With the advent of technology, the ultimate connected office is no longer a sci-fi dream but a modern workplace necessity.
Consider these statistics:
Businesses who invest in getting their employees connected see a rise in productivity by 25-30%.
Nearly 40% of job candidates say they are ready to work for a lower salary provided the company has attractive workplace facilities and impressive technology.
Telecommuters in a large company are 40% more productive than their counterparts who travel to the office every day.
Businesses that allow employees to work from home see an increase in employee retention by 10%.
Having a connected office is not just about being in step with technology. As the above statistics prove, it goes far beyond that. A connected office, be it one with four walls or one with no walls, is beneficial to both business owners and employees. Building one may require an initial investment, but in most cases, the return of investment on it is high.
The ultimate connected office is a perfect blend of hardware and software solutions that transform it from a regular old office to one that is in sync with the future.
Hardware solutions for the ultimate connected office
1) Mobile Networking Devices
Who needs a clunky, space-consuming, and location-restricting desktop when you can have mobile networking devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones? Today’s laptops have as much processing power as a desktop while being lighter and smaller. Not only are they easier to set up than a desktop, but they also have all the necessary paraphernalia such as the keyboard, mouse, speakers, microphone, and camera inbuilt. With a desktop, all these additions need to be purchased separately. A laptop’s lightweight and compact nature allows team members to be mobile and work from a host of different locations. What’s more, they lend themselves to easier office redesigns.
If you already have desktops in place and do not want to invest in a new set of devices, follow the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategy that a lot of companies are using. Most employees already have personal laptops and tablets. With a few security measures in place (like VPNs; more on that later), they can use them to access and work on company data. Business owners love this strategy since it means less initial and maintenance costs for them. Employees, too, experience an increase in productivity by about 16% because of the increased comfort levels with using their own device.
Smartphones, too, can be incorporated into making an office more connected. Most business apps now have robust mobile applications that allow employees to communicate and exchange files with each other. They also offer an excellent way for workers to check in from remote locations and stay in the loop with everything going on at the central office.
2) Video conferencing equipment
Hiring remote workers comes with a caveat; the difficulty in building a good workplace culture. How do you effectively interact with someone thousands of miles away? Also, how do you ensure that the off-site team gets along with the on-site one? Video conferencing is a great way to do all that and more. Putting a face to a name brings down barriers and motivates team members. It adds a touch of humanity to proceedings such as client negotiations, routine meetings, and candidate interviews. Video conferencing has several other advantages too. It cuts down on travel expenses and improves knowledge transfer.
While laptops, tablets, and smartphones can be used for making video calls, they have a limit on the number of team members who can cohesively participate in one. Additionally, video conferencing equipment provides better HD-quality clarity for both audio and video output. An effective conferencing system comprises a camera that gives a 360-degree view of the conference room, a robust audio system including a powerful microphone and speakers, and a shareable screen. Unique hardware such as a whiteboard camera that provides real-time streaming of the meeting-room whiteboard to all the video participants is also a great addition to have.
3) IoT devices
If you don’t already know, IoT translates to the Internet of Things. Simply put, it is the technology that connects devices to the internet, allowing users to control it using smart devices. If you have managed your air conditioning unit or television through your phone, you have used IoT.
The IoT platform has now become part and parcel of everyday life and is present in everything from smart cars to smart clothing. Businesses, too, are waking up to its potential, with nearly 95% of those using IoT devices claiming an immediate return on their investments. In a connected office, these devices not only communicate with the people using them but also with other IoT-enabled devices. The result of all this collaboration is a smarter and more efficient office ecosystem.
Here are some examples of IoT devices that can make your office a truly connected environment:
i) IoT Printers
IoT-enabled Printers allow users to access and maintain them from remote locations. These printers also monitor supplies such as paper and ink and inform users when they are running low. Some devices even order these supplies off the internet with no human input.
ii) Climate control and lighting solutions
These systems allow managers to control humidity, temperature, and lighting from their mobile devices. They are also self-monitoring. They adjust themselves according to the number of people in the room, time of day, and outside temperature.
iii) Wearable tech
Smartwatches are a great way to connect employees with a wellness program. Apart from motivating employees to become more active, companies can also use these devices to monitor and improve an employee’s efficiency. Tesco workers wear armbands that allow employees to tag the goods they are stocking instead of wasting time carrying around and marking clipboards.
iv) Smart coffee
Yes, you read that right! Coffee machine manufacturers such as Keurig and Nespresso now offer IoT-enabled machines that can be controlled through a mobile app. All an employee needs to do is send his or her ‘order’ in via the app. The custom-order coffee is ready in a matter of minutes. No more wasting time waiting for the coffee to brew! These smart coffee machines also let managers know when their stock is running low.
