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Category: ENTREPRENEURSHIP, I.T Business

Running a virtual office
Written by Rowan Govender
6 December 2012

As the world is becoming connected with increasingly faster broadband internet connections, the need to run a traditional office becomes less and less important. Many companies are switching to virtual offices which offer many of the benefits of a traditional office, without many of the costs involved.

What is a virtual office? A virtual office is essentially an office that is run online using certain software such as Skype or SharePoint, and hardware, such as laptops or cellphones. All the employees of a company communicate with each other using these tools outside of a physical office space.

Techandscience.com highlights these five benefits to using a virtual office:

With a virtual office you don't have to worry about renting office space, or setting up an expensive computer network. There are minimal overheads. Employees can work from home and use their own existing infrastructure, saving you money, which you can then spend on other areas of your business.

Support network - Instead of employing a secretary or administration employee, you can use a virtual office space provider instead.

By allowing employees to work during the hours that best suit them, you can boost productivity. Time is also saved by eliminating commuting, which can be seen as an unnecessary waste.

In the past it wasn't possible to hire someone unless they could actually get to work. Now you have a worldwide talent pool available and you can hire an expert that's perfect for the job, even though they're on another continent.

A virtual office makes it easier to increase sales reach. If you are looking to expand into a foreign market, you can easily set up a virtual office to cater for that market, as opposed to setting up a physical office.

What do you need to run a virtual office?

Anyone working in a virtual office will need, at bare minimum, an internet connection, and a desktop or laptop computer. Additional hardware that will make communication in your virtual office easier includes devices like webcams, microphones, and VOIP phones.

You'll also need a variety of software in order to run a virtual office. These tools include:

1.      An e-mail service

Most e-mail clients such as Gmail, Live Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail allow you to add images, or videos, or other kinds of files, so that you can communicate easily. Perhaps the only consideration you need to make when choosing an e-mail service is how much free storage space they offer.

2.      Calendar

You will obviously need to set and monitor deadlines, and the easiest way to do this is using an online calendar service such as Google Calendar. If you are using Google Calendar, it makes sense to use a Gmail account to ensure easy syncing and communication across your various tools.

3.      Instant Messenger

While e-mail is generally good enough, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to have an urgent discussion with your various employees. The best way to do this is using an instant messenger that supports VOIP and video conferencing, such as Skype or Google Hangouts. One of the benefits that these two tools provide is that they also allow you to share whatever is displayed on your screen with other people in your online conference call.

4.      Cloud storage

It's obviously a hassle to keep on e-mailing files back and forth, not to mention the fact that you may be working on files that are too big to e-mail. This is where a cloud storage service such as Dropbox, Skydrive or Google Drive comes in. You can use these services to share files with various employees that make use of the virtual office.

5.      Technical support

Once in a while, something is going to give you trouble, and you'll need technical support to help you fix it. If it's a problem specific to your PC, you'll need an online tech support company, such as MyTechTeam or Ask Dr Tech, who can use a remote connection to access your computer and troubleshoot it.

6.      Project collaboration suite

In order to keep track of who’s doing what and when, you'll need a project collaboration suite. Tools such as SharePoint or web based services such as Teambox and Basecamp allow you to easily co-ordinate your projects.

Other options

Many companies, such as Telkom, also offer many of these services which are provided specifically for SMEs. For example, they offer a teleconferencing service which allows you to instantly conference with three to seven other people. This service is charged per minute and has a minimum charge of R1.50 during standard calling hours or R1.00 during CallMore.

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