Enabling Off-Site Work

By Bob Violino Print this article Print

Road warriors increasingly are able to work remotely as if they were in the corporate office.

Enabling Off-Site Work

WhitePages, a Seattle-based company that provides online services for finding contact information for people and businesses, has also achieved savings from virtual office technology. “We have quite a few mobile and remote users,” who leverage iPhones, iPads, VPNs, software-as-a-service applications and other tools that enable off-site work, says Hernan Alvarez, senior director of IT and operations.

Many people at the company regularly access the corporate network from remote locations via mobile devices and secure connections to receive email and to work on documents, Alvarez says. WhitePages also uses Skype to enable face-to-face communications regardless of where workers are located. “People are free to work remotely if their work allows it,” he says. “They can work from home or a coffee shop. We’ve even had people use Skype to make calls from planes.”

Although the technologies allow workers to be more mobile and have helped WhitePages reduce travel costs, the biggest benefit, according to Alvarez, is the improved efficiency and productivity of employees.

At Palomar Pomerado Health (PHH), based in North San Diego County, Calif., the ability for doctors to access patient information remotely is literally a life saver. The health care provider built a mobile computing platform that enables its physicians to remotely access electronic medical records in real time, regardless of their location, according to Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Orlando Portale. This enables doctors to make timely decisions regarding the health of their patients even when they’re not at the hospital.

His team developed its mobile application, Medication Information, Anytime, Anywhere (MIAA), to run on Cisco’s Cius tablet. The app lets PHH doctors pull patient records from different facilities on demand, and enables multiple physicians to review a patient’s information and consult with one another using emails and video conferences.

“It’s a compelling value proposition,” Portale says. He added that PHH is piloting the Cisco technology for use at nursing stations and could potentially use it in patients’ rooms as well.

A Virtual Workforce

Technology has enabled some companies to run nearly their entire business in a virtual office environment. Take Alpine Access, a Denver-based customer support outsourcing service provider that has a virtual workforce of about 4,500 customer service professionals who work from their homes and take calls on behalf of the company’s clients across the country.

“We’re nearly 100 percent virtual as an organization,” says Rich Sadowski, vice president of solutions engineering at Alpine. “I never see anyone from the time they join us to the time they move on [from the company].”

Alpine recruits, hires and trains workers online, and then it sets them up with home offices that include PCs with high-speed, low-latency Internet access and phones. For company or team meetings or training sessions, Alpine leverages technology such as voice over IP (VOIP), video and audio conferencing, Web conferencing and instant messaging services.

“The work-at-home model provides excellent flexibility,” Sadowski says. For example, the company can employ qualified individuals even if they live in remote locations or have physical disabilities. If some employees are unable to work because bad weather knocks out power or connectivity, others can easily fill in, he says.

Although Alpine has enabled its customer care representatives to work from home since it was founded in 1998, technology developments over the past five years or so have made the model much less challenging, Sadowski says. Executives based in the Denver headquarters are “fully mobile” because of technologies such as laptop and tablet computers, cloud-based applications and wireless communications devices, he adds.

Another company that operates a mostly virtual business is Pomegranate, a digital branding agency and creative talent network with headquarters in New York and Los Angeles. Most of the company’s 200 employees worldwide work remotely, says CEO Grant Powell. They use real-time chat, VOIP telephony, video conferencing, and document and calendar sharing—which they access through Google’s Google Apps for Business suite—to collaborate on projects even though they’re in separate locations.

All the virtual systems the company uses have a mobile component. “Virtual technologies have enabled us to expand quickly into regional markets of the world,” Powell says. “This allows on-the-go collaboration, so I can run my entire business from my iPad, even if I am 30,000 feet in the air.”

Like other businesses leveraging virtual office technologies, Pomegranate has achieved cost savings. “The biggest expense is office space,” Powell points out. “If most of the company works from home, you can save a massive amount of money.”

This article was originally published on 2011-07-28
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