In today’s modern world many people want to be able to work away from the office. This could be for a number of reasons including visiting customers, childcare responsibilities or being unable to come into work.
How is this Possible?
For desk-based office workers there are a number of solutions you might consider for this problem, but the first question you need to ask is what do they need to do when they’re away from the office? If they just need to be contactable, then all they need is a telephone. However things can become more complex if colleagues need to be able to perform other duties remotely.
A common question for most businesses is how can employees access their work email? Many businesses now use hosted email such as Gmail and Hotmail, here the email is held remotely by the likes of Microsoft and Google; anyone needing to access their email can do so with a web browser.
Many medium to large businesses have a server on-site that hosts and stores their own work email. Microsoft Exchange and Small Business Server are popular choices for the medium to large office. Newer versions of Microsoft Exchange can easily enable remote access to work email through a web interface called “Outlook Web Access.” The latest version of this is really good and can do almost all things that the desktop version of Outlook can.
New versions of Microsoft Small Business Server can even allow users to access their work files remotely through a web browser such as Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.
Now that almost all businesses use broadband, getting access to a server in work is usually quick and easy, but you’ll need to ask your IT support company to set this up for you.
Accessing Files Remotely
There are a number of free and easy to use internet based services that you use to share files with remote workers. Dropbox is a really useful product that synchronizes a folder on your computer with a remote copy that other people can access. Products like this help reduce the need to email files to colleagues. Alternatives to Dropbox are Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. All of these work in a similar way but will include different features.
You may also consider online collaboration software such as SharePoint, which is now available as part of Microsoft’s Office 365 Suite.
These services can seem attractive to many small businesses as they offer a great way to share information and data without the need to pay the expensive capital cost, maintenance and support on a local server. The data on the likes of Dropbox and Google drive is automatically backed up for you at no extra cost.
Using Business Applications Remotely
This is where things can very quickly become a lot more complicated. With the likes of Microsoft office, it’s far easier to share the files it produces than access to the program itself. This is easy for document and spreadsheets as office is a very popular product and is installed on most computers, furthermore you can use online versions of Word Processors such as Office 365 and Google Docs.
Problems come when you use applications such as accountancy packages and line of business systems that require backend databases.
So what can I do?
There is free software like LogMeIn and WebEx that you can use to access your work PC, but the problem here is that it relies on your PC being left on and nobody else can use it. These types of solutions are great for support purposes but are not very good for longer term use.
There are many great and expensive technologies to enable all this to happen, Microsoft include a product called “Remote Desktop Services” as part of Small Business Server which allows you to gain full remote access to applications installed on your office server, however special licenses are required to permit the use of this product. You’ll also need your IT support company to set it up and configure everything for you.
How Applications are Delivered?
Many years ago, applications were installed on a computer as part of a set up package, now the trend has moved towards application that can run inside a web browser. CamisOnline is a completely web based application.
Up until a few years ago, browsers needed help software such as plugins to work, frequently these plugins were complicated and would not work on all types of computer. On occasion, business software would require different versions of browser plugins which would cause problems running multiple applications.
These problems have almost disappeared and much browser based software runs in modern web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Chrome and FireFox without the need for additional plugins. Applications are starting to care less about the operating system that their software runs on.
Many application providers offer mobile versions of their applications, these are specialist applications that are specifically designed to work on a particular mobile phone. Whilst these are great for one platform only – such as an Apple application will only work on an iPhone or iPod, they won’t work on other mobile platforms. So an App for the iPhone won’t work on an Android or BlackBerry device. Applications like CamisOnline can run natively on almost any phone with internet access without the need to download and pay for a custom application.
Before spending time and money on expensive home-working solutions, it’s worth asking yourself the following questions:
- How often does staff work from home?
- What devices do they use?
- Where are they based?
- What applications do they need to work?
- Home much effort is involved in setting them up?
- Are there any security concerns to be addressed?
- Can my business benefit from having mobile based staff?
Remote working can have some big benefits for your business. Take a look at these points:
- 75% of employers say they feel staff arrive to work stressed after commuting, with remote workers able to avoid this burden altogether
- There are 1.3 million home workers in the UK alone
- 3.7 million employees occasionally work from home
- Remote working can help reduce absenteeism by at least 5%
- Many employers have said that allowing home-working helps have a positive effect on recruitment and retention of employees
Article originally published on the author’s blog.
Neil Cavanagh is CEO of Xpress Data Systems Ltd. He has over 15 years experience as Chief Technical Officer in large organizations in both the public and private sector. Having recently launched CamisOnline, an online Business Administration and Management tool, Neil is actively contributing advice to help businesses thrive on the web.