4) VoIP phones
VoIP or Voice Over Internet Protocol allows you to make phone calls over the internet instead of through traditional network service providers. It is especially beneficial for businesses that need to make a lot of overseas calls as they are cheaper and more scalable. VoIP phone calls can be made from a VoIP phone, a regular smartphone, or a computer. The call receiver does not need a VoIP phone to take the call. They can be used from anywhere and have a host of additional features such as video-conferencing call waiting, and group calling that traditional landlines do not provide.
Software solutions for the ultimate connected office
1) Cloud computing
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard of cloud computing. It has become a household term that has revolutionized how businesses handle their IT practices. In times past, companies needed an on-site local server to store, manage, and process all their data. Cloud computing allows organizations to run all these services on a remote server accessible via the internet. Today, over 80% of enterprises have moved to cloud services, and the numbers will only rise. Here are a few reasons why so many businesses find it a wise choice.
Advantages of cloud computing for businesses
1) All-round savings
Not only does cloud computing negate the need for businesses to invest in the hardware they need to run a data center, but it also dispenses with the cost of maintaining it too. Not having an on-premise server also saves office space and frees up personnel to do other essential tasks. Add to that the low carbon footprint that cloud computing leaves, and its easy to understand why more and more businesses are turning to it.
2) Flexible functioning
A distinct advantage of moving to cloud computing is the flexibility it provides. Employees can access the cloud from anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night. Businesses can also be more flexible with cloud computing. They can scale up or scale down their functionalities quickly according to the situation. Besides, not having to pay for costly equipment upgrades or conversely be stuck with unnecessary ones that they no longer need is a boon.
3) Better performance
Cloud computing services regularly update their software, keeping it at top-notch levels. This facility means that users always have better speed, security, and space to work with than their non-cloud-service using competitors. An employee can also collaborate and share files more quickly through the cloud, which can improve the efficiency of the team as a whole.
The two best cloud service providers
1) Kamatera Performance Cloud
Kamatera gives users penalty-free flexible scalability along with other features such as disaster recovery, data backup, web hosting, and firewall services. It has a customizable pricing plan that allows users to build a virtual server with components that will suit their unique business needs. Users can choose everything from storage needed to the operating system and where they want their data server to be from 13 locations around the globe. The price starts as low as $4/month.
Tresorit is a cloud service provider that focuses on providing users with security and ease of use. Its end-to-end encryption file syncing and sharing services make it an excellent choice for corporations looking to protect sensitive client data. What makes Tresorit stand out is that they have no access to a user’s files, unlike other cloud service providers. They also have two-factor authentication, which adds another layer of security during the data transfer stage. All of these features come with a higher price tag than most other cloud service providers.
Their plans start at $25/month for teams of 2-10 people, $30/month for teams of over ten people, and $34/month for businesses with over 100 users.
We have seen the benefits of telecommuting and remote work locations. However, there is one significant downside to it — that of data security. People hard at work on their laptops at coffee shops and airports are a common sight today, but all this multitasking comes at a cost. Employees taking care of business from these unique locations very often rely on unsecured public networks to do so, and this is dangerous from a data security point of view. Hacking an open wi-fi connection is literally child’s play, as proved by a 7-year-old who did it in just 11 minutes. It seems almost every day that there is a front-page headline about a corporation getting hacked. And this is not just something enterprise-level businesses need to worry about. Over 40% of cyber attacks target mom-and-pop businesses. As such, any company employing more than one person needs to make cybersecurity a priority.
The solution is to use a VPN or Virtual Private Network. A VPN ensures that any information traveling between connected devices remains encrypted. It essentially acts like a high-tech security van that transports your data from one device to the other and back, making it inaccessible to cybercriminals lying in wait for a weak connection. A business VPN provides a secure web connection to all company devices no matter where they connect from.
Advantages of using VPN
1) Increased security
Gone are the days when firewalls and antivirus software were enough to thwart cyber-attacks. Hackers today come up with more sophisticated phishing tools daily. There are reportedly over 200,000 new computer viruses detected every day. Unless your antivirus software is updated daily, it cannot detect these more modern threats. A VPN provides end-to-end data encryption that protects both the customer’s and your private information.
