The new apps and cloud-based tools that are turning far-flung workers into hives of collaboration.

By Kia Kokalitcheva
October 22, 2015

In one episode of HBO’s hit television series Silicon Valley, the CEO of a Google-like corporation called Hooli tries (and fails) to use its latest invention, a hologram machine, during a meeting with his executive team. The future may be here, but it must first be buffered.

Technical issues aside, there is plenty of truth to the scene. Today’s companies no longer confine their personnel to a central office to conduct business. With cloud-based tools available to send messages, store documents, host videoconferences, and refine ideas, it is now customary to see employees around the globe working with partners, customers, and one another throughout the workday—no headquarters necessary.

Illustration by Stephen Chan for Fortune

Distributed teams must devise new processes to keep everyone on the same page. At GitHub, an online code-hosting service based in San Francisco, 60% of employees are located elsewhere, according to vice president of product Kakul Srivastava. Individual teams rotate the times of their recurring meetings to “distribute the pain of odd time zones as much as possible,” Srivastava says. But it’s worth it. Embracing remote workers allows GitHub and other companies to hire the best people they can find.

Positioning employees outside corporate headquarters also means that modern companies are increasingly building their infrastructure outside their walls. Entire suites of critical business applications and services are now housed in the cloud and accessible by mobile devices.

“People want to be able to write down that idea from anywhere and are expecting people to respond to them from anywhere,” says Scott Johnson, director of product management for Drive, Google’s GOOG file-storage service. They also want that flexibility to (safely) extend to people outside the company.

But according to Rowan Trollope, who leads Cisco’s CSCO collaboration technology group, the future holds something greater: “ambient computing,” in which you can get to work using any number of Internet-connected, sensor-equipped devices—no phone number needed. Holograms? Has-beens. The 21st-century enterprise is everywhere.

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A version of this article appears in the November 1, 2015 issue of Fortune with the headline “The bloodstream of the enterprise.”

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