As a new business, if you have staff that work from home or need to go on the road, you might get them to use their own home PC or Mac, smartphones or tablets to keep initial costs down.
However, this means you’ll end up with a myriad of platforms and operating systems.
As a small business without an IT manager, how can you keep your work force up-to-date and synchronised across this technology mix?
Well, it’s surprisingly easy, and can mostly be done for free. The following tips will make your start-up look and feel like a professional well-connected enterprise.
They work across all devices (PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android phone/tablet), all you need is an active internet connection to each.
It’s easy to access your email wherever you are with IMAP which saves all your messages in the “cloud”. If you use an email service from your service provider, ask about switching to the “IMAP email protocol”.
You can then configure the IMAP details in your devices – PC (use Microsoft Outlook Express), Mac (use built-in email client), smartphones or tablets, and they will be magically synchronised to your email whenever they are connected to the internet.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Microsoft Small Office Server with Exchange, ask your IT guy to set up Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol. This will synchronise your email, calendar and contacts automatically across all your devices seamlessly.
Free hosted services such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo support IMAP modes as well. Perform a quick search on their pages for “IMAP” and the instructions will appear.
I’ve mentioned using VoIP and Virtual PBX to minimise your business’ phone costs in a previous blog, but the savings on these solutions aren’t limited to phones in the office.
Most reliable VoIP providers have free apps for smartphones and PCs/Macs that let you use your business phone system while on the road to save on calls.
Some providers also have a “call-back” or “global access” service which will let you log in to your business phone account to make cheap calls wherever you are.
Like it or not, fax is still a popular form of communication. The best option for a new and growing business is a Virtual Fax service which converts incoming faxes to an email with a PDF attachment.
This can then be downloaded from wherever you are.
One of the great new advantages of cloud-based services is being able to share files from your office, to your home, smartphone or tablet, anywhere, anytime and keeping them all synchronised. Sounds fantastic, and it is.
It’s also extremely easy to use and free for smaller users.
Dropbox is a great app that creates a folder on each of your devices – anything dropped into that folder will be auto-magically synchronised to all other devices with that account, no IT skills necessary.
Want to go further and actually edit or annotate your documents while on the road from your smartphone?
A great app called “Goodreader” will only set you back $5.49 and lets you edit and mark-up documents straight out of Dropbox and automatically updates the original version back at the office.
For the best instant messaging experience you simply can’t go past Skype. Skype has apps for all devices and provides instant message chat, file sharing, voice and video calling – and it’s free.
You can log into Skype on multiple devices with the same username simultaneously, and updates will go to all devices. Skype also has great group chat and conference features.
Definitely worth checking out.
Notes and to-do lists
Evernote is a handy app that lets you synchronise meeting notes between multiple people, on multiple devices in different places.
It also does to do lists, clips interesting articles from the web for later, and allows note-sharing among your colleagues.
We’re lucky to live and work in a digital world, which continues to give us the ability to be more flexible and mobile in business.
The world is our office, but with the right tools, it doesn’t have to cost the earth.