2) Stress-free remote access
With a VPN, any location can become like a secure bunker for workers. Businesses no longer need to force employees to travel to work. It is especially beneficial for workers who need to travel to countries with strict internet access laws. A VPN can spoof the location of the IP address to appear like it is accessing the internet from the user’s home country, thus allowing them access to all their company’s resources without any restriction.
3) It is cheaper
Companies can choose to implement secure on-site servers that do the same job as a VPN does. This is, however, the costlier option in terms of both time and money as it involves setting up pricey hardware. A VPN can provide the same military-grade protection at a fraction of the cost instantly.
The Two Best VPN providers
ExpressVPN is currently available in 94 countries. Its 15-month plan starts at $6.67/month with three free months thrown in.
Backed by TrustedServer technology that ensures complete data privacy, this VPN provider gives businesses state-of-the-art encryption services. It even has a kill-switch feature that becomes active in case the VPN connection drops. This feature blocks all internet traffic until the VPN connection is restored. It handles over 3000 servers in 160 different locations with 30,000 IP addresses.
PureVPN’s flexible pricing plans make it an excellent choice for small businesses on a tight budget. Its 1-year plan starts at $3.33/month while the 5-year plan starts as low as $1.32/month. It enables secure browsing at fast speeds. Its features include split tunneling, which allows users to decide which data to send through the VPN channel and which data through regular internet service providers. It supports over 2000 servers in 180 different locations. It is available in over 140 countries worldwide.
3) Project management software
Any business that has over a handful of employees faces the uphill task of getting everyone to pull in the same direction. Without the right tools, this task can be akin to herding cats. Humans, like cats, like to do things their own way and at their own pace. This is what project management software does. It gets all the team members connected and moving at the same speed towards a common goal. Simply put, a project management software is a set of tools that improves an organization’s ability to finish tasks on time.
Advantages of using project management software
1) Get everyone connected and on the same page
Project management software gets the whole team on the same page from the get-go. Managers can use it to plan each stage of a project from gathering client requirements to final delivery of the product. Each member of the team can see what stage the project is in and the part that they need to play in completing it. They can also share files and other data easily even if one team member is in New York and the other is in Timbuktu.
2) Save time and resources
Tracking team members, tasks, invoices, and budgets are all time-consuming chores that a project management software takes off a manager’s hands. Thus, it frees him or her up to do other vital tasks like training others or monitoring the overall health of the project.
3) Complete your projects as planned
Did you know that only close to 3% of companies complete their projects as planned? The other 97% either fail to achieve their goal or do so only by overshooting their deadlines or budgets. Using project management software allows managers to keep track of all assigned tasks. They can then allocate additional time and resources to any tasks that may be lagging. It also gives them an overview of the budget and alerts them if they come close to overstepping it. Ultimately, finishing a project on time and within budgetary constraints not only brings kudos to the organization but also repeat business from satisfied customers.
The Two Best project management software
1) Zoho Projects
With its affordable price point and wide range of features, Zoho Projects is a project management software that all kinds of businesses from small to enterprise-level can use. It allows managers to prioritize, assign, and time tasks. Features such as Zoho Forums, Zoho Chat, and Zoho Meetings encourage team members to collaborate and set up video or telephone conferences. Zoho Projects has a free plan that lets you manage one project with up to 5 team members. Its paid plans start at $25/month, with which you can manage ten projects with ten team members each.
2) Teamwork Projects
Teamwork Projects is an easy-to-use and feature-rich project management software that managers can use to monitor projects. It allows users to divide larger tasks into subtasks, each with its own priority level and deadline. Managers can also generate reports on the progress of the project to show to their clients or superiors. It has a robust mobile app that makes it easier for remote workers to check-in. Teamwork Projects has a free plan that supports two projects with unlimited team members. Its paid plan starts at $57/month.
4) Employee scheduling software
Employee scheduling. The term can send shivers down a manager’s back because of the arduous task that it is. Managers need to take everything from employee availability to holidays, customer preferences, last-minute schedule changes, and a whole lot in between into consideration while creating a schedule. Create a cohesive work schedule that makes everyone happy, and you are a hero. Make one mistake in the schedule, and you go from hero to zero in no time at all. Employee scheduling can turn this arduous task into a simple one and create an organized and connected workflow for any organization.
Advantages of using employee scheduling software
1) Create an error-free schedule
It is humanly impossible to account for the plethora of eventualities that may or may not happen when creating an employee schedule. That is why it is best left to sophisticated software designed to do just that. The software alerts managers if there are any scheduling conflicts, unassigned shifts, or leave schedule clashes and helps them create an error-free schedule that takes all contingencies into account.
