Once upon a time, things didn’t happen now, they happened later. Editing a document meant volleying back and forth over email or fax, meetings were something everyone had to be in the same place for and group communication on-the-go meant saying “hold on, let me call you right back” over and over. Then came the real-time Web.

If there’s any one thing that the real-time Web has changed about the way we work, it’s in communication and collaboration. Sure, we’ve had phones, faxes and even email for ages now, but the Web puts the full range of media into our hands and makes the office seem like a thing of the past.

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Every time someone asks where the ReadWriteWeb office is, I chuckle a little bit, because I’ve worked from a thousand different places over the last year and not one has resembled what most think of as an office. And I’m certainly not alone – one study predicts that the number of mobile, remote workers could increase to 1.2 billion by 2013. This would be impossible without the real-time, collaborative nature of the Web. Let’s take a look a three simple areas that the real-time Web has changed our working lives.

Will There Be Lunch Served At The Meeting?

Do you remember when you used to go and actually sit in meetings, physically I mean? There would be a pot of coffee off to the side and perhaps some sandwiches. Cookies if you were really lucky.

At many businesses, especially those with virtual offices like ReadWriteWeb, the entire day can be one long meeting, with the water cooler and conference room combined into one simple thing – a chat room. Whether its Skype, AOL Instant Messenger, Campfire or any other group chat solution, the need to gather around in a single location is nearly a thing of the past. With services like these, text chat is at the core, but document sharing, voice and even video chat are just a click away. It’s like being in that meeting, passing dossiers around…but without the cookies.

I’ll Have That Back To You By 5 P.M.

It used to be that, if you were working on a report or a memo or a presentation, the back and forth volley of collaboration could take forever. As each edit was made, solidified and then passed on, the time in between just piled up. Now, real-time collaboration makes it possible to give feedback the moment someone presses that backspace button.

With online collaborative editing systems like Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365, document editing is no longer a back and forth, it’s a real-time interaction. You can see the other persons cursor move as they make changes. You can lock down sections of a document to remain the same or leave it all as a free for all.

Let’s Get Together At The Hilton At Noon

One of the big trends this year has been group chat, but some people have been in search of an application outside of constantly messaging teenagers. If you’ve ever been to a conference with a group of coworkers, however, you’ve stopped searching entirely.

Mobile apps, like Beluga or GroupMe, make it possible to keep in touch with all of your coworkers at once and end the eternal game of phone tag. Want to figure out who’s going to what panel next? Send out a message and it goes to everyone involved, instantaneously. Want to meet up for a quick lunch and regroup? Open up the app and look at the map to find out where everyone is and pick a spot in the middle.

Photo by Daniel Cruz