The average worker telecommutes two days per month and is just as productive as other employees, according to a poll by Gallup. The poll also found that the percentage of telecommuters and remote workers today is four times greater than in 1995 when just 9 percent reported working from home.

The rise of cloud computing has opened new doors for businesses looking to hire a global workforce and allow more in-house employees to telecommute. Today’s cloud-based tools enable better communication, real-time collaboration and increased productivity.

Improved Communication

In the past, remote workers used a system of beepers, cellphones and home fax machines to get their work done and stay connected. However, even a sophisticated patchwork of phone systems and cellphones was difficult, if not impossible, to scale and provide consistent customer service and support.

In today’s marketplace, a system like Cytracom or RingCentral streamlines phone systems across multiple business locations and remote employees. They offers dedicated conference bridges to offer more professional and timely customer service. Digital marketing agency Tenthwave is a great example of a company that was using three on-premises systems and employee smartphones to conduct business before upgrading to VoIP. Tenthwave’s system administrator Jade Wesdorp states that the company could not provide every employee with a dedicated conference bridge and was not using a professional communication system. When Tenthwave moved, it made business communication more cohesive with multiple locations and remote staff, and it has saved its IT department three hours of setup time for each employee.

Real-Time Collaboration

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made waves when she put an end to Yahoo’s telecommuting policy. She cited the need for collaboration as part of her decision. Public criticism from peers and industry leaders was sharp and dismissed the idea that employees can’t be engaged and collaborate just because they’re not in the same room.

At one time, collaboration among remote employees lagged. The tools available were VoIP systems, Skype for a quick face-to-face meeting and email. Oftentimes, these led to outdated information, long email strings and miscommunication. Today, tools like Office 365 Dropbox enable teams to upload documents, presentations and files that adapt to real-time collaboration, even when multiple employees are working in the same document at the same time. This eliminates the problem of employees working on an old version of a document or not having the latest information. These tools also make it easier for companies to hire global talent, reduce in-office costs and rely on contractors as needed.

Boost in Productivity

A survey from ConnectSolutions found that 77 percent of those who work remotely reported greater productivity and 52 percent are less likely to take time off. But they need the tools to be productive and stay ahead of their competition with real-time analytics. Remote workers once received limited data and analytics by email, fax or messenger, and it was only as recent as the time it was sent.

Today’s cloud-based tools are more robust and offer live data-monitoring solutions. For example, Microsoft Office 365 gives remote workers in-depth personal and organizational analysis tools, complete with interactive reports and a central dashboard. Office 365 displays analytics on how employees spend their time, identify low-value meetings, set goals for time allocations and compare their benchmark data against their peers.

Automated Business Practices

Staying efficient while working remotely is more than just getting the work done and making customers happy. Fine tuning business practices and procedures keep businesses running smoothly and efficiently.

For remote workers, conference calls and status reports once helped teams stay on top of projects and sales leads. But a cloud-based solution like Salesforce does more than just track leads. Businesses can build their own IT apps to automate their most common processes, such as project management and inventory tracking.