2) Save time, effort, and money
In every business, small or big, time is money. Managers spend a lot of time talking to employees on scheduling-related topics. With employee scheduling software, these phone calls become redundant. Employee scheduling software takes this task out of the manager’s hands and puts it into the employees by giving them the onus of setting their own schedules. This feature frees up an incredible amount of time for the managers to focus on his or her other managerial duties.
3) Workers in the know
Employee scheduling apps allow workers to have a lot of pertinent information. They can access their schedules from anywhere, track their weekly or monthly billable hours, and see clearly what tasks are assigned to them for any day. They also get instant updates on any scheduling changes made. This means that they never have to face a situation where they turn up to work only to find their shift was changed the previous day.
Top 2 employee scheduling software
Deputy has a flexible pricing plan that makes it an excellent choice for small and big businesses. The software allows managers to create work schedules at multiple locations using one app. It also forecasts budgets by contrasting labor costs with expected profits at every site. Deputy is also an employee-friendly app that allows them to claim open shifts, swap shifts with co-workers, and clock in through their mobile devices. Their plans start at $3/user/month with custom configuration and pricing available for enterprise-level corporations.
This employee scheduling software is particularly useful for businesses that need to handle a large remote workforce because of its powerful time-tracking features. It has geo-tagging and geofencing functionalities that allow managers to see where their employees are working after they clock in. Additionally, it performs facial recognition every time an employee clocks in, which is an excellent way to discourage them from giving proxy attendance for their co-workers. Managers can also use it to generate timesheets. Tsheets’ pricing plan starts at $8/user/month in addition to a base fee of $20.
5) Internal communication software
It has oft been repeated that communication is critical in relationships. This saying holds true for business success too. Without excellent communication and collaboration, teams cannot be expected to stay focused on the same goal. Internal communication is a good indicator of an organization’s work atmosphere. Workers agree too, with over 50% of them saying that lack of communication is their team’s biggest downfall.
Gone are the days when shooting back-and-forth emails or yelling across the room at your colleague was the modus operandi for office communication. Today’s market is filled with messaging apps that do this job much more succinctly, making it easier than ever for businesses to bolster impactful communication.
Advantages of using communication software
1) Increase productivity
On average, employees spend nearly 30% of their time every week managing their email and around 20% of their time looking for pertinent information or for a colleague to help them with tasks. Waiting for colleagues or managers to respond to emails is a waste of an employee’s time. When the flow of information is instant and smooth, more work gets done. Effective communication ensures that information is passed down at the right time and that everyone knows what their tasks are.
2) Improve collaboration
Chat tools are an easy way for team members to brainstorm ideas or clear doubts with each other. They can also share files quickly and conduct video or audio calls. Managers, too, can send quick memos or announce impromptu team outings on these platforms. Because of their informal nature, chat tools allow employees to let their guard down and relate on a social level with each other.
3) Communicate more effectively
First of all, there is no scientific basis for this, but people respond to texts faster. According to MobileSQUARED, most people read a text within three minutes of receiving it, which is a whole lot faster than email messages. Most email messages only get reviewed at the end of one workday or the beginning of the next. That is a long time to wait for a reply for any team member.
Top 2 chat tools for business organizations
Slack is a powerful and feature-rich chat tool that businesses can use for both internal and external communication. Users can make both individual and group audio and video calls. It integrates seamlessly with file-sharing services such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox. Team members can share files using a simple drag-and-drop method. Apart from files, users can also share GIFs and video messages with each other. Managers can organize topics using hashtags. Slack also archives up to 10,000 messages. The software has a free version that allows a user to make one-on-one video and voice calls with 5 GB storage. The paid version starts at $2.67/month.
2) Google Hangouts
Despite its perception as an individual messaging system, Google Hangouts has the features to meet business needs as well. It can handle video conferences of up to 30 people. Users can communicate with each other via voice calls and text messages too. Their ‘Hangouts on Air’ feature can be used by companies to broadcast live videos of seminars or podcasts on YouTube. Google Hangouts is free software. Additionally, corporations with a paid G Suite account get additional benefits such as increased storage. G Suite prices start at $3/user/month.
As you can see, the ultimate connected office is not a futuristic pipe dream that is impossible to achieve. With the right hardware and software components that suit your unique business needs, it is eminently doable. It is something that every business should aspire to create not only for their own growth but for the satisfaction of their employees too. We hope our suggestions have helped you in your quest to create a connected workspace, virtual or otherwise.