensive or sophisticated equipment but you still feel almost like you’re in the same room as the person / people you’re speaking to.

Having said that, I realise there will be times when it’s important to get the team together in one place and some roles mean you simply have to be in the office. It’s also sometimes a matter of personal choice that people don’t work from home.

I spend a substantial amount of my time in a car visiting TSG customers. It’s useful to cross things off your to do list when you have that time, rather than wasting time listening to how bad Aston Villa are on the wireless.

The key is using the travel time as productively as possible.

The long commute might actually be valuable – tablet devices are more capable and less chunky than traditional PCs. And the airlines, train companies and service stations continue to improve connectivity for those who have to travel.

I’m not connected now as I’m preparing to board my flight, but that’s the carrier’s choice; you can get connected on some airlines and I’m sure more will jump on the bandwagon (see The Sky’s the Limit for a great account of flying in the modern age).

aThe Channel Tunnel is also following suite. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling between the UK and France on le tunnel, then (if you’re on either EE or O2) you will be able to use your mobile phone for calls (the 30 mile stretch isn’t safe from the Dom Jollys of this world anymore).

What we need to do now is break a few habits. Commuting for commuting’s sake isn’t cost effective (well, it never has been) but now we have a choice.

Technology should help you to do things better. It’s about choosing the options that will allow you to be more productive for your business, allowing you to be more in touch when you’re on the go…and breaking a few of those ‘just because’ habits :).