Telecommuting's Powerful Benefits
More than 34 million Americans telecommute on an occasional basis at the least. While it may not be for everyone, the future of telework appears bright.
It's not surprising that telepresence is moving from the periphery of telecommunications tools to a prime spot.
There are a few reasons this is happening: The bad economy and fears of terrorism led both companies and employees to want to spend less time traveling. Along the way, improvements in technology made folks realize that a well-done teleconference can be just about as good as an in-person meeting. Improvements in technology-teleconferencing is one of the most competitive areas in telecom and, therefore, business and technical advances abound-and the greater capacity of broadband to paint pretty pictures makes it even more attractive.
Throw in a disruptive volcanic ash cloud and fears of an epidemic or two, and the picture is complete.
A good example of the use of teleconferencing as a normal-not exotic-tool comes from the government. Late last month, the General Services Administration (GSA) said that it will open teleconferencing centers in 14 of its offices during the first two months of next year. The news isn't surprising in the context of the government's long-time commitment to telecommuting, sort of a cousin of teleconferencing. It may not be the only move, as well. Fierce Government IT Writer Molly Bernhart Walker paraphrases Martha Johnson, the chief administrator of the GSA:
While the program is currently limited to GSA, Johnson said she would like GSA to become a model for successful telework at other agencies. When asked whether other agencies would be able to use teleconference centers at GSA offices, she said she would like to move "this forward as dramatically as we can."
Progress can be measured in many ways, and a pretty good one is how effectively criminals are being kept off the streets. If that is an accepted metric, teleconferencing indeed is doing well: The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services aims to use teleconferencing to enable inmates to appear in court and participate in doctors' visits via teleconferencing. The system recently was unveiled in Allegheny County, MD. Hopes are that it will cut into the roughly 400 grievances (out of about 2,800 that are filed) that escalate to an actual hearing.
The research is progressing aggressively. For instance, progress is being made on the futuristic idea of 3D video images. The University of Arizona is working on what it calls "holographic three-dimensional telepresence" that in some cases doesn't require special glasses. The story says that technology right now produces either high-resolution static images or stereoscopic moving images that can be seen clearly from only one position. A free-standing image can be created, the story says, that appears to be a solid object.
Teleconferencing has benefited from several trends-some specific to IT and telecom, some more societal and general-during the past few years. It seems that vendors and service providers are taking advantage.