Trains, planes, and automobiles are the most obvious signs that we are living in an era of continual acceleration; going ever faster is the motto of our time. Yet when it comes to 21st-century acceleration, IT has been the most influential. Since the arrival of the first mainframe computers, calculations have always been made at previously unheard of speeds. Today, IT is once again shifting gears.

Following Moore’s Law, computers have gotten ever faster, from the mainframe to the PC, to cloud services and mobile devices. Fiber cabling transports our data around the globe — quite literally at the speed of light — connecting end-users, enterprises, and cloud data centers all over the world. Knowingly or not, we are deeply invested in cloud technology: today, to most of us, “searching” means “entering a term in Google’s cloud-based search engine,” and the old-fashioned paper map has long been replaced by equally cloud-based map services.

Now the next wave of cloud innovation is about to invade our lives: the virtual workspace. The term describes a digital setup that allows professionals to use all applications, data, and services needed for work in a way that is hosted, operated, and managed in a cloud environment. The virtual workspace can be accessed with any kind of modern end-user device, such as a PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet, or even a Raspberry Pi mini-computer. The heart of this setup might be a private cloud running in a corporate data center, a public cloud service such as AWS or Azure, or a hybrid combination of both. Data are stored on company-owned servers or public cloud-based file shares, depending on what company policy and local regulations demand.

This approach revolutionizes the way we live and work. First, it makes any digitally assisted work totally location-independent: it doesn’t matter if users are logged into their personal cloud-based interface from the office, a meeting room, the home office, a hotel lobby, an airport lounge, or that picturesque little espresso bar they have often longingly driven past.

It also makes work time-independent, in the sense that virtual workspaces create new possibilities to divide work between office and home, commute outside rush-hour times, and bridge time zones: for business travelers, their virtual workspace is equally accessible when they are at home or during their travels to exotic places with equally exotic local time zones.

Simultaneously, virtual workspaces make work device-independent: for example, a sales manager might start conceptualizing a presentation on his PC, revise it on a flight on his tablet computer, present it at the customer site on his laptop, and add some final remarks for archiving via his smartphone, all the while working with the same file, securely hosted and backed up in his company’s corporate cloud.

Most importantly, the virtual workspace tremendously increases the flexibility of one’s personal “workstyle.” Not only can a mother work from home, splitting time between childcare and squeezing in a little online work whenever possible; it also means that a physician making the rounds in a hospital ward can easily access highly-secure patient data via tablet, while a conductor on a train can issue tickets from a handheld device with full access to up-to-date information on connections and late arrivals. The list goes on and on.

Considering the acceleration rate of cloud innovation, it will most likely be just a few short years until virtual workspaces are as commonplace as the physical office is now. Many of these physical offices will be replaced by shared desks, flexible personal working areas, and on-demand meeting spaces booked on the go whenever two or more coworkers want to meet in person. Cloud-based office IoT (Internet of Things) apps will always know your location on the enterprise campus and guide you in real-time to the nearest meeting room.

This means that the virtual workspace is not just a tool. It is your cockpit for working at cloud speed.