Cloud computing has many benefits, one of which is enabling us to work from anywhere, any time. How will this effect the future of business? More to the point, how will it effect the future of the physical office? There is a very real possibility that within a decade many of us will choose to work from home, rather than enduring the daily commute to the office.
This will have many very tangible and immediate benefits, and a few drawbacks. Firstly, home is not an ideal environment for many of us to work in, and can sometimes cause additional tension between families. Secondly, there is an undeniable benefit of sharing an office with co-workers, particularly when it comes to collaborating on projects, meeting with clients and, for some, boosting productivity.
Despite those very convincing arguments for working from an office, flexible working and working from home is certainly not without its merits. It has just been announced that 2014 was the hottest on record. The consensus is that climate change and tackling emissions is the greatest challenge we have ever faced. Commuting is responsible for a large portion of emissions. If we all worked from home or avoided our usual commute, even for just one or two days a week, that would have a significant effect on the environment.
Avoiding the commute has also been shown to lower stress levels, as well as saving employees time and money. Employers aren't always so keen on letting employees working from home, citing a lack of control and direct oversight. Essentially, it is an issue of trust. How does an employer know that employees aren't just taking advantage of a flexible working policy? My advice to employers is to afford your employees the chance to prove that they are reliable and trustworthy, rather than assuming the opposite.
Flexible working also means that employees can easily amend work to meet a deadline, something they would otherwise have to go to the office to do - not always practical or even possible. It can be used to supplement an office environment, rather than compete with it. Even if you aren't comfortable with employees working out of office full time, giving them the option to when necessary is a great thing, and can make life easier for everyone. Your employees will certainly appreciate having the option, and so will you sooner or later!
Face to face meetings are simply a necessity in business sometimes. Other times, a conference call, VOIP or Video conference solution is just as effective, particularly with technologies such as screen sharing that cloud technologies can facilitate.
Let us also consider that many people have to travel for work for whatever reason. Cloud computing and flexible working benefits this portion of the workforce the most. Time that would otherwise be wasted on the train and in hotel rooms.
So, is the end of the office nigh? I don't think so, and despite being a huge proponent of cloud technology and flexible working, I think human interaction is vital. Having said that, I think flexible working is a great asset to a company, and having that option is a huge benefit to both employer and employee. Businesses will need to come up with their own solutions to flexible working, to make it work for them and their employees. Finding that balance will be vital in the coming years.