The labor force defined by the current global economy is one that is widely dispersed and increasingly untethered from a traditional desk space, changing the ways companies and their employees communicate and collaborate. According to the Telework Coalition, 89 of the top 100 US companies already offer telecommuting, and IDC forecasts that by 2015, the worldwide mobile worker population will reach 1.3 billion.
As a larger number of workers rely on their mobile phones and tablet computers to perform tasks from any location, the traditional office is transforming into a mobile, virtual workplace, which require a new set of tools to deliver seamless connectivity, productivity and efficiency. The marketplace has responded with a slate of services and applications to enable and empower this new style of worker, leveraging a combination of social, mobile and cloud technologies.
Social Messaging and Collaboration
The same instant-messaging technologies that consumers have been enjoying for the past ten years are finally growing in popularity amongst large enterprise-level companies. Companies such as Jive and Yammer are offering a full-range of secure, social products that enable employees to collaborate in real-time.
Jive bills itself as ‘the first company to bring the innovation of the consumer to the enterprise… breaking down the barriers separating employees, customers and partners.’ To that end, their product, which is in its fifth generation, offers a number of collaboration tools that allow users to engage employees in internal communities, engage customers in external communities, and engage the social web by tracking social media networks.
Yammer is a direct competitor to Jive and offers a similar solution to enterprise-level businesses. In just three years, it has amassed a user-base of three million subscribers and more than 80% of the Fortune 500 companies are using the service.
Socialcast is an online collaboration platform that uses real-time activity streams to unite co-workers in a Town Hall style forum, offering additional features such as user roles and org charts to help employees understand who within their company is working on a particular project, and micro-blogging capabilities that enable collaborators to quickly share their insights. Through its mobile application, employees may connect with one another and share data while on the go. The concept is designed to help employees focus on meaningful work, share knowledge, and discover data all in real-time.
The continued evolution of video conferencing, and the broadening appeal and familiarity with tools like Apple’s Face-Time has made video-based interactions a more routine occurrence. However, there are a few companies that are set to make virtual communications a much more immersive experience. The key to doing so is to create experiences that tap into the full spectrum of human senses, giving users the impression that they are in a shared space, while letting them experience sight, tough and sound.
NTT DoCoMo, the Japanese mobile phone company, has begun to share its ‘Future Station’ concept. The premise of the concept is to offer ‘mixed reality,’ 3D communication. The platform is able to put two groups of people into an artificial environment, where they can interact and experience communication that goes well beyond a traditional phone call or video chat. While the concept still requires the use of cumbersome technology such as large screens, projectors, 3D glasses and gloves that recognize hand gestures, the execution still points to a future in which remote participants can experience truly immersive communication.
The Bell Labs Immersive Communications team has the similar aim of creating truly immersive environments in which remote participants can have a shared experience. According to Bell Labs, to achieve an immersive community, a number of psychological barriers must be overcome. Any technology must, ‘properly convey feelings and emotions; leverage both verbal and nonverbal communication — such as gestures, body language or posture, facial expression and eye contact; hide underlying technical complexity from users; include a contagious user interface; and offer a joyful experience that is dominated by ease of use.”
Cloud File-Sharing and Printing
As a way to augment the storage capacity and functionality of mobile devices and help ensure accessibility across platforms, developers are building applications that leverage the power of the cloud. This additional layer of connectivity is enabling workers to seamlessly exchange files and tap into a wider network of available services.
Pogoplug is a service that offers cloud-based storage for all of the media content on your mobile phone. One of the most interesting features offered by the service is the ability to stream any of media directly from the cloud, which means that users can watch all of their movies, view all of their photos and listen to all of their music from anywhere that has a mobile connection. With this offering, Pogoplug is competing directly with iTunes Match.
Breezy is a new breed of service that allows users to print from the cloud. When a user comes across something they would like to print, the file is uploaded to Breezy’s server and then downloaded by your computer, which automatically prints the document. This service competes with some of the larger players in the space like Google Cloud Print.
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