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Working From Home

Thu, 03 September 2009

Working from home used to be a complicated affair – whether you were a home-based business or a homeworker for a large company, it often involved reams of paper, boxes and files, not always having the correct information to hand and difficulties with customers and colleagues contacting you.
That’s no longer the case: in today’s internet and mobile-enabled world, home-based workers and companies can operate as though they are an office, access the information they need, use the same types of systems and services as large companies and collaborate regardless of location.
In the UK, over 60 per cent of businesses are now started from home – that’s more than two million home-based companies, with over 1,400 new ones launched per week. Home businesses now account for more than a quarter (28 per cent) of the UK’s employment, and everyone is getting in on the action – from the young to 50s to stay-at-home parents.
Basing yourself at home is a great way to start a business, but is also a great way to grow your company – by offering employees the opportunity to work from home, on a part or fulltime basis.
The benefits of working from home
At a time when office space is at a premium, home working eliminates the costly overheads of renting or buying property, In addition, we’re in an age where we are increasingly conscious of our effects on the environment, working from home can also avoid the pollution – not to mention the stress and discomfort – of the daily commute.
But being home-based is more than that: it also means you can work when and where it suits you – without being constrained by nine-to-five or time zones – creating a better work-life balance.
Providing you approach it in the right way, in terms of time management and equipment, a home office can support a business that works around you – while allowing you a potentially unlimited reach and scope
Getting started
Get the technology right
The first and most important consideration for any company should be around communications. Remote workers need to be contactable during their working day via a range of media, including telephone and email.
As a result, they need a landline, mobile and internet connection at the very least. This will allow them to easily keep in touch with clients and colleagues, and continue to work as an integral part of the team.
At the current time, a broadband connection is the most critical. Not only does it provide home-based workers with high-speed surfing capabilities and faster email, it also opens up a range of tools making the life of a home or remote worker easier.
Broadband allows users to securely access hosted software and services, such as collaboration and business admin tools, as well as link to servers or networks.
Set up your home office properly
Your home office should be just that – an office at home. It is no good putting a laptop and phone on your kitchen table and expecting to be productive. In order to work effectively, you need to have a dedicated working space, away from children, pets, family or housemates. You also need to move anything that may distract you.
Know how you work
Working from home is a great opportunity to be as flexible as possible. Instead of being constrained by conventional work hours, you can choose when you’re most productive or when it’s the bst time for your contacts. Liaising with a client in California, for example, is no longer a problem as work hours are entirely yours to choose.
Keep in touch
One of the biggest shocks about working remotely is the lack of direct contact with customers, partners and colleagues, so make sure you’re in regular contact with the people via telephone, instant messenger and email.

