By Aleks Sheynkman
Director of Engineering
SpaceIQ

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz is best known for taking the coffee shop from a small, local chain in Seattle to a multibillion-dollar global brand. It wasn’t Frappuccinos and lattes that Shultz capitalized on. Rather, he embraced the idea of a “third place.”

He argued that people needed another place in their lives—somewhere outside of home and work. Starbucks sold the idea of occupancy and happened to offer delicious coffee products on the side. It’s a concept that continues to pay dividends with the rise in remote working technology.

Today, the third place in people’s lives flirts with the workplace, and in many cases, is the workplace. Someone can pop open a laptop in Starbucks and work for a few hours thanks to the ever-growing suite of remote working technologies. It’s part of the reason Starbucks is an $80B enterprise today, and why the coworking industry as a whole is worth $26B, growing at an annual rate of 6%.

Technology supports mobile employees with the freedom to choose their own work environment. Today, the workplace is the suite of tools people use to create, collaborate, and communicate with peers. The physical surroundings are just the backdrop.

A snapshot of remote work

What is remote working? In a physical sense, it’s the ability to work from anywhere outside of a central office space: at home, a coworking space, or in a Starbucks. Remote work is more than a change of surroundings. It’s the ability to work autonomously and bring personal accountability to tasks and time management. It’s about being an individual who’s part of a greater whole.

Remote work is video conferencing with three people to collaborate on a project. It’s uploading files to an online repository where someone on the other side of the world can access them. It’s messaging one person, while working in a collaborative document with someone else. These tasks happen against a revolving backdrop of workspaces.

The beauty of remote work is that it’s a different experience for every person. In the same way someone might’ve personalized their cubicle 20 years ago, people now create the workspace that’s right for them by simply going to it. For some, it’s a short walk to their home office; for others, it’s a new place every day.

Technology made us mobile workers

Working remotely is possible thanks to digital technologies. Imagine trying to collaborate on a visual project over the phone or emailing a document to a dozen people, waiting for everyone to provide revisions. Today, these problems are solved by apps like Zoom and Dropbox. We’re not just capable of diverse collaboration on-the-go. We’re able to work in real-time without being face-to-face.

Digital tech and cloud-based apps power the decentralized workforce. Our ability to communicate, collaborate, automate processes, and maintain security does mean sacrificing autonomy and flexibility. Tech brings us closer together, even when we’re far apart. The distance from desk to desk and the distance from Los Angeles to London are the same for the remote workforce.

Remote work essentials

There’s an ever-growing, always-improving spectrum of remote work software meant to bridge the gaps distance creates. The best technology for working remotely are those with three traits:

  1. Broad adaptability and integrative functions
  2. Seamless, easy-to-use interfaces
  3. Critical functions that improve the work experience

Take employee apps like Slack, Dropbox, or Zoom. Each has a different function—project collaboration, document storage, and video communication. They share the same value proposition: make remote work seamless. Decentralized employees need a full suite of tools to stay connected to the company, their peers, and mission-critical information. It’s these apps that make remote work possible, regardless of physical location.

Beyond the apps that directly enable remote work, digital technology has helped more employees adapt their personal habits to accommodate remote work. Digital timers keep employees on-task. Notification blockers minimize distractions. Project trackers create visual workflows for accountability. These personal tools are just as essential as the collaborative ones, and give remote workers power over their habits and tendencies to help them adapt.

Growing the business cloud

The leap to remote work seems like it happened overnight, and more companies continue to explore remote work options for employees as business evolves. But despite the many remote work technologies available, there’s still a long runway of opportunity ahead. Technologies like blockchain, augmented reality, virtual reality, and human-machine interfaces will further enable remote employees to do their best work in whatever physical workplace they choose.

Howard Shultz’s concept of a third place is still worth betting on, with one small caveat. With the ability to work from anywhere, connected at any time, the true third place for most people will be a digital one.

Keep reading: Remote Working Trends and Options