"I have an engineer in Bangalore and he might be the best engineer we've got in the company. He's a rock star. What a find that this guy is now connected to our Austin team," he said.
Increasingly, companies that embrace unified communications (UC), collaboration, and videoconferencing technologies are no longer limited to the pool of talent within commuting distance of their headquarters city, or to people willing to relocate to that city. They can hire the most exceptional talent for various positions no matter what city, time zone, or hemisphere they call home. In 2010, IDC predicted the number of mobile workers accessing enterprise IT systems worldwide would top 1.2 billion by 2013, from 919.4 million in 2008.
[ Not all mobile workers need the same equipment. Learn How To Equip 5 Kinds Of Mobile Workers. ]
The United States has the highest percentage of mobile workers, with 72.2% of the workforce mobile in 2008, IDC reported. The United States will remain the most highly concentrated market for mobile workers, with 75.5% of the workforce, or 119.7 million workers, mobile in 2013. An IDC spokesman said the research firm is currently working on an updated version of its 2010 report.
By casting a wider net for talent, companies can save on labor costs compared to rates in their headquarters market, said Neil Lichtman, CEO of Zultys, a unified communications hardware and software platform provider.
Zultys is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area. But by using unified communications, the company can search for talent in more affordable labor markets, Lichtman said. "The labor costs in the Bay Area are tremendous compared to other parts of the country," he said, "but if you take a situation where you find a remote worker in Texas or Ohio that has all of the skills of somebody that's local ... their costs are going to be significantly less."
Lichtman communicates regularly with Steve Francis, Zultys' chief sales and marketing officer, even though Lichtman is in Sunnyvale and Francis is in Scottsdale, Ariz.
And as UC technology improves, the videoconference and collaboration meetings offer a richer experience. People see each other, often in high-definition video, with crisp audio and a split screen in which the participants can all view a document while also seeing each other. Video avoids the tedium of voice-only conference calls that can be hobbled by poor phone connections.
"It's better seeing somebody's face, seeing their reaction during a conversation, even getting to know them better than just as a voice on the other end of the phone," said Lichtman.
SonicWall, a developer of advanced intelligent network security and data protection products, is a Zultys customer, using its platform, and technology from companies including Polycom, Microsoft, and Avaya, to link close to 700 employees at four major research and development centers in China, India, Taiwan, and San Jose, Calif.
One of the ways SonicWall saves money and connects a distributed workforce is to use voice over IP (VoIP) as a toll bypass for calls from the United States to suppliers in Taiwan and China, said Aria Eslambolchizadeh, senior director of quality assurance and testing at the company. Engineers in India also use VoIP to talk to colleagues in San Jose.
"Having UC helps greatly with communications among our global sites and, since it is cost effective and convenient, everyone is using it on regular basis," Eslambolchizadeh said.
UC technology has improved just in the last few years, said Jonathan Schwarz, former CEO of Sun Microsystems and a member of Moxie's board, who has been involved in other business ventures since leaving Sun in 2010 following its acquisition by Oracle.
"When I was at Sun we had development teams who were in 14 different time zones and the user interface for that interaction was a shell window showing you a file tree that we were all working on and there was no interaction, no engagement," Schwartz recalled. "Now I work remotely with a number of different teams for different companies and it's just such a richer environment."
To Schwartz, the business case for using unified communications to connect a distributed workforce is simple.
"You look for smart people. Full stop," he said. "And wherever you can get them, that's where you try to bring them on board."
The Enterprise Connect conference program covers the full range of platforms, services, and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. It happens March 25-29 in Orlando, Fla. Find out more.