Work is an activity, not a place

By Stuart Box

Office 365 Virtual Classrooms Webex

Back in the ‘naughties’ I worked with UK Online for Business, encouraging companies to take up Broadband internet access. One of the phrases we used then was “Work is an activity not a place” explaining how Broadband ADSL would enable us to work from anywhere that was broadband enabled, reducing the need to travel or commute to designated “Places of Work”.

We were partly right, but the message was a little too soon.

Mobile computing was in its infancy, laptops were underpowered and battery life was poor, so people still needed to go to work to access their large expensive Desktop PC, which was connected to the corporate Network.  So “Work” became a place where your computers were.

Laptops improved, Apple brought out the Ipad and the MacBook Air, heralding a new breed of tablet computers and “Ultrabooks”. However most of the corporate data these machines needed to work with was still locked up in Servers on company premises. So to access the Corporate databases, to work and collaborate with colleagues on projects, models and documents , we needed to go in to the Office and connect to the corporate systems. Now “Work” had become a place where your data was.

Now, some twelve years after I started saying “Work is an activity not a place” we look like we’ve finally got accessible technology that will enable true project-based work, from any location, with an ad-hoc group of collaborators, experts, colleagues and co-workers. More importantly this technology is not just available to large corporates with large IT budgets, but well within the grasp (and budget) of many small businesses.

Firstly the move to the Cloud has taken our data from the walled garden of the Corporate Server, and placed it in the securely accessible Cloud. Systems like Microsoft Office 365 mean we don’t have to run Data Servers, complicated Virtual Private Networks, or Email servers. Our corporate data is accessible to us anywhere with an internet connection.

Hardware like the new Microsoft Surface, and other Windows 8 tablets and convertibles now allow us to work with tools we know, like Excel, Word and Outlook, but also move to using  touch-enabled applications.  These same tablets now allow easy video conferencing, allowing virtual team meetings, training and presentations.

Work really now is an activity we can accomplish anywhere we have internet. Using tools like Lync and Microsoft Office we can work together with team members spread around the country or world, accessing data in the Cloud.

The nature of work is changing, driven in no small part by the technology that enables it. Since the Industrial Revolution people had to gather together in Mills, Factories and Offices to use the large and expensive technology that was available.  When they first became commercially available  Computers dictated where, when and how we should work. Now advances in technology are enabling us to make the choice of where, when and how. This is going to mean some interesting changes. I don’t think these will happen overnight, but I foresee a  slow seismic shift away from grouping together in buildings, towns and cities, to a more distributed work model, linked together by fast internet connections and smart devices.

It’s going to be interesting to watch.


  1. Great article Stuart. Really enjoyed it and looking forward to exciting times ahead.
    The only negative I hear about Office365 is to do with data security concerns and if my internet is down how can I access my work (word, excel) files.
    How would you answer those concerns?

  2. Thanks Colin, glad you liked it.

    Of course you are storing your data with a third party – Microsoft, and this causes some concern. However all UK users of Office 365 have their data stored in EU data centres, either Dublin or Amsterdam, and Microsoft complies with ISO 27001, HIPAA BAA and FISMA. So your data is secure and competently managed. Microsoft guarantees 99.9% uptime backed by a service level agreement (SLA).
    My own experience is that I've used Office 365 for just about a year now and have not experienced any data or email outages.

    Regarding Internet access, remember that Outlook, Skydrive and Sharepoint can store email and data files on your PC and synchonise them with the "Cloud" when you have access. So you can continue to work on documents and files even if you don't have internet access.

    Internet access is becoming much more available and stable, we have ADSL at the office, but can also use mobile internet through our mobile phones and wireless dongles like the MiFi. So if ADSL goes down here (and it hasn't in several months) we can still get access via mobile broadband. Many ADSL routers have the ability to have a mobile broadband dongle plugged into them and automatically switch over if ADSL goes down.

    Even if the office here is entirely cut off, we have at least four places in our Village with free WiFi. Two pubs, a coffee shop and Library all have free wifi we can use as necessary; even our local Tesco's has a coffee shop with free WiFi for clubcard holders. Equally service providers like "The Cloud" and "O2" have internet access available for a small fee. Internet access is much more available than it was a few years ago, and is also much more robust and this means I'm confident I can access my data and continue to work from almost anywhere.

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