One of the key benefits of a mobile office environment is increased productivity, as you can work at home, on the move, or even at client premises. Mobile devices also enable you to spend more time with your clients, customers and suppliers.
One of the key benefits of a mobile office environment is increased productivity, as you can work at home, on the move, or even at client premises. Mobile devices also enable you to spend more time with your clients, customers and suppliers. Mobile office devices, such as laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are becoming cheaper, smaller and easier to use. And the technologies that enable mobile working, such as broadband, 3G and WiFi are improving.
‘Costs are down and the technology is available – uptake for broadband for example, is high, with over 50 per cent of smaller companies using it,’ affirms David Wallace, information and communication technology adviser at Business Link for London.
Not all technology is tried and tested
Although the take-up of broadband has been encouraging, other technologies that can facilitate a mobile office environment, such as WiFi and telecommunications technology 3G are still in the very early stages, so it’s worth bearing this in mind if you are looking to invest in them.
As Business Link for London’s Wallace explains, WiFi is potentially very exciting and is useful if you are working from a location that is not your office, but it has not yet been proven.
‘One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to take-up of technology amongst smaller businesses is a reluctance to invest in it until it has been proven. 3G promises a lot but a high level of take-up is some way off. SMEs need to see that a lot of people are deploying it and seeing the benefits,’ believes Wallace.
According to Business Link for London, 3G is perceived by many as a toy rather than a business tool, and is seen as a “nice to have”.
If remote working is an option your business may use some, rather than most, of the time, then serviced offices can give you the flexibility of accessing the latest technologies without bearing the long-term costs. Many of them offer broadband connectivity and a few will offer WiFi.
You can attract the right staff
Conferencing service provider MeetingZone offers a web-managed audio and web-conferencing service. The company has 14 employees, of which only eight work at the company headquarters in Oxford with the rest based around the UK. As founders Steve Gandy and Tim Duffy explain, the latest broadband access and mobile technologies are key to making this set-up work.
"We set up offices in the South east because that's where Tim and I live and because it's the main hub for business in the UK. But because we were looking for very specialist expertise, we knew that we would not necessarily find all our staff in this area. When we started we were not in a position to offer large incentive packages for people to move,’ explains Gandy.
While the company has its headquarters in Oxford, MeetingZone's sales force is spread throughout the country – from Hampshire and the Midlands through to Scotland – working from their home offices.
All of MeetingZone's workers are equipped with broadband internet access and a connection to the company's servers in Oxford, so they can access the sales database, email, documents and other material as if they were in the office.
Instant messaging services have also become an important tool for the MeetingZone team to stay in touch on a day-to-day basis. The team meets face-to-face once every month, and uses audio and web conferencing for all other meetings.
In addition to more formal weekly update calls, the company's conferencing system provides round the clock access to a virtual 'conference room' for the entire team.
Remote working – top tips
- Ensure all your key data is backed up
- Take out appropriate insurance for kit
- Do as you would do with traditional office systems and install anti-virus software
- Ensure your wireless connections are secured
Case Study — Mobile technology saved us £60,000
Northlink Ferries provides passenger and freight transports services between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney and Shetland Islands. It has five port offices in five different locations, four ships constantly ferrying freight and passengers as well as a separate head office where the reservations system is based.
All operational areas, including the ships, are part of a WiFi local area network (LAN). Having secure, stable network connections means that NorthLink can quickly transfer data from different areas, ensuring a more efficient financial and management information system. Logistics and operations information has also been streamlined. Passenger lists are also automatically produced. Altogether, this has saved roughly £30,000 a year.
‘Operating under demanding contractual conditions, striving to provide a valued service to customers, we had no option other than to look to effective use of technology,’ explains commercial director Gareth Crichton.
Crichton believes that effective communication also brings productivity savings. With a flat management structure where NorthLink’s 20 managers frequently travel between the port offices and the ships, it is vital that they can work anywhere as if they were in their own offices. With wireless connectivity they can access the network via a laptop and keep up to date with all the latest information. The savings made in terms of time efficiency are estimated at around £30,000 annually.
See also: Working from home