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Tony Mobily's picture
By Tony Mobily
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 13:17

Work anywhere: technologies to move your business online

Once upon a time, going to work implied commuting from your home to your office, and -- most importantly -- implied that everybody had to have their "office space". It used to be a desk. Then it became a desk with a PC. Now, it has often evolved to a desk with a laptop. What's next?

The next step is called "freedom": it implies that you can work wherever you are, whenever you need to.

Mind you, the world will always need receptionists; and a warehouse will always need people who actually take the goods from the shelves or greet you at the checkout till. But, those jobs are in fact a vast minority.

The freedom to work whenever and wherever comes from technology, and has implications at every level of the work chain. If you are an entrepreneur and are organising a new company, you will benefit immensely by creating something that doesn't strictly require an office space. If you are are looking for work as an employee, you will benefit by picking a job that doesn't strictly require physical presence (and a boss that understands that too). Working off-site might not be one of your job's characteristics, but at least it will be an option later down the track.

I had to organise a booking agency two years ago. I had Carte Blanche in terms of how to do it. It implied having five people answering the phone and taking bookings. I could have done it the old way: getting an office with a phone system (PBX), and getting people to sit at their desk and do administration work while waiting for calls. Instead, I organised a virtual PBX where customers would call a 1800 number and several mobile phones would ring at the same time. The first person who took the call would actually take the booking -- and a commission. Operators were only happy to answer phone calls whenever.

Today, there is a lot of technology out there that will allow you to organise an entire office without having any kind of office space. For example:

  • Virtual PBX systems (look in Google for "Virtual PBX"), where customers call a number, and several phones actually ring
  • Software like Apollo for effective project and contact management, as well as calendar
  • Google Documents to have an online system of office documents, all centralised in one spot
  • Cheap hosting which includes CMSes like Drupal, to have an effective web site with no work
  • Gmail for domains, for a strong email infrastructure within your domain and access to a huge range of Google services

The list goes on and on (in fact, I might update it as time goes by -- what would you add here?). All of those services are thought so that anybody can use them: you don't need to be a seasoned system administrator, just a lot of will in terms of learning new (scary?) things and spending time on those things.

What are the drawbacks of working remotely?

One of the main issue is fidelity: if you have a company that operates completely online, you end up losing the face-to-face contact with the people who work with you. So, regular weekly meetings are really important. Those meetings could be done in the same room if most (of all) of the staff lives in the same area; if the company is not at all localised, then you have to pick: to save money, you can have mandatory Skype meetings; whereas if you have the resources, you can organise periodical meetings to the office, maybe somewhere especially nice (a holiday resort in Thailand?). Establishing a personal relationship with your colleagues is important, and this will definitely help.

The other problem is that your staff, or you, might end up either working too much, or not working enough. For example, sometimes "working whenever" turns into "working all the time"; other time, it turns into "never working". Setting working hours, as well as precise goals, is crucial -- for yourself as well as for the people you work with.

About the "wherever", remember that people who work need safe spot to work in. While it is possible to work while traveling, people who work "wherever" need to remember that it's very hard to work when "wherever" is a shaky train, a noisy hotel room just after unpacking, or a packed plane...

It's always a matter of balance: remember that while working at home (or "wherever") has its problems, working in an office also has its issues (time commuting, office space costs, staff efficiency and stress levels, and so on).

The great thing is that it is possible, today, to have a virtual office and manage absolutely everything online: customer base, projects, contacts, customer contacts, etc. This is true for the very first time in history: we are the pioneer of this new online world, and need to get the most out of it. Dinosaurs will find themselves extinct in their presence-orientated world.