Looking towards a more fluid and flexible mobile working environment?
In the past running a successful business meant an office space awash with technology. Today, it is possible to run a business with nothing more than a phone and a tablet PC. With fast mobile broadband, cloud-based services and powerful computing power literally in the palm of your hand, business owners can move their enterprises into the environment of virtual business management.
Emeritus Professor Dexter Dunphy predicts that in the future the “workplace will no longer be defined by an office building but a collection of invisible interactions, aided by technology.”
Mobile/remote working has been gaining pace for several years. Research from Intel and Dell revealed that over a third of workers believe they are more productive when working remotely. The study that looked closely at how workforces are evolving concluded that the office as we know it today is fading.
Steve Lalla, vice president and general manager of Cloud Client Computing, Dell, said: “As the research shows, now more than ever, the office isn’t defined by a desk within an employer’s walls. With constant connectivity blurring the lines between professional and personal lives and devices, it’s essential employees have seamless access to data when at the office, at home and on the road so they can stay productive, and IT secures and manages the data (and user) wherever it goes.”
What this means for all business owners is that they can make a shift away from the traditional structures that have defined businesses and their office spaces to a more fluid, mobile and flexible working environment.
Lalla continued: “An overarching theme of ‘activity-based’ work is starting to emerge as part of the evolving workplace and workforce worldwide. With the shift towards employees conducting work in flexible environments, across varying devices, experts came to a consensus that it isn’t only where you do your work, but what kind of work you’re doing that determines which form-factor you work on.
“This foreshadowing of a mobile and fluid workforce is the fundamental basis for the technological changes we are seeing worldwide in the workplace.”
Assessing your needs
In essence to run your business with a smartphone or tablet, and the virtual tools that are available today, means:
- Embracing the cloud
The cloud has done more to bring mobile working and business management into the mainstream than any other technology or service. Moving data and services to virtual spaces frees you from a physical office environment. When your data and services are in the cloud, you can run your business from any location.
- Using more mobile technologies
A key component of virtually managing your business is to ensure you have the latest mobile technology at your fingertips. The latest smartphones and tablets deliver a working platform you can use to build your virtual management system upon. Windows 10 and Surface Pro or the iPhone 6 Plus and the latest iPad Air are perfect devices to run your business with a virtual office.
- Creating virtual teams
You may be managing your business with mobile devices, but you will inevitably need help from other people. Here virtual PAs come into their own. Again leveraging the power of the cloud, using virtual PAs but also tapping into the wealth of freelance talent that is also available means you can buy only the services you need, when you need them.
- Not forgetting physical spaces
Running your business on the move is possible, but there will always be times when a physical space is needed for meetings and so forth. Using the so-called ‘third space’ provided by office suppliers such as Regus illustrates how the physical office is still relevant, but needs to be as flexible as the digital tools you can use to manage your business. Indeed, Regus now offer work hubs at some Shell petrol stations to tap into the need for meeting space across the transient virtual management space.
You know your business better than anyone. Running it with mobile devices is possible if you carefully assess your needs, and match the services you need to support day-to-day business tasks.
Says Tom Gutteridge, product marketing manager, Azzurri Communications: “I personally have a friend who runs an industrial heating and ventilation company on his mobile devices, including the day-to-day scheduling of up to six sub-contractors. With cloud/network derived services customer-premises equipment can be a hindrance, not a help.
“Functionality is delivered from the macro network and services from voice to scheduling to invoicing and accounts can all be accessed from wherever the owner is, typically on devices such as smartphones and laptops. Increasingly card readers are also being incorporated to handle payments too.”
Your virtual office can take many forms when you come to set it up. The number of tools that have become available over recent years offer a rich pool to create your own virtual office to suit your particular needs. Some of the best tools you could use to create your virtual office include:
Skype for Business: Hold meetings and collaborate with members of your virtual team with a low-cost monthly subscription. And you can of course make a few calls, too.
Hootsuite: Manage all of your business social media in one place, and also provide social customer services support as well as develop social marketing campaigns.
Google Apps: Working on the move requires basic office tools such as a word processor and spreadsheets. Google enables collaborative working across multiple devices, and these services integrate with Gmail and Calendar.
Evernote Premium: The premium version of Evernote offers collaboration across teams. As all team members can give feedback in a single app, virtual workforces can effectively work together.
KashFlow: You’ll need to manage the financial aspects of your business. This cloud-based accounting application can also handle payroll for your virtual team members.
Desk.com: Managing customer services has in the past meant large call centres. With Desk.com you can manage this aspect of your business as easily as your social media.
Receipt Bank: Even running your business with digital tools, paper still needs to be managed. This receipt capturing application is a superb addition to your digital office.
iZettle: Take payment from your customers anytime anywhere with this handy plug-in card reader.
Trello: This app is like a to-do list on steroids. Forget about email threads, this application allows efficient project management at a single glance.
These are just some of the tools that can be used to create the ultimate mobile office. What is clear is that many of these tools will converge over the next few years. Where you would today have several apps on your phone or tablet to help run your business, in the future multifunctional apps will become the norm.
Spencer Bradshaw, head of solution architects and advanced applications EMEA at ShoreTel, commented: “In today’s hyper-connected society, mobile brings business value. However, mobility technology specifically designed for the enterprise was, until recently, only available to large, global organisations capable of huge deployments and out of the reach of SMBs.
“Now SMBs need to take full advantage of such technology to be more agile, respond faster and become more competitive. By rolling out one user experience across mobile devices and traditional fixed devices an SMB can achieve business efficiencies, which is especially important in the age of BYOD.”
Economy of skills
The type of business you are running will have a major impact on whether you can feasibly run your enterprise with mobile digital devices. Information-based business are of course the ideal candidates for virtual management. Deloitte commented: “Workplaces will no longer be a site of ‘containment’ but a place where people meet, learn and share.”
Lalla concluded: “With the workplace changing, job responsibilities are being met at home, at client locations, even in public spaces like coffee shops and public transportation, so mobility has become a priority.
“Amid the flux, mobile technologies and alternative interfaces are playing an increasing role – laptops, tablets, mobile phones, 2-in-1s, thin clients and desktop virtualisation introduce unprecedented versatility into the IT toolkit.”
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points out: “Effective leadership is the number one factor that influences success in a virtual organisation. Maintaining cultural identity, employment brand and employee/manager satisfaction requires consistent and regular communication. Leadership skills are even more essential for virtual work.”
Working spaces then can be anywhere. There will be caveats in that as most businesses scale they inevitably need physical office space. But the future will see this becoming a less frequent occurrence, as businesses start in the virtual space and remain in this environment even when they grow. Next-generation mobile devices will deliver this ability.