By Michael Farley & Rob Spicer
Small business owners and entrepreneurs can use cloud computing to leverage limited resources to achieve maximum ROI. Cloud-based software, also known as Software as a Service (SaaS), allows companies to streamline their structure, reduce costs, and improve effectiveness for low or no cost. Plus, SaaS is extremely easy to use.
This article outlines ways you can use the cloud to implement an inexpensive virtual office space where employees can share data and ideas, troubleshoot problems, and stay connected. We know these options work because we use them to great effect in our own small business.
There numerous Voice Over Internet Providers (VOIP) that enable you to set up an enterprise-caliber phone system for a fraction of the cost.
- Set up sequential phone numbers so that you maintain uniformity across employees.
- Contact data and voice-mail are all stored online, so you can access it from anywhere. Plus, if you ever lose your phone or change carriers your data is not affected.
- Some VOIPs transcribe your voice-mails into text and send them as emails to your inbox.
- Most importantly, VOIP increases your availability & accessibility. Give customers one number that you can forwarded to any location: office, cell, home, etc. You can also use this number to make calls from any phone, preventing your other numbers from showing up on caller ID.
- Using a virtual phone system like Grasshopper.com lets you obtain a toll free number and a professionally recorded answering service, which then automatically directs callers to the appropriate person (sales, support, general questions, etc)
Instant messaging is the virtual office equivalent of popping into a co-worker’s office to ask a question, share an idea, celebrate the close of sale, etc. IM software makes it easy to share information quickly from computer to computer, computer to cell, or cell to cell.
Email and calendars are a big part of most people’s work day. Using the cloud for these services has numerous advantages:
- There is no software to upgrade
- There is no risk of bumping up against storage limits
- Your emails are not tied to a particular device. You can access them from anywhere.
- The search functions in SaaS applications are the best available. When you need to find an email fast, SaaS is you best friend.
- SaaS email accounts can be customized to your own domain name so your emails are sent from: [email protected]
Most people never realize how much time is wasted passing documents and spreadsheets back and forth: download, upload, resend, repeat. Creating documents and spreadsheets in the cloud is better.
With cloud documents, all revisions are tracked within the document, allowing you to move between multiple versions seamlessly. And the ability to search documents makes it easy to find information fast.
Best of all, you can collaborate with others on documents simultaneously.
In some cases, a document or spreadsheet requires more functionality than online document creation software allows. In such instances, file-sharing services are a great alternative.
File-sharing services function like a virtual hard-drive that everyone in your company can access from anywhere. Create documents on your computer, and save them in the cloud.
Noobrpeneur.com’s recent article does a great job of discussing the advantages of using web meetings to save your company time and money.
Work Tracking/Project Management
One of the perceived risks of a virtual office is that without on-site supervision, people will shirk off assignments. In our experience, this has not been an issue. We use our own software, but there are a number of cloud-based applications available that let you to automatically track and manage assignments through to completion.
Is My Data Secure In The Cloud?
Yes. The cloud is built on world class data centers built and maintained by companies such as Microsoft and Amazon. These companies adhere to the strictest security standards, which means the data you store in the cloud is more secure than if you were to put it in the bank.
You can read more about cloud data security in this whitepaper from Microsoft.
Advice for Getting Started
How you get started with a virtual office depends on whether or not your starting your organization from scratch. If you are, then getting started is simple: just limit your software choices to web-based software and pick from there. Both Google and Microsoft offer complete office-productivity solutions that include documents, spreadsheets, presentations, email, calendars, and more.
If you’re not starting from scratch, then you’ll need to prioritize your transition based on a few factors:
- How much pain are you currently experiencing? For example, if document sharing and collaborative editing consumes a lot of effort, this might be a good place to start.
- Another factor is cost. Cloud based software is often a fraction of the cost of traditional software. If you’re getting killed by license fees, it might make sense to start there.
- You might also want to consider where you face the highest risk of data loss. For example, if your company is heavily reliant on data contained in documents & spreadsheets that would be difficult to recover if lost, you might start here.
Finally, don’t get caught up evaluating features. Traditional software may have more bells and whistles, but odds are you don’t need or even use 50% of what traditional software offers. When it comes to SaaS, focus on ease of use.
Yottaflow is cloud-based software that automatically tracks & manages your work. Get real time status updates on all your jobs. Gain instant visibility into the information you need to get work done.