When, where and how we work is more flexible today than ever before. The need for greater flexibility is being driven by new technology, globalisation and emerging markets and it clearly highlights the evolving business landscape. This has created some great opportunities for small businesses to compete against bigger players by offering more bespoke or tailored products and an enhanced personal service.
So flexible working is set to be the new trend for small businesses in the UK. Are you prepared for it?
(Technical Director working remotely from a hotel lounge using a secured wifi connection.)
Let’s take into considerations a few factors:
The important thing to grasp is that mobility and the ability to work remotely, are strong indicators of a truly flexible workforce. In today’s ever-growing and changing business environment this could be the most important attribute your business possesses.
It would be wrong to think that businesses operate in a vacuum. The marketplace could be compared to a level field playground where different players adapt to different strategies and apply different technologies, influencing buyers’ behaviour whilst obeying the common laws, rules and regulations. Businesses want growth and progress, and the ability of your workforce to move into different regions, communicate using email, voice and video across the marketplace allows your small business to grow in a way that wasn’t dreamed of twenty or even ten years ago.
Many business leaders talk about the importance and benefits of a remote, mobile and flexible workforce but ask them what systems they are using to keep their data safe and what policies and procedures they have in place, and many times the response will be “We have nothing in place.” But it is important to remember that, once people begin working remotely, using their own devices, there are consequences. Documents belonging to your business are now also stored on those devices.
To gain the benefits of flexible working you need the right tools:
- Office 365
With Office 365 you can collaborate more easily. Office 365 can live on the cloud so you can access files from anywhere with an Internet connection.
For added security Microsoft Office 365 files can be password encrypted.
OneDrive is a powerful tool that comes as part of the Office 365 package. It provides you with a range of benefits. Files are stored in Microsoft’s secure cloud, ready for sharing. This offers good protection from immediate disasters – a hard drive failure or your office catching fire. OneDrive is available for Windows PCs, iPhones, Android phones and Windows Phones, iPads, Android tablets and Windows tablets and Macs.
By having a copy of your files available on the Internet, all you need is a secure Internet connection and your Microsoft Account login name, and a strong password and you can access them from anywhere – on any device.
OneDrive makes it really easy to share documents, pictures and videos with others – on your terms. You decide who can access the files and what they can do with them – whether they just view them or are allowed to edit them. At any point in time you can cancel access by turning off the sharing option.
OneNote is a fantastic application for gathering your ideas, plans and notes in one single place. It allows you to access your records from a wide range of devices. Your meetings and projects will run more efficiently because you can share your notes with the rest of the team. You should try using OneNote in “real time” in a Skype meeting. It is brilliant.
- Hosted Exchange Email System
With an Hosted Exchange Email System people within your business can access email, group calendars, contacts etc. when out of the office, allowing increased flexibility, connectivity and freedom. It gives you security because information is stored on a server (for extra security and peace of mind it is essential to have it based and backed up on UK/EU servers). Your PC, phone and web browser are protected by anti-malware and anti-spam filters, giving you confidence that all your important files and data are protected.
- Data backup
Data backup needs to be an integrated part of any business but especially for your “remote working business”. The best backup systems are automated, off-site, managed and monitored. They offer fast recovery if the worst happens. OneDrive is not a backup solution – it is a storage solution and so needs backing up.
Remember to ask your IT expert if your current backup system is monitored. It is very important, because if your system fails – without someone knowing – then your data will not be backed up again until the problem is resolved. If there is a problem your IT expert should know about it before you do and act on it accordingly.
- Policies and Procedures
Accordingly to a recent report from PwC (http://www.pwc.co.uk/) over 70% of small businesses fell victim to security breaches in 2015. With increased flexibility and greater numbers of workers using their own devices. It’s not difficult to see how breaches have become more frequent than ever before. There are proven ways to control this. For example, by creating guidelines and a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy and inventory in place. In addition to a clear BYOD policy, there are several measures you can take at network level:
- check how many devices are connected to the network at any one time
- reduce the risk of rogue device connecting by having access control features in place
- hide your SSIDs (Service Set Identifier)
- specify who is responsible for updating a device’s security software.
Managing a flexible and remote workforce does require some thought. A flexible business needs to be equipped with the right tools, technical knowledge and support. A forward-thinking SME will have a distinct advantage over its rivals who have chosen to continue with more traditional technologies and working practices.
If you would like to learn more on how to benefit from flexible working please get in touch with me.