We have come a long way from the early 2000s, when telecommuting simply meant working from your sofa when ill, or dialing in for far-away conferences which you couldn’t attend. Nowadays working remotely is becoming more and more normal at startups and corporates alike, thanks to advancements in office and communication technology.
Experts suggest that more than half of the U.S. workforce will work from home by 2020 and cloud sharing and high quality broadband internet coverage mean that people can use all of the same tools and devices from home, as they would in the office. Well, maybe apart from the old coffee machine which eats your money or the annoying photocopier which never works.
However, while working from home might seem like a dream to anyone stuck wearing a suit in a hot and stuffy office, working remotely does pose some challenges. Millennials complain of being constantly attached to their work through their smartphones and computers and managing a remote team poses organizational and communication problems for managerial staff.
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The "digital office" is evolving at a rapid rate, and while smartphones have been our "all-in-one controllers" for the last few years, Google’s founders suggest that AI will soon stand at the forefront of streamlining our digital day to day and business activities. But companies need to choose their new tools carefully, as Gartner highlights that around 80 percent of social business efforts fail due to unclear business goals, a lack of executive participation, and failure to integrate with other tools.
So what other new technology is emerging which can make our lives easier as remote workers?
1. Amy from X.ai.
AI powered chat bots are trending at the moment. Natural language input artificial intelligence has advanced dramatically since SIRI first hit our iPhone screens back in 2011, and aside from giving us funny set responses to rude and inappropriate questions, these bots can really take up the slack in a business setting. The strength of AI powered chat bots is being sung by industry leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Messina who argue that they will totally revolutionize the way we use our mobiles, shop online and interact with brands. But these AI chatbots are also offering a helping hand in an office (or digital office) too.
One of the most challenging aspects of having a remote team is trying to arrange times for meetings which are convenient for all of the participants, who may be spread amongst different locations and time zones.
Amy is a digital personal assistant from NYC-based startup X.ai which might just have the answer. The bot can review team members’ schedules, and deal with the back and forth email tennis volley involved with organizing meetings, and then simply let the team know when a set time has been arranged. On top of that, Amy can deal with arranging meetings and appointments with clients as well, the user needs to simply cc Amy in the email they have received with a proposed time, and the bot will take it from there.
Another issue for remote sales teams has traditionally been a lack of access to central files on the company’s main server, stemming mostly from privacy and information protection concerns. However Troops think they have solved the problem using the power of AI bots.
Using the Troops slackbot, remote salespeople can extract data from the popular CRM tool Salesforce while on the move, using "conversational" natural language input. Harvesting client or financial information from Salesforce was previously a particularly time-consuming and tedious process, which Troops has successfully streamlined.
Aside from usual CRM functions such as email tracking, and reminders to speak to clients who have fallen off radar, Troops allows salespeople to search Salesforce using any name or field and to view the relevant information in their Slack stream, meaning they can offer potential clients real assurances backed up by real data, while on the move.
Talla is an "all-in-one" machine intelligence powered assistant that allows users to communicate, automate and coordinate with other team members on a huge range of everyday business tasks, integrating tools like Office 365, Google Apps and calendars with ease. The assistant is currently only available for Slack integration, but the team aims to add it to other popular communication tools in the near future.
Acting as a digital Swiss army knife, Talla has three main functions. Office Management, allows users to organize meetings with ease, assign tasks to different team members and plan their workflow based on their calendar and the urgency of deadlines. Human resources, allows users to schedule interviews in seconds, manage the process of interviewing new candidates, and gather feedback for potential new hires from various team members. Finally, marketing Talla can monitor Twitter, suggest tweets for shared content and offer on the spot analytics to show what content is hot and what is not.
4. Double Robotics.
Working from home is awesome, there’s no denying it, but sometimes Skype calls just don’t cut it. There are some situations, like presentations, sales pitches for big clients or important interviews which really require your presence, or at least a digital version of it. You want to speak to potential investors in Japan, and then the next day in Los Angeles. Flying is going to break the bank -- and probably your body too -- so why not turn to new telepresence tech to really make an impression.
Double Robotics has created a movable device which is effectively an iPad on a stand with wheels. It can move around freely and features a screen at head level, so the user can speak naturally with their audience. The startup has some high profile clients, including the team from the MIT Sloan Executive Education in London. Since rolling out the new tech, the team at MIT state that most of their team work remotely one to three days a week, utilizing the tech when they are out of office, allowing them to join meetings, lecture students, and brainstorm with peers, in a natural manner.
One problem with having a remote team, is that many of your members may be spread over different time-zones. While this may be relatively easy to coordinate within the team themselves, it is less useful for customers around the world, who expect to be tended to within usual working hours in their region. So instead of having teams working awkward hours to cater to clients on different sides of the globes, why not harness the power of AI powered bots to take up the slack on client-facing roles such as customer service.
Twyla is a new chatbot tool that can converse with potential clients, answer queries and make appointments on a company's help desk or chat function. After being integrated with a chat tool, Twyla "learns" about the company’s previous conversations by consuming previous chat logs, and can be programmed to speak in a certain style or register to suit the company itself. The creators of Twyla claim companies could save up to 50% on customer service, by moving the function from the phone to chat, and states that customer satisfaction will increase by around 30 percent after making the change. The bot is currently available for Web integration onto a homepage, whatsapp, Facebook messenger and Telegram, and aims to roll out further channels soon.
The office as we know it will soon be a thing of the past. Technology is improving so rapidly that workers can be equally as well connected at home or while on the move, as when at their company’s basecamp. However, while AI and robotics are making it easier for us to work from afar, there are still some situations which seem more suitable in person for the time being. Some employers might get a bit of a fright if they open the door to an interview, only to be met with a smiling face on an ipad screen attached to robotic movable stand. That said, if Moore’s law is anything to go by, this new tech will soon iron out the bumps, and be 100 percent normal in a few years. So put your suit back in the wardrobe, and get your slippers on, because it looks like you're going to be working from the sofa a bit more from now on.