Suppose you live in New York and you're employed by a company from Los Angeles to track sales data in the Big Apple. Oh, and it just happens to be the year 1980. How would you keep in touch with the Los Angeles office? You'd probably use your telephone to check in every day or two, and you'd mail or fax papers back and forth across the country. Working away from your desk is nearly impossible because it would require toting around heavy stacks of paper and missing any phone calls that come in. If you have a computer at all, it only does a few data processing tasks and isn't very portable.
Fast-forward 30 years, same job. Now how would you keep in touch? You'd probably use e-mail to check in, perhaps several times a day, and you'd access the Los Angeles office's computer network online so you can upload and download data instantly. You might even use instant messaging or chat rooms for ongoing discussions with your West Coast co-workers. Working away from your desk is easy: just pick up your laptop and mobile phone, head down to your local café, and connect to their WiFi Internet while you grab some lunch.
These scenarios demonstrate how technological advances have made it faster, easier, and cheaper to work remotely. The first term for this, telecommute, was coined in 1973 by telecommuting innovator Jack Nilles [source: Mears]. Today, the more common and accurate term is telework [source: Telework Coalition]. As a teleworker, you can set up your own virtual workplace and work productively on the day-to-day responsibilities of your job. Plus, your ability and willingness to telework instantly expands your job possibilities across the country and around the world without having to move.
Virtual workplaces aren't just for the benefit of the employee. Businesses can cut costs by needing less "brick-and-mortar" office space, and they can find and hire uniquely qualified people who are unable or unwilling to relocate. Some other benefits for businesses include boosting productivity, fostering employee retention and "going green" by keeping more cars off the road [source: King].
The technology to set up your virtual workplace is ready, but are you? This article is your orientation to the virtual workplace, including the tools you can use, your options for setting up an office and tips for adapting and maintaining productivity.