For many companies the versatility and freedom of the Internet has largely supplanted business travel. And for the most part this is a good thing: higher productivity, lower overhead costs, fewer nights watching Murder She Wrote reruns in a Holiday Inn Express.
The downside, of course, is the tendency for even the best employees to literally just phone it in. Actual collaboration is difficult when there's no actual contact.
Enter VSee, a free video-chat technology that promises to reinvent long-distance business. The service allows multiple people on the call at once, each visible to everyone else in their own personal hi-def screen bubble. Not only does this provide the kind of clarity necessary to pick up on non-verbal cues but it enables the sort of large-scale give and take that you just can't reproduce on the telephone.
And easy on-screen drag-and-drop file sharing is easy as handing someone a manila folder, rather than searching through complexly named directories on a VPN network that you may or may not be able to easily access. Even better, with VSee, each team member can annotate files on the desktop, share video, and operate in ANY application that exists.
Andrew McAfee, research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at MIT, agrees that the workplace of the future is going to be a very different place. He thinks we're underestimating Moore's Law, the principle that holds that computing power doubles every 18 months. In his view, the pace of change is only going to accelerate. After all, we're already looking at handheld video games that are faster than entire supercomputers were a generation ago.
"We have the ability, thanks to the cloud ... we can put people around the world in touch with not an only an infinite amount of computing technology" but also a wide variety of experts, he said Tuesday at The Atlantic's Big Science Summit in San Jose, Calif.
VSee technology, for example, can connect world class cardiologists with small-town medical centers, watching EKGs in realtime, and also allow far-flung family members to stay involved in the lives of their loved ones. In fact, VSee has already been used to connect Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (in Washington) with key players during the current Syrian uprising.
According to VSee CEO Milton Chen, studies show that when you scatter people to multiple offices, productivity can drop by as much as 50%. And yet, at his own company, the 30 employees of VSee only come in one day a week, working on their conferencing technology the rest of the time.
The internet workplace is here: Forget about 9 to 5 schedules, chats around the water cooler, and reports printed on actual paper. The office is dead ... or so we've been told for at least the past 15 years. And yet, there's something about sharing physical space with your colleagues that we just can't let go of. But as video technology gets better, as bandwidth increases and computers get smaller, we may just have to expand our definition of the work "place."