What did ‘working from home’ mean when you started out? For some of us, working from home means simply that – the ability to fulfil all the basic functions of being at your desk from the comfort of your own kitchen or living room. Working from home has long been acknowledged as having social and economic benefits (helping keep those unable to tackle today’s often punishing commutes in gainful employment on their own terms and helping families work flexibly around children’s schedules). Today, however, we are more connected as a society than ever, and the ability to set up shop (both literally and metaphorically) anywhere is well within our reach. Ten years ago, when Work Wise Week began, working from home was enabled thanks to passable home broadband connections and around fifty thousand public WiFi access points globally. Today, there are fifty million WiFi access points globally - just take a look at the number of shops and restaurants advertising ‘free WiFi’ on your local high street. You never have to disconnect yourself from your emails and, far from this being a negative thing, it’s reinvented the concept of what ‘working remotely’ means and blown the possibilities for smaller businesses and self-employed workers right out of the water.
And that’s before we even begin to discuss the rise of mobile – smartphones were barely starting out in 2005 and 3G had just launched, with the iPhone yet to make an appearance. Now smartphones are everywhere (with their supporting tablets and even smartwatches now) and often permanently on our persons, complete with a plethora of apps. Our working lives have naturally benefitted from this increased connectivity and being chained to a desk has become a thing of the past. The increasing connectivity and speed of mobile networks combined with the rising number of WiFi hotspots (with some networks now in the early stages of offering connectivity, safely, during aeroplane flights alongside in-flight WiFi) means that many of us can actually carry all the trappings of an office with us in our pockets and set ourselves up to work…anywhere.
We’ve heard from many sources about how this new work style is of benefit to the individual worker – opening up the way we work beyond the desk-bound 9-to-5 is incredibly democratising, meaning that parents can adapt their work schedule around their families and the older generation can remain active in the working world without having to brave the exhausting commute. But for businesses, especially SMBs, the advantages are similarly huge. For a business owner, having a physical office space is no longer a requirement. Bringing together a team online is now made possible not just by better WiFi but by readily available remote access collaboration tools – video conferencing instead of meeting rooms, project management software instead of person-to-person delegation, instant messaging tools to reduce email traffic. And these tools extend far beyond just the kitchen tables of British remote workers’ homes; from tools to help you find the nearest group workspace to improved connectivity in public places, taking your business mobile is easier than ever.
This not only enables business leaders to work anywhere, but can offer a more attractive proposition to the future workforce. We’ve seen that the tide is turning in terms of what drives today’s workforce – that work-life balance and flexibility is becoming more important than ever – and that the ability to offer more flexibility to employees at all life stages is an advantageous one for smaller businesses when trying to retain the best talent in a sea of larger companies (with corporate perks). Size often dictates agility and if you extend that agility to your workforce it becomes a serious asset.
The ability to ‘work anywhere’ also presents business owners with another question – how do they define what a business is? Graduating from a co-working space or kitchen table into the four walls of one’s own office space is seen as a rite of passage for any business owner – but without this requirement an interesting question is posed to business owners. What is the new benchmark of success for scale-up businesses? Freedom from a desk also equals freedom from four walls, giving today’s SMB owners and founders the ability to redefine their purpose and their driving forces.
But let’s not dismiss the highly social traditional office, the rhythm of the 9-to-5, or the ritual of the commute just yet. There’s a certain accepted status in all these things and they are unlikely to die out entirely any time soon. It’s reassuring and positive to know, however, that the alternatives aren’t just becoming commonplace; they are becoming an accepted norm.
For more on how we at Citrix are helping prepare our customers for new ways of working, visit our blog here.
Andrew Millard - Senior International Marketing Director for Mobility Apps at Citrix