The concept of teleworking existed long before use of the internet was widespread. But it is broadband connectivity that is making teleworking a viable proposition for many Australians.
The ability to use online tools to simultaneously work on whiteboards or documents, engage in multi-party audio and video conferences and watch live presentations is helping tear down the geographic barriers between teleworkers and their colleagues.
The tools for teleworking are numerous, and their cost and utility is appropriately diverse. They range from free tools such as Google Docs and Microsoft’s Skype through to more sophisticated tools such as Citrix’s GoToMeeting and Cisco’s WebEx.
Inevitably, however, the march of technology is pushing their price downwards. And as Australian workers continue their migration to higher broadband speeds at home, the opportunity for them to become digital teleworkers is growing.
Case study: Cisco
The current interest from the business community in teleworking is fuelled in part by workers having technology at home that is equal, or superior to what they are given at work. Furthermore, many of the robust and secure technology environments that employers’ IT departments have developed have been superseded by publicly available tools that workers prefer using.
Cisco has invested heavily in developing online collaboration tools that mirror the ease-of-use of consumer tools, and recently released Jabber, which enables workers to collaborate from any location they can get an internet connection, using text messaging, sharing documents, or through voice and videoconferencing, on a wide range of devices.
Cisco’s Webex online conferencing service allows users to conduct multipoint videoconferencing in high definition while also sharing and annotating documents in real time. Cisco also offers a dedicated point-to-point high-definition videoconferencing service for clients.
Vaughan Klein, the Cisco regional manager for unified communications and collaboration lives on an 800-hectare cattle property near Dubbo, and teleworks from there two to three days a week. “I participate in the management of a business that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars from that teleworking environment,” he says.
Klein’s telework set-up means that when his phone rings at his desk in Cisco’s Sydney headquarters it simultaneously rings at his home office at the Dubbo farm. Klein also has a dedicated high-definition, point-to-point video conference system installed in his farm office, which is connected via a 3G mobile data service. In any given week he spends about five to seven hours in video conferences, which consumes approximately 15 gigabytes per month.
Not all set-ups are as advanced as Klein’s, but the tools available share many of the same capabilities. One of the most common tools of the teleworker is the online communications service Skype. While it is commonly used to make free audio calls across the internet, Skype also has a range of collaboration tools, including the ability to conduct multi-party video conferences.
In May last year Skype was acquired by Microsoft, which is now integrating its communications functionality into its range of web-based services. According to Oscar Trimboli, the director of Microsoft Australia’s information worker group, the wide range of devices that workers use today means it is important that the experience of using different tools is harmonised. This also reduces the training required to make people proficient with collaboration tools. “So making sure that video, voice and desktop sharing aren’t three different experiences — they are just one,” Trimboli says.
Drivers for the use of these tools is that interactions can be recorded and played back. “In two or three years’ time we’ll be doing that over video, and the systems will be search-aware, so that you will be able to catalogue the things you’ve spoken about in a meeting. And you’ll see more and more video integrated in terms of mobile worker scenarios as well,” Trimboli says.
Case study: Citrix
Indeed, two-way online video is the new ‘killer app’ of collaboration. Citrix clients want to conduct face-to-face engagements, often for training purposes, without staff needing to physically come together.
King adds that Citrix is also being driven to create technology that enables workers to be productive regardless of the type of device they are using, be it a PC, smart phone or tablet. The company is soon to launch its Workspaces tools, which will provide a single environment for everything a remote worker might use.
The company is soon to launch its Workspaces tools, which will provide a single environment for everything a remote worker might use.
“You can have a go-to meeting ‘environment’ with all of your files, documents and everything that you would be sharing,” King says. “As you can appreciate, we are making these leaps and bounds to more accurately reflect the way people work. That’s where collaboration is going.”