The Mobile Office & The Cloud
With the increase in popularity of powerful mobile devices such as smart phones and the emerging tablet market, it would not be a surprise to hear that the mobile way of life is influencing all walks of business life. Whilst this is true in some respects with more and more different industries utilizing mobile devices for a variety of different purposes, the actual concept of taking the office outside is certainly not a revolutionary idea.
From outsourcing bulk production to developing client and business relationships, many businesses have had to take their work beyond the reach of their office.
The development of technologies such as smartphones and mobile internet has made working away from the office as seamless as working in the office. The real revolution is the adoption of this frame of mind by not just larger businesses but SMEs and start-ups who utilize tools to help them bring their office with them where ever they lay their laptop. We take a look at how modern tech makes working outside the office as natural as working in the office.
1. Mobile Internet
The concept of mobile internet (from a mobile phone point of view) has been around since the early WAP based browsers. However the concept of a truly mobile internet that was not constrained by data bandwidth and speed only really came with the advent of the 3rd generation of mobile telecommunications in 2003. 4G provided consumers and business with mobile broadband speeds that are comparable to some home broadband speeds. Whilst mobile broadband is unlikely to be as fast as a fixed direct line what 4G did was demonstrate the potential of a mobile office.
The implementation of 4G in mobile devices such as the Blackberry and the iPhone really developed the concept of a mobile office in regards to communication. Synced email accounts meant that important contacts and colleagues could be updated or contacted with ease. Smartphones were also equipped with (stripped down) versions of integral office productivity applications such as calendars, word document creations and even spreadsheet management.
Laptops traditionally tied to fixed line internet connections also benefited from 3G broadband dongals giving users the power of a laptop with the convenience of a wired network from any location. Again this freedom meant that a business could operate in multiple locations fairly easily (even on the move).
2. The Cloud and the World of Virtual Connections
The freedom of mobile internet also developed alongside another important concept of the tech world and consequently on the world of many smaller (and quite large) businesses. Cloud based technology utilize the internet by making programs and documents accessible from any location rather than dependent on a local server or specific to a computer. The applications of cloud based computing are pretty limitless. Think about having access to your office from anywhere and potentially any internet device – that’s the cloud.
As previously mentioned the cloud way of thinking is changing the way businesses approach software. The movement of software into the cloud means that hardware requirements can be as minimal as simply requiring an internet connection. As such hardware costs can be significantly reduced simply by moving to cloud based software. But what type of software? Well anything from CRM software (think Salesforce.com) that manages customer calls to office based software (think Google docs) that allows you to create presentations, spreadsheets and word documents.
In fact many cloud based solutions are also accessible via smart phone devices giving businesses the opportunity to access important information and edit said information with ease. In addition to saving money on buying licenses and hardware it has the added benefit of truly allowing businesses to work from any location with access to the internet.
Of course the concept of being able to access work information from anywhere isn’t necessarily a new concept. Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been in use for the awhile (as early as the 90s) as a way for business to remove the reliance of wired connections. This allows remote offices (and remote users) to dial into the office network over a secure connection. However with the introduction of the cloud and the concept of remote servers becoming more mainstream, the ability to develop VPNs has also become more widespread. In essence cloud based software and offsite cloud based data storage also represents a form of VPN – a virtualized environment in which the user can access information from anywhere.
VPNs and cloud based solutions to storage and software really enable businesses to operate in nearly any environment and are thus essential to those businesses looking to give employees flexibility in regards to work environments.
3. An Office Away From The Office
Finally whilst anyone can effectively work in a whole host of environments thanks to the liberation of the internet, there are still considerations that should be taken when working away from the office for any extended amount of time. General office space recommendations suggest that an employee in a permanent dwelling requires 175-250 square feet. Unfortunately whilst a coffee shop might seem convenient, a lack of working space means that continuous work in this environment is likely to lead to problems.
Of course the main benefit of a central office is the fact that businesses own space and thus can utilize work environments providing consistent work conditions. Unfortunately for a growing number of small businesses this might not be entirely possible. Corporate office space can be expensive for start-ups and new small businesses, especially to businesses that rely on travelling to meet new prospective clients or are a requirement of the business. Fortunately there are fairly inexpensive solutions to compliment the mobile office – one of which is flexible office space and meeting rooms.
Many hotels and conference venue properties offer inexpensive meeting rooms facilities that can cater for a wide range of uses – from large scale company meetings or away days to intimate project development meetings. Similarly external meeting rooms have all the facilities (printing, fax, internet, refreshments etc) that are extremely useful to businesses. They can be booked out ahead of time or at fairly short notice making them extremely flexible in terms of availability. In fact some properties even offer membership schemes offering work space for reduced rates but with the added benefit of being able to book rooms at various other associated properties. Again this ability to move around different venues can be integral to businesses that are constantly on the move.
Businesses have the freedom to become completely free of a rigid company owned office space and location by using technologies such as the cloud and utilizing flexible work environments such as external meeting rooms.
This gives them the opportunity to take more of a creative approach to business by enabling people, even in smaller businesses, to work from any location whilst staying in contact with colleagues and staying in sync with the business.