Antoinette "Anton" Forth knows that "working from home" is more than just working from home – it's working from anywhere. It's also juggling a lot of different technologies that allow companies and employees to do things they would normally take for granted when working face-to-face.
In her previous role as president of RT Enterprises in Angola, the West Seneca West Senior High School and Empire State College graduate needed an online portal to collaborate and communicate with remote executive consultants.
"We noticed that the same technology that we'd been using for 20 years to manage global teams was the same technology that was out there today that people were using to try to collaborate with each other," Forth said. "And it wasn't working."
So Forth and co-founder Brad Richardson came up with Walkabout Workplace, a web-based application that gives remote workers and entrepreneurs a virtual workplace in which to interact with one another.
The company, which is a semifinalist in 43 North's competition for $1 million and startup help, targets small to mid-sized companies that employ remote workers – whether they're health care specialists working out in the field, executive teams that live across the continent or traditional employees who are not required to report to a brick-and-mortar office.
Q: Do you see more traditional companies in Western New York letting employees work from home?
A: I do. Employees want to have that flexibility. It's especially important for the younger, millennial generation, but it's becoming increasingly important for even the younger baby boomers who are now taking care of their parents and just need that flexibility to be in a different place.
If you look at IBM, they've been pulling people back to their corporate office, because they didn't manage their teams well and didn't have the right technology. But they were saving $11,000 a year per employee that worked remotely. Productivity increases. From an employee standpoint, studies show employees are saving $4,000 a year just in commuting expenses and they're gaining back three weeks a year in not having to commute. There's tremendous reason why companies should be allowing their employees to do this.
Q: Does allowing remote work help companies attract better talent?
A: Absolutely. The flexibility of being able to work from anywhere is key. For employers, I think it's going to be imperative for them. I think it's great; if you can find the talent here in Buffalo, hire them. I'm all for that. But there are certain positions or certain expertise that you might want that are not here. And you might not be able to get someone, despite how wonderful our town is and we love it, you might not be able to get someone to commit to moving here. So, having them available, a remote office is really the next best thing.
Q: Do you see remote work growing? Do you think it will someday be the norm?
A: We definitely see it growing. I don't know if it's going to be the norm but I do know that it's a very fast-growing market. Today, 63 million people are working remotely and it's only going to increase. I think companies are always going to have a corporate office and some people who are at the corporate office.
Q: What do you think is driving all of that growth?
A: I think the ability of the technology to support it is really what's driving it. It's facilitating, not necessarily driving it. I think the employees are driving it because they want it. And I think from the employer's standpoint, it's driving it because they want the right person for the job, not just the person who happens to be in their backyard, so they're being much more selective.
Q: What do you see next in the sector that you're in?
A: When you start a venture like this, there are hundreds of ways you can go with the technology. We wanted to make sure that we had a solid text chat, a peer-to-peer and group text chat. We wanted to make sure our video conferencing was amazing, so that when people were connecting there was no delay in the sound. We wanted to make sure we had screen share, so that if we were working on something we could collaborate on a document.
We did all of those basics and still, my one client, they're using 17 other applications every day to get their work done. And they're not all collaboration tools, just different applications from their different systems. So we see the integration of those other tools is going to become a key.