From the newest mobile devices to the latest innovations in cloud computing, advancements in modern technology have fundamentally impacted the way we work, play and communicate. For employers and employees, the advent of new collaboration and mobile technologies means the days of a strict 9-5 confined to the office are over as they are now able to work from almost anywhere from any device.

In fact, according to the latest data from Global Workplace Analytics, there was a 79.7% increase in remote working between 2005-2012, amounting to some 3.3 million people working remotely in the US alone. The remote working trend is even stronger in the UK with around 6.5 million workers (over 20 percent of the working population) taking up remote working in 2012, according to Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI). Nevertheless, the key question for businesses faced with an increasing demand from employees for remote working is: How can we ensure productivity?

Flexibility Is Key

In an increasingly global business world, it is important for employees to be able to communicate from almost anywhere and with anyone. For organisations with a national or global footprint, services such as video conferencing can help initiate an instant face-to-face conversation without a long and expensive plane journey. This allows businesses to be able to respond to customer’s on-demand whether it is in reaction to a corporate crisis or a simple customer service enquiry.

Time zones and different global working habits are another consideration for businesses when communicating with customers in different locations. For example, research found that the UK has different meeting hours compared with the rest of the EU, starting meetings as early as 7am each day and winding up as late as 9pm.

By providing workers with the flexibility to work from anywhere, businesses can benefit from being closer to its customers and local experts. Company employees meanwhile can enjoy a better work-life balance, with the flexibility to leave work early and enjoy some down time before carrying out a video conference with an overseas colleague later in the evening. That sure beats staying in the office until 10pm at night for that meeting with Sydney, Australia.

Breaking Barriers With Face-To-Face Comms

Just last year, Yahoo’s workforce received a memo in their inbox from HR (championed by CEO Marissa Mayer) banning them from working from home, prompting anger from many employees and wider criticism from the business world. To some extent Mrs Mayer was right when citing the importance of face-to-face interaction as one of the reasons for cutting back on remote working.

A recent survey supports this claim with most people surveyed (95%) saying that face-to-face connections significantly enhance professional relationships and improve communications. More importantly to the businesses bottom line, nearly three quarters (71%) of respondents said they believe they lost a deal due to the lack of face-to-face interaction.

Therefore, while she was correct in highlighting the importance of face-to-face communication, Mayer failed to acknowledge that today’s video collaboration technology allows for a seamless face-to-face meeting experience from any location on any device.

Accessible To Everyone

An all-out ban on remote working can shackle employees and lead to a culture of presenteeism. On the other hand, a one-off approach to remote working on certain days of the week can also have a detrimental effect. For a remote working policy to succeed it is important for businesses to make a work-from-home policy open to all employees as and when they need it, regardless of their location.

Of my company’s 2,000 business customers, the most connected cities with the most calls between them are London, New York, Singapore, San Francisco and Dubai. In an increasingly global business environment, technology should be central to any remote working policy, as cloud based collaboration technologies allow employees to log on from almost anywhere.

Death Of The Audio Conference Call

Cloud-based video conferencing has grown explosively. In recent years we have seen a monumental shift in the way meetings are being conducted. While one cannot underestimate the importance of the business lunch or conversations between colleagues at the water cooler, if an in-person meeting is not an option, business professionals prefer a video meeting over an audio-only meeting over two to one.

We are slowly seeing the death of the traditional audio only conference call. The latest research by my company into meeting productivity suggests that it would be beneficial for businesses to phase out audio conferencing where appropriate. We found that due to a lack of face-to-face contact, workers are more likely to switch off or multi-task while on an audio only call.

Nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents admitted to completing other tasks while on audio only conference calls, with 69% admitting they have passed the time Facebooking, tweeting or taking other calls. Some people even confessed to having taken a nap (6%)! Video conferencing can not only prevent such unproductive measures but can also help to overcome problems with misreading tone of voice or expression, all critical elements of building successful business relationships.

Virgin founder Richard Branson, who spends much of his time working on Necker Island in the Caribbean, correctly pointed out Yahoo’s mistake to ban remote working, calling it a “backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.” Remote working has been made easier and more effective by improvements in collaboration technology.

Today’s leading video collaboration software provides the interoperability required for employees to communicate from any location on any device. By putting technology at the heart of a remote working policy, businesses can benefit from increased productivity, employee satisfaction and loyalty.