Meet Today's Efficient Home Office/Small Business

Technology problems can cripple a small business’s productivity. Imagine an office in which technology is worry-free, giving you more time to perform tasks that make your business profitable. 

People have a fascination with mythical and legendary places: Atlantis, Shangri-La, Avalon and the Lost Empire of Mu. Explorers spend lifetimes searching for proof that such places exist. Failure can mean ridicule, death and exorbitant travel expenses, but fame and fortune await the discoverers of such lands.

Small-business owners search for their own Shangri-La, the perfect office — a magical place where technology helps rather than hinders. A place where trouble-shooting technology never sidetracks productive work. Perfection may not be possible, but we can dream. What features would make up the perfect office?

Securing the Borders

Even the most utopian of offices must guard against invaders. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and all that stirring stuff. The small-business office needs strong virtual borders to defend against data theft, malware and the legal consequences of data breaches.

Your weapons of choice are familiar names; security suites such as McAfee and Norton combine antivirus protection with built-in firewalls. Don’t assume you’re immune to hacking or spyware if you run Macs instead of PCs; even mighty Atlantis sank. Mac-specific spyware and viruses exist and will become more common as Macs increase in popularity. Products such as Intego’s Internet Security Barrier protect Mac systems, and are quite affordable.

Security suites need regular updates to stay current on the latest threats. Most suites allow you to schedule updates and system scans, so you don’t have to do these tasks manually. Just set a regular update system and forget about it.

Avoiding a Backup Backlog

Legend says that elephants, knowing that it’s their time to die, seek out elephant graveyards. Legend also says that hard drives, knowing that their time has come, wait until the week you forget to back up your files.

You’ve got several options for backing up vital information. Small, external storage devices can store more than 500 GB of information, and can easily be slipped into a pocket or briefcase (and on the downside, such devices can also slip out of pockets and briefcases). Larger external drives can store terabytes of information. Most external storage connects to your computer via USB ports.

Networked attached storage (NAS) devices are external storage devices with their own operating systems. The NAS device connects to your computer network, and it has the advantage that any network computer can connect to the device (for more on NAS, check out the Staples Tech article, "What is NAS").

Cloud storage provides yet another backup option. Many cloud providers offer a certain amount of storage free, and you only need to pay if you need additional storage. Such services also allow you to schedule regular backups during off-work hours, so you can back up data on a daily basis.

Cloud storage’s great strength is also its greatest weakness. All your information stays online, and you can access it from any computer or mobile device. On the downside, all your information is online, so if you lose Internet access, you can’t access your data.

Finding IT Support

Home offices and small businesses can rarely afford dedicated IT support. A full-time IT staff member simply isn’t financially viable. So when IT problems crop up (as they inevitably do), your business grinds to a standstill.

IT consultants provide small businesses with IT support on an as-needed basis. You could hire an IT consultant to come in and set up automated backup software for your wireless network, new printers, or voice-over-the-Internet (VoIP) services.

Remote IT support is another option for the small business trying to balance finances with efficiency. Online IT support can, with your permission, remotely access your device to perform diagnostic tests. The company then walks you through fixing the problem. If you’re interested in learning even more about remote IT support and other tech services, feel free to contact Staples Tech Services with your questions today.

Productivity Software

The perfect office automates as many tasks as possible. Take email campaigns as an example. A well-designed email marketing campaign requires time and effort to put into motion and maintain. Software such as Constant Contact provides multiple email templates and tools that help you get your message into customers’ inboxes without conflicting with spam filters. The application also offers tools for making and evaluating online surveys or running social media campaigns.

Don't overlook the Microsoft Office suite’s timesaving features. Microsoft Outlook can merge information from emails, appointments and documents. Multiple users can access Outlook calendars and share contact information, making the software a good choice for in-office use.

Communication Options

Communication possibilities abound for the small-business office. Voice-over-the-Internet (VoIP) services such as Vonage and Skype allow you to communicate via chat, Internet phone services, or video conferencing. If you have a webcam and microphone, you can have face-to-face meetings with clients and off-site employees without losing work time to travel, and basic VoIP services are often free.

Membership in such services increases your communication options. Internet phone services can connect directly to your landline, saving you long-distance calls. Some VoIP services also offer applications for cell phones, so you can use VoIP instead of eating into your monthly minute allowance.

Tablets and Smartphones

Some say you carry your home with you, and with the advent of smartphones and tablets, you can carry your office with you as well. Smartphones, with their ability to access email and the Internet, mean you can connect to the office whenever you want.

Tablets offer even more versatility, adding basic word processing and e-reader capabilities to the mix. More importantly, you can use tablets for on-the-spot multimedia presentations without having to carry around larger notebooks.

Virtual Assistants

How much time do you spend scheduling meetings, answering emails or engaging in tedious and repetitive tasks? If you’re a one-person business, the answer is probably too much time. Many a small-business owner spends several hours a week performing work that, in larger companies, would be delegated to an administrative assistant.

You may object that you couldn’t possibly afford an admin assistant to work in-office, but thanks to the Internet, the perfect office has no physical boundaries. Virtual assistants are admin support who, like many business owners, telecommute. You communicate with the assistant online, assigning him or her whatever tasks eat into your productivity. Remote email management is one of the larger, more important tasks that many small business owners will delegate to an online assistant or service. For a real-world example of this practice in action, you need not look any farther than author Tim Fersiss, who uses a virtual assistant as part of his four-hour work week.

Type “virtual assistant” into Google and you'll find many websites where VAs offer their services for a fraction of the price you pay for in-office help. As with any employee, you have to interview each VA carefully, as not all VAs have the same standards. A good virtual assistant, however, can provide you with excellent support while you focus on more important elements of your business rather than answering emails.

Does the perfect small-business office exist? Perhaps not, but with today's tech solutions you can come close to claiming this mythical land for your own

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