Technology is about liberation

cloud

I have long held the belief that technology is about liberation. Back in the early 1990s I helped run a teleworking forum on CompuServe which led to a four year project with the European Commission. This looked at the emerging Internet technologies and how they could benefit the geographically disadvantaged – Euro -speak for those living in the middle of nowhere. What has happened since has surpassed my wildest dreams.

The emergence of a wide range of webside services loosely called Software As A Service or Cloud Computing provides phenomenal opportunities. You may argue that it is not your role to recommend changes in corporate employment policy, but it is your role to ensure the continued smooth running of the organisation while casting an eye on how you can trim operational costs, improve efficacy and the like.

Our world is becoming increasingly complex as are the threats that could bring your company to its knees. Terrorism and climate change with food resilience coming to the fore are just three that spring immediately to mind. If London, Manchester, Edinburgh or Much Grunting In the Marsh etc were locked down by a terrorist threat how would your colleagues get to work and do their job? Two harsh winters with snowfall causing havoc with the country’s traffic infrastructure has demonstrated how fragile some organisations’ business continuity strategies are – if they exist at all.

Hot on the heels of terrorism, climate change and food shortages come green initiatives by the European Commission which aims to reduce vehicle emissions by 40% by 2020. Few companies have even heard of this unless they have a substantial business fleet, but green policies may – actually amend that to will – be forced on organisations and the time scales will be frightening. Business continuity and contingency planning – are you fully prepared?

Given the scenario that for a variety of reasons staff may be forced to work away from the main business centre what can be done to smooth the adoption of remote working practices?

I suspect your biggest headache will be management attitude. It was the ghost in the machine back in the 90s and is prevalent today. Some managers cannot accept that staff can work effectively while they are not surgically attached to their workstations and in full view, but there have been numerous studies that have shown that productivity can increase as workers utilise what was previously commuting times and turn them into productive working periods.

Collaboration Packages

Note that I am not necessarily recommending that you immediately throw caution to the wind and adopt open, private or hybrid cloud computing methodologies. It is perfectly possible to allow employees access to Exchange server email and Office modules through Citrix and an RSA token, but then I am teaching you to suck eggs. What is often lacking in corporate serviceware is the ability for workers to share information, talk to each other, check on what colleagues have achieved on joint projects and the like which is where “the cloud” steps into the spotlight and takes a bow.

There is a plethora of collaboration packages out there but essentially they provide the ability to create a virtual office environment with document storage, scheduling, task management and the like all under one cyber-roof.

I have no preferences but take a look at DeskAway, HyperOffice or WizeHive for the core collaborative platform, throw in a file sharing package like Dropbox or SugarSync and set up a small project team, learn, refine, develop a good practice strategy, implement and you will be on the way to developing a sustainable crisis plan that could and should develop into a viable and effective flexible working policy that will benefit company and employee alike.

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Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.