If you're responsible for running a small business, you're probably no stranger to working from locales other than a physical office environment. Whether you've grown a startup from a kitchen table or fine-tuned a proposal while on the train to a client meeting, you'll know there's more to building a business than leasing a space and sitting at your desk from nine to five.
And this is no bad thing. In fact, organisations that offer remote working are now widely considered to have a competitive advantage over their counterparts with more rigid workplace arrangements. Modern technologies have made it possible for businesses to communicate, collaborate and innovate without the constraints of an office, cutting costs and travel times while boosting productivity and growing their pool of candidates when recruiting new workers.
Moreover, it's what people want – a PwC study from July 2014 found that only 14 per cent of UK employees would like to work in a traditional office in the future, while one in five would prefer to do business from an entirely virtual environment.
If you're an agile, digital-first small business, you may in a better position to make this a reality than a larger enterprise with extensive legacy systems and pre-digital processes to content with. Here's what you need:
Deliver remote access to data and systems
Obviously, if you and your employees are to work remotely, one of your most pressing requirements is to deliver access to your IT systems from any location. If you're using Windows Server 2012, there are a handful of ways to connect to data and applications from outside your internal network. These include DirectAccess, Remote Desktop Services and traditional virtual private network setups.
However, don't forget that it's possible to run all of your IT in the cloud, which means it's hosted in a secure off-premise infrastructure, accessed via the web and paid for on a subscription basis.
You can develop and run fully-fledged line-of-business applications in Microsoft Azure, for example, saving money on hardware and physical space for your servers while providing connectivity from any location. Another option is Office 365, which gives your workers web-based access to their favourite productivity apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – without the need for local storage or even installation on different machines.
Equip your workforce with the right devices
A lot of remote workers prefer to stick with their own devices for business where possible, getting extra mileage out of personally-owned smartphones, tablets and laptops by using them to check email, make calls and schedule meetings, and edit documents. However, if you're investing in remote-working equipment for yourself or your employees, it's worth paying close attention to the factors that can affect productivity and return on investment.
These range from the simple – the need for excellent battery life, for example – to the more complex, like the benefits of a seamless user experience when a person switches from the workstation in their office to a tablet on the train. Another thing to think about is security: if you're working with private data on public transport and leave your device on your seat, it may save you a lot of stress if you have the ability to lock or wipe it from a different machine.
Establish strong lines of communication
Finally, in order to grow your business from anywhere, you need to provide ways for your employees to communicate and collaborate regardless of their location. Solutions like Office 365 make it simple for people to share and edit the same documents, but it's also important to compensate for the absence of verbal communication and face-to-face contact when your workers are separated by physical distance.
Modern voice-over-IP solutions such as Skype for Business make it simple for organisations to conduct calls and meetings online rather than in-person or on the phone, offering features like video conferencing and file sharing as well as dial-in functionality for partners and clients on traditional lines.
It's also possible to have these services delivered via the cloud, which again, allows organisations and entrepreneurs to cut the costs associated with maintaining on-premise infrastructure and focus on what matters most: growing their business.