IF YOU ever needed proof that the workplace of the very near future would be a paperless, virtual office run in the cloud from anywhere on Earth, try Tony Melvin's story for size.
He is chairman of Resicert, a company that does pre-purchase property inspections. It has 14 inspectors in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, but that number will grow to 80 this calendar year, driven in part by the 250 franchise applications Resicert received in January alone. Presently, he is fielding between six and eight inquiries every day.
Clearly, the worker of the future not only wants the remote-office cake, they want to gobble up every last lifestyle morsel that comes with it.
Mr Melvin calls himself a business builder. A Buderim resident since last June, he had taken a Sydney accounting firm from earning $2m per year to $10m in the space of 24 months before finally realising a dream to live on the Sunshine Coast with his wife and two children.
"I set my sights on building a business that could be run from anywhere. We spent six months in Florida last year, but I was still able to help run the business.
"After building that (accounting) firm, I realised there had to be a better way to do it. I knew I could do it faster and better if I had faster and better systems.
"I had also spent a fortune on it...I remember writing a $160,000 cheque just to get the system we wanted. Now we have the equivalent with Resicert for 100 bucks a month.
"We use 26 different online applications, let alone Excel and other programs - all connected via the cloud."
And the key to making virtual offices work?
"The ability to train a team in a virtual method," he said.
"Systems allow us to create videos easily and upload them quickly and cheaply, so all the team can be sent a video and they know how to do that task.
"I landed in Melbourne recently and got a message that the team was stuck on something. While I was in the cab between the airport and my meeting, I made a video of me talking and drawing things on my computer screen. I uploaded it while we were driving, sent it to my team and they were able to fix the problem.
"That's the speed at which we operate.
"Whether you are IT savvy or not, business owners need to start looking at this or at least investigating the possibility they can operate anywhere. If they don't, competition will come at some point from people who can - and it will probably be me."
Mr Melvin said the benefits of running a virtual company were: the ability to hire anyone anywhere, arguably giving you access to superior talent; low costs; increased productivity given most staff end up working longer hours due to frequent time-outs, and improved efficiency.
"People always ask me how I know the guys are working.
"Well, we measure everyone's productivity every week. People have to put in their statistics on sales made or projects done.
"If we do our jobs, we all contribute to the motion of the business and that further enhances their lifestyle."
The drawbacks, he said, were: "backward" internet speeds compared to the rest of the world, technology glitches like video calls dropping out or catching the boss in his boxer shorts while on a video conference.
"In the next five or 10 years, the world will really be flat in the sense that it won't matter where you live or work. If you are really good at a particular task or skill, you can get a job anywhere."
TONY MELVIN: BOSS OF THE FUTURE
MR MELVIN looks forward to Dad's Day Fridays, when all attention is paid to his children, aged three and five. Work is off limits.
When he is working, there is no structured format. He has a home office, but if the weather is nice, he will go for a swim or to a beach cafe where he can hook up his laptop and work at will. He might send a message to one of his team at 9pm. It is often replied to within minutes, as each staffer works in the same anti-nine-to-five headspace. Resicert's IT guy has been holidaying with his family in the US for the past three months, but is not touching his annual leave because he is attending to work at the same time.
Mr Melvin and his business partner recently took their kids to Dreamworld. While his business partner looked after the kids for an hour, he found a quiet spot to answer emails, make phone calls and conduct a video conference.
"Some people think they can't do this in their industry. But anyone can start using technology and overseas talent to help improve the efficiency of their business to make it more profitable, which will lead them to a better lifestyle as well.
"One of my staff had just started in the position when she admitted that she had been getting dressed in work clothes (as if for a normal office job), but then just walked into her lounge room for work. One day, she asked me if it was alright to take her daughter to the shops. I told her 'I don't care what you do, you've got your iPhone'. But it did take her some time to adjust her mindset."