Optimise your work-life balance
A better work/life balance is the primary reason people set up a business from home. Working from home allows you to work around your lifestyle, because you don’t tend to keep traditional hours, you need to be aware about how much work you’re doing. This can work well for you if you are clear about the parameters, when you start and stop work, and how it fits with the other aspects of your life.
Protecting your business
Security - With hundreds of thousands of viruses having been identified and more being created every day, it is essential to have the best protection you can and to keep that protection up-yo-date. Just like an office-based business, you need to make sure that you at least have anti-virus and firewall software installed on machines and that your wireless network is password protected.
Security tools for small businesses can often be expensive, as well as time consuming to manage and complex to use. Using on-demand or Software as a service (SaaS) security software that can be downloaded over the internet, paid for on a monthly subscription and updates automatically processed, keeps your business safe with a minimum investment in terms of time and money.
Backup - Backup is also an important part of home working. Larger businesses generally have a procedure in place, but backup often comes down the list of priorities for smaller and home-based businesses. For a minimum charge, starting at around £5 per month, automated remote services allow you to set backup to happen automatically on a daily basis. These remote backup services securely transfer a copy of your data over the internet and hold it on protected servers so you can easily recover your files should disaster strike.
Business-grade support at home
Broadband opens up business-grade remote support, which allows specialist IT consultants to securely access and repair your computer over a broadband connection, whether it be something as simple as resetting a password or as complex as reconfiguring an entire system.
As a result, there are real benefits for those based at home:
  • Configuration and setup - Remote support takes the hassle out of setup and configuration, ensuring that the systems are set up by an expert from the start, saving you time and ensuring a seamless transition
  • Remote support  - Remote support ensure that you can run the high-performance hardware and software your business needs, without the worry of what happens with things go wrong
  • Flexible solutions - Remote support is an efficient, flexible solution that helps you keep your PCs and software running, which frees up any IT staff to focus on strategic tasks.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Software as a Service (SaaS) is a business buzzword at the moment, and is used to describe a wide range of different types of software and applications that are hosted, maintained and upgraded by a third party company and delivered to users over the internet or ‘on-demand’.
SaaS applications are ideal for home-based businesses and workers as they allow you to use the latest business-grade software developed specifically to meet your needs on a subscription basis, removing the need for upfront capital investment in terms of hardware and software, as well as upgrade costs.
It also means that you no longer need to manage and support critical business applications in-house, as that is taken care of by the company supplying the service. Areas in which SaaS applications could help you are:
  • Email and collaboration - SaaS offer even the smallest home-based company a choice of options, ranging from basic email access to tools that offer the ability to share information and services, such as company-wide calendars, address books and folders.
  • It also opens up a world of collaborative tools that allow people to securely access, save and share documents wherever they have an internet connection, via a desktop, a remote Web browser or a mobile device, ensuring that everyone working on a project is always working from the most recent versions of documents. Online tools offer added functions, such as calendars, forums and Instant Messenger services, as well as backup, because files are stored on secure remote servers in multiple locations.
  • Voice over IP (VoIP) - Making calls over the internet can help reduce costs, with packages including capped price calls to mobiles and inclusive local and national calls, and offers a cost-effective way to get an additional line for your business, but has a range of other benefits for home-based businesses and people working from home.
  • VoIP numbers are non-geographic, which means that you can have a business number with a different area code, for example, London, Manchester or Edinburgh, irrespective of where you are actually based. This means that you can have a point of presence where you choose, without the cost of an office.
  • In addition, VoIP also offers advanced phone features such as voicemail, call forwarding, online phone directories and automatic call forwarding to your mobile, which can be administered online
  • Business management and finance - Accounting packages are notoriously expensive and difficult to install, maintain and upgrade. In addition, staff expenses and benefits software needs to be integrated into the wider financial system, and easily updated by finance staff or employees themselves.
  • Web-based accounting and admin tools, delivered as SaaS, are a great way for the smaller business to get access to the kind of software previously reserved only for larger organisations. From self-service expense filing and absentee notification to a full-blown integrated accounting package, SaaS is able to cut installation time and cost by delivering ready-made apps instantly and securely over the Web. There are also no upgrade costs, as hardware, software licence and maintenance are included in the monthly subscription.
Choosing the right approach
There are many ways of selecting suitable equipment and suppliers. A good supplier will address a number of issues to provide you with an effective solution:
  • Is if fit for purpose? Products and services need to be tough enough for business use. Consumer versions, though sometimes cheaper, often don’t offer the flexibility or reliability upon which you depend
  • Is it secure? You need to be able to monitor and control access to your computer and files to protect customer and company information and to prevent fraud and abuse
  • Is it fast enough? Speed, whether broadband or computer processing speed, is important for most businesses, so it’s worth looking at what you get in detail
  • Will it support growth? If you plan to grow, it’s important you have access to upgrades, extensions and new applications to achieve maximum success.
Getting the right advice
Every business provider has a range of services, but it is important to assess the complete needs of your business and make an informed choice or you may regret it in the future. This checklist suggests some of the information you should collate and consider to ensure you find the right service provider:
  • What are the upfront costs?
  • What kinds of services are included in the standard package?
  • Do you have a dedicated helpdesk for business users?
  • Will I be offered cost effective and reliable assurance, repair and support services?
  • Are there any fixed-prices plans?
  • Are there SaaS options for a monthly subscription?
  • Do you have a range of services that will allow me to grow my business online?
  • Can you provide a range of services on a single bill?
  • Will I be secure online?
  • Can I backup my business data?
  • Do you offer any packages that include fixed-line and mobile telephone services?
  • What is the contract term?

Source: Understanding  Working from Home: A Guide to IT and Communications for your Home Office, BT.

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