By: Billy Colosimo, Account Director, IComm
The issue of housing affordability has dominated recent headlines and political debate as it becomes increasingly difficult for young people to break into the property market in Australian cities. In response, there are many people coming up with ideas and potential fixes for making housing more affordable.
One of the ideas to emerge and gain wide media coverage is from liberal MP John Alexander, who has recommended high speed rail connectivity to major urban centres. Mr Alexander said: “Linking regional towns to their nearest major city via high speed rail will fast track the supply of affordable housing stock for generations to come. It can be funded by ‘value capture’, not government revenue. This is the major inquiry finding and recommendation. It’s a win-win-win-win situation. A win for regional economic development, a win for urban congestion relief and renewal, a win for the supply of vast affordable housing stock that is within easy commuting time of big city jobs, and a win for government finances as ‘value capture’ would fund construction, not general revenue.”
The idea of allowing people to move to regional areas nearby major cities where housing is more affordable is a good one. However, massive investment in high speed rail linking these regional areas, is unnecessary and creates a lengthy wait for those wanting to buy property now. High speed rail is an avoidable cost because technology and hardware has now advanced to a point where businesses shouldn’t need all of their employees to travel and work from a central office. Instead, they can easily employ people to work remotely from regional areas. This not only saves the employee the costs of travel, but also means businesses can reduce their physical office footprint too.
In fact, many Australians already successfully work from home. Almost a third (3.5 million) of all employed Australians regularly worked from home in their main job or business, according to recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Technologies such as Office 365 and Skype for Business are changing the way businesses communicate and employees work. Here we look at the ways in which these technologies make it realistic for employees to successfully work remotely from regional areas.
24/7 Cloud Connectivity
One of the most frustrating aspects of remote work can often be the inability to access important documents unless physically in the office. Migrating all workplace files to the cloud, instead of a physical server, means that all files and information are available at the click of a button, anytime, anywhere. With Office 365 businesses can count on remote worker productivity from almost anywhere on PCs, mobile devices and browsers that have a reliable internet connection. Office 365 data centres are able to offer reliable performance and minimal downtime, however in the rare instance that there is downtime, Office 365 desktop versions also allow employees to work offline.
For many managers, the biggest change they need to adapt to when working with remote workers is the lack of face-to-face interaction. However, with Skype for Business’ video conferencing capabilities, businesses can meet face-to-face with internal and external parties at a minute’s notice from a PC, tablet, smartphone or video conferencing room. This allows remote workers to join meetings in the office pretty much “in person” so they can feel part of the team. This greatly improves business-wide communication and employee morale.
Communications from one single platform
Importantly, when a business moves to Skype for Business, all phone calls are made from the one online platform. This means remote workers can call people from their PC, tablet or smartphone and it will come from the one number. This avoids the need for expensive installations of desktop handsets and phone lines at the home offices of remote workers. It also means remote workers have the flexibility to work from anywhere, not just their home office.
With Skype for Business remote workers can also organise small or large teleconference in Microsoft Outlook. Teleconference invitees will automatically be able to join the meeting via Skype for Business or by dialling in from any other device including landline, mobile, PC or tablet. The meeting organiser also has the option to dial-out from Skype for Business to bring other participants into the meeting.
Another big challenge for many managers is feeling like they don’t have any visibility of remote workers. The Skype for Business platform overcomes this by ensuring that the presence of all employees is available. Using Skype for Business, users display their presence status – for example, Available, Away, Do Not Disturb, or Offline – so that managers, colleagues and external contacts using the same platform can see their availability. Presence information is shown throughout all Office 365 programs such as Microsoft Outlook, Word, OneDrive etc.
Additionally, when presence is integrated with an employee’s Outlook calendar, any user can check their schedule and get up-to-date availability information directly from the person’s calendar. This makes it easy to check someone’s availability into the future.
Skype for Business collaboration tools mean companies can now connect teams in real time as they are working on projects, from the applications they use every day. Instead of using one application for verbal communication, another for editing a critical word document and another for instant messaging others in the team, companies can now simplify infrastructure to one platform to do all at once and get projects across the line much faster than before. This level of integration on one platform means that remote workers can be as much a part of the team as any employee in the office.
Using Skype for Business, remote workers can instantly share any document, be it a Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook Email right from the program they are working in. Once shared, managers and colleagues can edit or provide feedback on the document in real time. These documents can also be presented during a Skype for Business video call with anyone who is on the call.
As housing prices in major Australian cities continue to rise and cut more and more young people out of the market, it will become increasingly common for potential employees to seek out alternative housing options in nearby regional centres. Rather than wait for expensive infrastructure such as high speed rail to connect these employees with city workplaces, businesses should instead ensure they have technologies such as Office 365 and Skype for Business in place so they can employ and support the best candidate for the job, even if they are a remote worker.