As a response to Barry’s post, I thought I would look at the technology requirements that businesses will need to facilitate these working practices.
The key change for flexible and mobile working is that, at least physically, the office is no longer the centre for work platforms and processes, information and data storage.
All this can now be in the cloud: whether public, private or hybrid, the principal is the same – the information exists on a platform that can be accessed from anywhere.
The different types of cloud
Private cloud is designed for a specific business and dedicated to that business. All the software and data is on a server, or set of servers, that can be housed on the premises or remotely in a data centre.
Private cloud advantages are the control of set-up and security and that bespoke applications can be run – not just MS Office or Google Docs. However, it comes without the cost savings offered by public cloud.
Public cloud is that hosted on a network of central servers to which any number of individuals and businesses has access. Google and Microsoft 365 are obvious examples. But also think about software for specific purposes like Dropbox, Mail Chimp, Salesforce, Basecamp, Highrise and, of course, social media.
It is cheap – often free, in fact – but not bespoke, so you will have to mix and match services to meet your business needs and if you use a less common application you will probably not be able to use that application at all.
You save costs on maintenance, you become more agile and flexible, you always have the latest software updates and it is environmentally friendly, as you are sharing larger resources and reducing your own IT carbon footprint.
Hybrid is a mixture of public and private cloud or cloud and traditional office based IT infrastructure.
An example of public-private cloud would be a company set up to use Microsoft Remote Desktop Server and an Application Server in a data centre for their less common applications with MS 365 for their office applications.
Of course, more typically a company would have these RDP and Application servers on site in which case they might prefer an Office-Public Cloud hybrid initially.
If you have just paid out for Microsoft Office and a whole load of software systems in house, you are not going to abandon them just yet to go fully cloud.
Signs are, however, that businesses are increasingly looking to adopt elements of cloud into their future IT strategy. So, a hybrid solution can help the transition from internal, device based systems to cloud.
Which services you adopt will depend on various criteria: size of business, systems required, where you are on your business journey, budget, staff knowledge levels and growth strategy.
In the office
From a technology point of view, what is going to change in the office?
Assuming you have an office in the first place, there are no real changes to work, but their may be some training required on new software and systems.
You will need devices to ensure employees can work remotely – whether these are laptops (instead of desktop PC’s), net-books, tablets or mobiles.
Many companies adopt a BYOD (bring your own device) for some of this equipment as employees often have better and more up-to-date devices than the company could afford and because the staff often prefer it.
If you don’t have already, you will also need a sound internet connection – a leased, one-to-one contention provision with fail-safe and fast response time for problems.
Obviously there is a weakness here – if you lose internet access you cannot get to your data. This is why your broadband service needs to be as good as it can be.
Wireless is a must to allow complete flexibility, ensuring connectivity at meetings, hot desks, break-out areas, etc.
Security in mobile working
Many worry about the cloud in terms of security. However, data encryption for internet use is very good these days, as long as you use the latest standards. And anyway, if you have an in-house server that allows remote desktop connections or VPN access then you are already exposed to the same risks.
The reputation of providers like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc is so valuable to them, that they cannot afford any problems and provide security levels akin to your bank – with encrypted data transfer and audited technologies.
However, it is obviously still good practice to password protect all devices with a long and complex password, i.e. one that includes numbers, letters, capitals – and even extended characters like $ or !. This will help improve your password security (especially for mobile devices). You will also need to ensure sufficient firewalls and VPN’s are in place to protect all access to the net.
If you are interested in a fully mobile and flexible workforce, then you might want to look at VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephones.
This hosted telephone system allows calls to be made over the internet thus reducing costs, improving security and transmission quality and greatly aiding mobile workers, as calls can be made on the system from anywhere.
You can use a non-geographic number, use wherever you can get a connection, send voice mail by email and benefit from upgrades as and when they happen.
You may need advice or you may have enough knowledge to do this on your own. Indeed, you may already be working in the cloud and the move to completely flexible working is a relatively small shift.
Whatever your situation and needs, it only takes a few technological changes to make your business agile, flexible, more economic and more attractive to potential staff.