For online merchants or business people who can use a laptop and mobile phone
to do their work, a formal office may be
an unnecessary overhead. We look at
the benefits and practicalities of
1. How common is remote working in Australia?
Many people who work remotely base themselves at home. According to the 2008 Australian Bureau of Statistics Locations of Work report, one in 12 Australian workers surveyed worked only or mainly at home. The main reasons given were the desire to have an office at home / no overheads / no rent.
2. What are the advantages of working remotely?
There’s little or no commuting time (usually with a smaller carbon footprint) and flexible working hours for those who prefer to work in the evenings or early mornings. If you work best alone, you may be able to set up a home office or find another working environment that is less distracting than a shared office, with fewer interruptions.
3. Are there any considerations before I take the plunge?
While many people love the flexibility of remote work, others may find it harder to maintain a healthy work / life balance – checking emails late into the night or popping into the home office on weekends. Others may miss the social interaction and buzz of an office environment.
4. Can any size business work office-free?
Not only is remote working a cost-effective choice for start-ups, even large enterprises like Unilever and IBM are offering employees more flexibility in terms of where and when they work, with both the company and staff reaping the benefits. Around 42 per cent of IBM’s 350,000-strong workforce rarely visits an office, saving the company approximately US$100 billion in office-space costs. As a benefit of its flexible Agile Working scheme introduced in 2011, Unilever expects to use 36 per cent less office space, saving 40 per cent on maintenance and leases.
5. What will I need in order to work without an office?
Many remote workers are heavily reliant on the internet, broadband and 3G to do their work. Popular options are online cloud and software-as-a-service products such as Salesforce or Dropbox, which allow you to access your work from anywhere, any time, over the internet. The business software and data are stored on networks and servers that are not located at your business offices, but rather at remote locations, often overseas.
“The advantage of online software-as-a-service solutions for a start-up is that there’s no capital investment to get your business up and running – you simply pay for the services you use every month,” says CrunchIT managing director Mark Williams.
6. Do software-as-a-service solutions work for everyone?
“Online solutions work best for businesses that aren’t transferring
huge amounts of data,” says Williams. “If all your files and email
are in the cloud, they must be transferred via your broadband connection. If you’re a small accounting firm, this probably isn’t
an issue, but it could be a problem for a design firm working on
huge files, for instance.”
7. Do I really need to work in the cloud?
While some people are put off by the “cloud computing” catchphrase, chances are you’re already using one or more of these services.
Another well-known cloud service is Apple’s iCloud, which allows Apple user free storage of contact, email and so on.
8. How do you get around storing stock?
If you aren’t manufacturing your own products, you can investigate a drop-shipping arrangement, where the manufacturer or wholesaler stores and despatches stock when you instruct them to. This eliminates the need for a warehouse of your own.
9. What about client meetings, business calls or mail?
A virtual office or an office-share gives you a professional space if you need it. A virtual office is proper office space, with a manned reception and meeting rooms that can be reserved. Generally, you pay a monthly fee and have a certain number of hours per month that you can use the offices for, for meetings or other work. You can also arrange a local contact number with answering and call forwarding through reception, and an address for business mail. A virtual office can make a small business look larger and more impressive and costs from $15 per week, depending on the location and services required. (For some examples, visit Servcorp, AP Business Centres or CEO Serviced Offices.)
10. Can a business with employees operate without an office?
Generally yes, with some planning, strategic investment and collaboration tools in place. Chances are, you are going to all be reliant on the internet to work together, so you may need to invest a bit more in the latest IT equipment, such as laptops, tablets or mobiles and a faster broadband connection. This ensures that you and any employees are working on standardised and reliable equipment, with everything in the same format.
Remote working also means that you can work with or hire staff all over the country, or even internationally, recruiting the best person for the job.
11. Apart from Gmail, Salesforce and Dropbox, what other online tools or services might I want to consider using?
Instant messaging (such as Google Talk, msn Messenger, ICQ and Yahoo! 7 Messenger); or group chat apps such as Adium for Macs and Trillian can be a good way for staff to keep in touch. Skype is great for video chats (and cheaper calls). Online banking is a must and Postbillpay allows you to pay bills online, with a smartphone and app, or by phone. You can also use eParcel or Click and Send to lodge mail, and even arrange a pick-up from the manufacturer or wherever you are!
Cloud services checklist
To decide if your business is suited to using cloud services, Williams suggests considering the following questions:
1. How much data will you be creating or transferring? The larger the files, the more expensive and difficult it will be to move them via your broadband connection. “A business ADSL2 package that costs around $130 a month is very similar to your home ADSL2 connection. It offers fairly fast download speeds, but slower upload speeds. To get fast uploads for true file sharing on large files, you may end up spending closer to $1,000 per month.”
2. Will you be storing any sensitive data in the cloud? Your data is subject to the laws of the country in which it is stored and that may differ greatly from Australian law. For instance, if your data is hosted in the US or by a US-owned company, it may be subject to the US Patriot Act. This Act allows American law-enforcement agencies to seize data without a court order in the interests of national security and the definition of the Act can be very broad.
3. How badly would a service outage affect your business? Cloud services can experience outages and there is rarely a customer service number to contact. “If you can, you should have a small computer that’s always on, that’s set to do hourly or daily snapshots and backups of the files you have in the cloud.”
Useful tools and resources
- Postbillpay allows you to pay bills online, with a smartphone and app, by phone, or in person at an Australia Post retail outlet or self-service terminal.
- If you post more than 1,000 parcels a year, you can arrange parcel pick-ups, deliveries and track items online with eParcel.
- Expert source: Mark Williams is managing director of CrunchIT, which offers Apple Mac / Windows support and sales.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.