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Technology and Virtual Professionals

(Part 1) (Part 2) (3rd in a three part series)

Most virtual professionals, who work from home and a distance from their clients, by using technology, know that without the arrival of personal computers and the evolution of the Internet into a mass medium this past decade, they would not be working virtually at all.

Currently, over 50 million Americans, equivalent to 37 percent of the total working population in the US, are currently online at work, according to a new report from eMarketer and The Wall Street Journal. In another study by Access Markets International (AMI) Partners, Inc. it is predicted that more than half (67 million) of the U.S. domestic workforce will be mobile by 2006. Virtual professionals are at the forefront of this trend because not only are they using the Internet to work, and potentially mobile, but they are often entrepreneurs who are running small businesses this way.

In the survey conducted by Business Design Studio of over 70 virtual professionals around the world, computer skills were considered most critical to success by 76% of the respondents. Each virtual professional was asked about the current tools and technologies, in order to gauge what is being used now, and what they plan to purchase. Nearly a hundred percent had a desktop computer, but only 40% used a laptop in their business, mirroring a frequent response that they are already where they dream of working (home) and not necessarily setting out on the road to work. Two technologies which are often touted as naturally applicable to virtual professionals were widely dismissed - most virtual professionals said didn't own or intend to ever have audio or video conferencing capabilities. Only a quarter used a PDA (ie., a Palm Pilot) regularly and 42% said they did not and did not ever intend to, which was surprising considering what a natural fit that technology is with business people who have a computer aptitude.

Not surprisingly, email scored as the "can't live without" software tool, with web browsers a very close second. Over half of those surveyed used instant messaging regularly as another means of communicating with clients. While twenty percent are using remote access software (allowing them to get into a remote computer), and thirty percent plan to buy this product in the near future, another third felt it was unnecessary. Only one quarter is using online virtual office applications, which combine off site storage, email, calendar, forums, and more; and half of these virtual professionals felt it would not be necessary for them in the future.

The surveyed virtual professionals were given free reign to "invent" the services, hardware or software that would make them more successful and happy virtual professionals. Quite a few asked for robot house cleaners, clones, replicators and transporters. Another more realistic wish was for better compatibility between software and data, and "no fail" technology that would work, with easy synchronization between devices. They were eager to see voice activated hardware and dictation software that, again, actually works. Cheap, reliable and wide spread wireless email/phone/web integration with more devices was also high on the list - with great interest in comfortable, café oriented meeting places with wireless access.

Virtual professionals have great visions of the future, although many admitted that they could not have even imagined today just a few years ago. They see wireless access coming from satellites and being globally available, so they can simply pull out a laptop or other input device and work anywhere. They predict tighter integration between TV/cable/internet with the proliferation of web enabled devices and increased services from the web. People will be able to get online from anywhere - the car, train, home, mall. Cash will be replaced by digital money and identification and secure transactions will be managed with biometrics. Software will respond to voice commands, and mice and keyboards will be in the museums. Incoming phone calls will take place on a monitor (flat panel of course!) and you'll both see and hear the caller, while talking hands free.

They see fewer people commuting and working from offices; and believe that future companies will spend more on technology and less on traditional overhead such as office rent. They believe it will become virtually unheard of for administrative and sales staff to occupy an office. Virtual partnerships flung across the world will become standard operating procedure, with teams brought together virtually for a specific project and disbanded. Virtual professionals feel they are the wave of the future and their excitement for paving the way is unmistakable.

2003 Eileen P. Parzek, Business Design Studio

Eileen Parzek is a graphic designer and writer providing marketing and web design services. Always found at the intersection of information, creativity and technology, her business, Business Design Studio (www.businessdesignstudio.com) specializes in helping big thinking small businesses market and grow with technology.

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