IT Best Practices.
Establishing Your Own Virtual Office with Cloud Services
The global move toward cloud-based technology predates the pandemic — although the past year has certainly accelerated that shift as workers were forced to work remotely due to health concerns. More and more companies have discovered that cloud services enable them to take their data and operations online, effortlessly collaborating and communicating with team members.
Businesses take these discoveries with them into the post-pandemic world. Employees and organizations alike have enjoyed a new level of flexibility that they don’t want or need to sacrifice. While most will retain some physical space for certain functions, a much higher percentage of work will now be done on the road or at home. The age of brick and mortar as we once knew has ended. The virtual office reigns supreme.
As part of the flexible workspace industry, virtual offices serve as the operational domain of businesses that use technology to enable a significant amount of offsite work. For some smaller companies, they have fully replaced the traditional office building after migrating their infrastructure to the cloud.
There’s a lot to consider during cloud migration — from the benefits of moving to the cloud to the best way to implement change. So here it is: the why, what, and how of establishing a virtual office with cloud services.
The Why: Why You Need a Virtual Office
There are established benefits in setting up a virtual workspace:
- Cloud storage and cloud backup secure your data and make it accessible across multiple devices and locations.
- Software as a service allows employees to access (often specialized) business applications on the go. It also future-proofs your software, reducing the potential for obsolescence.
- Infrastructure as a service decreases the time and cost involved in operating your own hardware.
- Cloud hosting facilitates different kinds of information sharing and routine communication.
But the reasons to move to the cloud go beyond this kind of definitional answer — particularly in a volatile economic climate.
Instead of long-term investment in a commercial lease and employees to build basic infrastructure, you can scale up and down at your own pace without committing to ventures that may prove untenable. You can test market without too much overhead and add or cancel services as necessary.
Client and Investor Confidence
Demonstrate to your customer base that you can solve your problems and rebound from disaster by implementing new solutions. Show investors that you are still committing to long-term growth — even during troubled times.
Expand Your Business Networking Community
Develop your relationships with your virtual office provider and with other businesses that have entered the virtual space. You can also benefit from their experiments over the past year, gaining insights into remote corporate operations and culture.
The What: What a Virtual Office Needs
Virtual office needs can vary as much as those of their physical counterparts. Fortunately, providers can customize virtual offices to a degree not possible in the physical world.
Look for service providers that deliver or at least accommodate everything your virtual office needs. There are a few absolute essentials required to establish a virtual office without sacrificing security or reputation below.
Professional Email Addresses
Every employee needs to have a professional email address — and use it. Utilize an email hosting service, and make sure that all external communications come from an email registered to your own domain.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Secure your devices, sensitive information and your way of communications through a secure end-to-end VPN tunnel. Don’t trust home networks — or worse, publicly open coffee-shop Wi-Fi — while at work.
Always prepare for the worst. Use the cloud to back up your work and instruct employees to do the same. Talk to cloud service providers about disaster recovery options and test them.
Physical Location and Necessary Equipment
Even as enterprise cloud solutions have become more commonplace, people still gain confidence from businesses that have reputable physical addresses. You also still want the capacity to conduct certain business and client meetings in a professional setting. Just make sure that you have mail forwarded for any employees who work mainly from home.
You also need to ensure that your employees have the equipment they need to work remotely. Ask yourself what you need to make available and to whom.
Services for Remote Work and Collaboration
Once you have the basics, a wide array of cloud solutions can be customized to fit your business, depending on its size, industry, and desired flexibility. You will likely want to invest in one or more of the following services:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS providers supply a full infrastructure, from systems to networks, without the need for the client to invest in expensive hardware.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Instead of installing software on a single device, SaaS allows users to instantly access software online. They can also store and share data. As hosted applications, SaaS offers processing tools, tools for document and project management, group communication channels, and highly specialized business applications online.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS is one layer underneath SaaS — think the Google App Engine (PaaS) as opposed to Google Sheets (SaaS). It allows a greater degree of flexibility for users looking to develop and manage a variety of applications.
Desktop as a Service (DaaS)
DaaS is a virtual desktop, including all data and applications, that is accessible through the internet. It enables users to access their desktop from a thin client or lightweight device anywhere.
Managed IT Services
You can outsource the management of your computing services as well as the services themselves. Work with qualified experts who are available around the clock. By investing in managed IT services, you can:
- Access the best and most current IT solutions
- Monitor your networks and data 24/7
- Enhance operational security
- Reduce IT costs and scale as necessary
- Free in-house IT personnel from routine maintenance and coworker queries
Call Center Services
Many people still prefer to use the phone and managing the phone lines can be a labor-intensive chore that takes away from other business operations. Outsource customer service to a specialized service that you trust to handle calls professionally.
The How: How To Securely and Effectively Establish a Virtual Office
Once you’ve decided what to include in your virtual office, you can begin to implement your ideas with the help of a cloud services provider — but you still have a few decisions to make and areas to consider.
Picking the Right Kind of Cloud
This is the big one. Enterprise cloud providers such as Global IP Networks offer three different types of cloud services:
- Public cloud platforms keep costs to a minimum while still allowing for application hosting, data storage and backup, and autoscaling environments.
- Private cloud platforms maintain the highest level of security and performance for businesses that work with confidential or regulated data.
- Hybrid cloud platforms allow companies to work on either public or private platforms, providing the greatest amount of flexibility and scalability.
Securing Your Virtual Office
Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to data breaches or system failures. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that businesses using cloud computing take the following steps:
- Cloud service companies provide security features. Use them. You can even take things a step further by using their managed security services.
- Take frequent inventories of data and applications.
- Tell employees not to store personal information in the company cloud.
- If necessary, encrypt data that is rarely used.
- Take security warnings seriously.
People rarely regret over-securing themselves against theft and disaster.
Developing Corporate Culture for a Remote Workforce
A 2020 TELUS survey found that almost half of U.S. workers think employers could do more to facilitate corporate culture within the virtual office. Your workforce needs to feel valued and connected even when working from home. Keep these tips in mind:
Communicate often. Along multiple channels. Chat systems such as Slack allow for ongoing discussion and clarification without overloading your inboxes.
Video and audio calling is important, too. While one can have too much of a good thing, face-to-face, real-time connection helps ground a company and connect its members.
Stage Events and Meetups
The simple act of setting up a happy hour — virtual or in person — helps foster a collegial atmosphere and reminds employees that you value them as people (and not just as cogs in a machine).
Get creative. Have a lunchtime game hour or an afternoon coffee break on Zoom. Everyone will appreciate the extra effort.
Your employees may be willing to make the transition to a virtual office, but make sure you show them that you intend to use the structure for them as well as having them use the structure.
That same TELUS survey found that most workers valued the potential flexibility in working from home. Employees felt that, so long as they completed work promptly and to a high standard, companies should accommodate other demands on their schedules.
Global IP Networks is here to answer your questions about enterprise cloud solutions and provide you with new opportunities and ideas. Contact us and let us help you find the perfect virtual office setup for your business.
Learn more about cloud services, remote working, and managed IT and security possibilities: