Many remote workers make fairly extensive use of the cloud. But to say that one makes use of cloud services is not at all the same as saying that one primarily uses cloud-based computing to do their job. Unless you use a Google Cr-48 running Chrome OS (s goog), or work exclusively in your browser, you’re probably utilizing the cloud a lot less than you might think during the course of an average workday.
Working entirely in the cloud is not by any means the norm, and it probably won’t be for quite a few years, but Chrome OS has some very attractive features for enterprise customers, as Google was quick to point out when it unveiled the Cr-48 beta units it would be sending out for pre-release testing. Most importantly, the technology will be cheap, which will really come in handy when businesses have to outfit an increasingly large staff of telecommuters.
More and more of our daily computing activities are making their way to the cloud, but what kind of effect will that have on productivity? To anticipate the impact of a cloud-based remote workforce, look at the last time there was a revolution in the way workers connected: the advent and rise of the Internet.
Productivity among U.S. non-farm businesses grew at a rate of 2.5 percent per year during the period between 1995 and 2000. From 1973 to 1995, productivity had grown only 1.3 percent per year. Yes, it’s true that the web brought YouTube, Facebook and email as well as many other potential distractions, but there’s no denying that it significantly improved worker productivity on the whole.
The groundwork that allowed for that spike in productivity was laid around a decade before, as businesses started to really invest in IT and in the early 80s, an investment which began to pay off in the mid-90s as workers really learned how to take advantage of the new tools available to them.
Similarly, business has been investing in the cloud for some time now. Google anticipated the curve, housing its productivity suite Google Docs completely on the web, beyond local storage. Gmail, too, has become more than just email, and now operates almost as a cloud-based CRM, calendar and task management product. Many similar offerings are available from other vendors, but users haven’t yet left behind local files and started working exclusively in the cloud.
Just as Internet search, email and instant communications reduced the need for letters, faxes, reference material and time-consuming phone calls, soon cloud-based production and collaboration will reduce the need for digital transmission of documents, uploading and downloading files, redundant rework by multiple teammates and more. You won’t have to worry about whether a client has the files, or the right version, or anything like that, because you’ll just authorize them for the cloud-based content of your choosing, and they’ll have instant access. It won’t be something that happens with a few clients here and there, but as natural as using Windows Explorer (s msft) or Finder in OS X (s aapl). But it can only happen once enterprise and worker uptake of and comfort with the tools catches up to the IT investment.
It might not take ten years, as Gary Kim of TMCnet suggests, but we won’t see the real productivity gains ushered in by cloud computing until it achieves the same kind of widespread adoption achieved by the original Internet technologies. Once we do, however, and remote workers see it as the foundation upon which all of their work is based, cloud computing’s effect on overall business productivity could rival that of even the wide adoption of the Internet.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):