Setting Up a Virtual Office

Ten steps you should take to prepare yourself for having a virtual office, from equipment to software to where you can work

virtual office

For anyone setting up on their own, or with an established small business with a small team, the cost of office space can be the biggest single piece of regular expenditure.

Thanks to technology, though, offices aren’t the only option. Increasing numbers of small businesses are forsaking a fixed location in preference for a more nomadic life, working at home, from coffee shops and in rented office space, sub-let from other companies on an ad-hoc basis.

This method of working has many benefits. You can achieve a better work/life balance, lower costs, and have more business agility thanks to the lack of fixed outgoings. For many new businesses in particular, it could be the best method of starting out.

But setting yourself up to do this involves more than just buying a laptop and a mobile. It involves having the right software tools, with collaboration applications like Basecamp, as well as the right connectivity – and, importantly, reliable support that can help you wherever you need it… Here’s ten tips to help you prepare:

Step 1: The right computer

Of course, the first thing you need is a laptop. And, as you’ll be carrying it around constantly, thin and light is the order of the day.

Step 2: The right mobile

A smartphone is essential – it will be your office when you don’t have your laptop, and you may well spend as much time reading your email on it as you do on your computer. Which smartphone, though, is largely down to personal preference. Some people swear by their BlackBerry, while others wouldn’t be parted from their iPhone. You’re going to spend a lot of time with it, though, so choose wisely.

Step 3: 3G Connectivity

If you want to have access to the internet from anywhere there’s a mobile signal (which is most of the country) you need to have 3G mobile broadband. This uses the mobile phone network to connect to the internet

Step 4: WiFi connectivity

However, as well as 3G connectivity, you’ll want access to Wi-fi networks like BT Openzone. Public Wi-fi access is increasingly common around the country – BT Openzone, for example, now has 4 million hotspots in the UK – and it’s a great compliment to 3G access.

Step 5: Collaboration software

If there is more than one person in your business, you will need some method of collaborating on projects.  Microsoft Office 365 lets you schedule appointments, instant message colleagues as well as organize web and video conferences.  Ensuring that all the members of your virtual team know everything about the project’s status.

Step 6: Document sharing

With Office 365, you and your team can, review and edit documents no matter where they are, as users are able to centrally store documents online. You will have access to the latest Microsoft Office documents (including Word and Excel) – with the ability to edit documents from within the browser.

Step 7: A mailing address

Even in a virtual team, you need a fixed mailing address where you can pick up mail. Of course, you could use your home address – but it’s better to have a mailbox set up through a company like Regus or MailBoxes Etc if you can afford it.

Step 8: Print your business cards

Business cards might sound like an old-fashioned item, but in fact they’re still an essential part of the presentation of your company. You probably won’t use too many of them, so go for a short run and design them yourself, using a service like Moo.

Step 9: Set up a space at home

Don’t give in to the temptation to work with a laptop on the sofa: If you’re working from home, you need to create a fixed space you can call your own, even if it’s a small desk in the spare room.

Step 10: Find some spaces for your “office”

When you’re not working from home, you’ll need spaces to work. Coffee shops are good (and some, such as Starbucks, often have BT Openzone Wi-fi which is a help). If you want a more permanent low-cost space, then check local listings pages such as Office Genie for small companies who want to sub-let a desk or two. Or, if you want something that offers more facilities, look for office services like Regus, which let you use space in “office centres” around the country

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