Proud to go cloud: The pros and cons of the virtual office
With more and more companies working virtually, is now the time to save on overheads and base your start-up business in the cloud?
To cloud or not to cloud?
That is the real question these days. It’s the subject of lively, ongoing debate; and with technology growing and morphing so rapidly in this field, the only certainty is that you do need to be online, somehow. But whether upping sticks and moving to the cloud from an established office-based set-up is best for your business depends on a lot of factors.
Should you move to a virtual office?
Doing so will no doubt slash overheads, especially if you’re getting rid of an office building to work collaboratively in an online team space – although you need to be very sure that you trust your team before making such a big change. Some people find it hard to motivate themselves when working from home, so you’d be smart to start from a position of regular and transparent task sharing and progress reports right from the outset. You’re better off being a little heavy handed to begin with and you can loosen the reins a little once everyone has settled into a new pattern of working. For those starting a business from scratch, the attraction of working in the cloud is hard to deny. You can be up and running in no time, with minimal costs and able to move and change direction at the drop of a hat without incurring extra overheads. It’s well documented that around half of all start-ups fail in the first year, so keeping your outlay down by having a virtual office will take away some of the cash-flow pressure – plus you’ll have fewer physical assets to offload if it does all go pear-shaped in the end.
What are the benefits of cloud-based working?
So, financially it makes a lot of sense for certain types of business to work in the cloud, but operationally there are huge benefits too. All of your data, be that email, calendar, quotes, correspondence, legal documents, images, plans, whatever, is just there for you any time you want to fire up an Internet browser or third-party app to work with it. No one will touch your files or move stuff around while you’re out (unless you are working collaboratively in a team, and even then there will be a record of what they have done) and you won’t forget to take any files, such as a vital presentation, with you on a USB stick.
Is it risky to only have access to your data online?
Having everything stored in the cloud could end up being pretty crippling if you can’t get online, and this is one of the main arguments bandied about by cloud critics. On the flip side, you might experience a catastrophic event at home or in the office – imagine suffering a fire or flood that killed not only your Internet connection but a lot of your equipment too. With all your work and applications stored in the cloud, you could pitch up at any other location and continue working straight away, with minimum downtime for your business. Working in the cloud, you have an in-built ‘complete disaster recovery plan’, as your data is stored off-site and so there is no chance of it being lost in a local disaster.
Security issues of working in the cloud
Ultimately, security has to be a big concern and you’ll find plenty of opinion both for and against the cloud if you care to research it. Before making any major commitment with your valuable private data you should check the service’s credentials (all good cloud service providers should have encryption and security details clearly displayed on their website) and read plenty of reviews on well-respected websites to ensure that you’re choosing the best service available at the time. Most mainstream providers will have pretty high-level defences in place and there are often add-ons available if you want to take more precautions. But it’s fair to say that nothing in this world is indestructible – although statistically speaking you are unlikely to find yourself the focus of a targeted ‘hacking’ attempt. I would imagine that most readers will end up taking a combination of both routes at first, perhaps keeping certain private aspects of their business on the desktop while they start building trust in cloud suppliers with the more trivial office tasks.