We have another guest post coming, this one from Greg Lauray. Gregory K. Lauray, Sr, is a Certified Public Accountant and consultant with offices in Bethlehem PA and Short Hills NJ. For more information about his firm and contact information, visit http://www.gklauraycpa.com/ or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!
The Virtual Workplace
For small business, the current economic climate has been challenging and addressing those challenges means reassessing processes and coming up with new ways to accomplish more for less. We can’t do much about factors external to our businesses, but we often have full control over what we may do internally.
One of the areas that many small businesses tend to overlook is the use of technology to increase efficiency of service delivery while reducing the related costs. Using technology, I’ve created a virtual workplace for my practice with the primary results being the following:
• More enjoyment and flexibility. Work can fit around life rather than the other way around.
• More efficiency, higher productivity and higher levels of client service.
• A reduction in the cost to deliver the services. Depending upon the specific technologies deployed, the savings can be significant.
In the next 10-20 years, if not sooner, office space will become obsolete as virtual workplaces become the norm. If anything, the current economic conditions will accelerate this trend as space costs tend to be the second largest expense for most businesses after wages. Larger corporations are already moving towards remote workplaces, while small businesses lag in adopting this mainly because they lag in the usage of technology.
The types of businesses where the virtual office setup works very well are generally CPA firms, law firms, engineering firms, architects or any other business where one uses technical expertise with computer systems. These sorts of businesses tend to be paper intensive, which happens to lend itself well to a virtual office setup once there’s a decision made to go paperless. Also, most of these businesses maintain office space to three reasons: a place to work, a place to store client files and a place to meet clients. With the virtual office setup, you only need an office to meet clients and that alone means space costs can be substantially reduced.
Going virtual means far more than just having e-mail and internet access. You have to figure out a way for normal office functions to be accessible to you wherever you may be. The main things that you need to be accessible are:
• Telephone answering and call screening.
• Your remote desktop
• Your work files. For me, these are my client documents
There are many technologies that are inexpensive to deploy and that I’ve used in by own business to set up the virtual workplace for me and my staff. Here are the specific technologies I’ve deployed and the related costs the technology has reduced:
Technology: Windows Remote Desktop Connections
Cost: Nothing. Included in the Windows Operating System.
How we use it: Used for remote access.
Costs reduced: Communication Expenses.
Technology: E-voice receptionist.
Cost: $29.95 per month.
How we use it: This is an internet based telephone receptionist platform with a professionally recorded voice. The system has an announcement feature which allows you to screen calls. Your existing phone numbers can be ported over to the system, hence eliminating the phone bill for those numbers. Your calls be directed to you to whatever number you setup (i.e. home, cell and etc.). Messages left by callers are sent via e-mail. I particularly like the screening mechanism far better than having a live receptionist as you normally have to train that person on what calls to send through and which to not send.
Costs reduced: Receptionist and telephone.
Cost: $ 100 per month for four lines in the hunt sequence
How we use it: Although not required from a virtual office setup, this costs far less than traditional telephone services. I’ve been using internet phone services using for the past three years. Very reliable, except when there’s an occasion internet outage. In that event, you can set up a forwarding phone number so calls are not missed. I’m considering dropping this service due to the E-voice receptionist making it not as necessary
Costs reduced: Big reduction in my phone bill which was running about $ 400.00 a month prior to switching.
Cost: $19.95 per month plus a usage fee per fax over a certain number. There are competing services that may be less expensive
How we use it: Everyone has been out of the office but in need of the fax lying in the fax machine or has experienced the loss of a fax due to a paper jam. This product allows you to get your faxes sent to via e-mail in a PDF format. You can secure the fax transmission if you like.
Costs reduced: Although the service costs more than the one time cost of a fax machine, the boosts in efficiency for those like me who work in multiple places is unparalleled. Moreover, you save on: Paper costs & Fax toner
Technology: Paperless Office Setup and scanners
Cost: Cost of Adobe Acrobat Standard (about $ 300 if you’re not upgrading from a previous version) and a scanner. Self feeding scanners that can capture both sides of a document in one pass run from $ 300 to $ 1,000 depending on features.
How we use it: All client documents (i.e. tax documents, bank statements and etc.) are scanned into their file folder upon receipt. This has virtually eliminated searching for misplaced files. Moreover, client requests for a copy of documents are quickly responded to by e-mailing the requested documents. This alone has eliminated untold headaches and frustrations.
Costs reduced: Costs reduced are: Paper, Postage, Office space, Toner, Wear and tear on printers.
Technology: Dual Monitors
Cost: $ 100 to 300 per computer
How we use it: An integral part of virtual paperless offices. We use dual monitors to look at client documents in one monitor while we work inputting the data into a program displayed on the other monitor. When working remotely, this eliminates the need to have the physical client documents in possession. Also, efficiency is much greater as adobe has search features. Often it’s easier to use search versus flipping through a multiple page document.
Costs reduced: Paper Costs
I have a couple of employees who work remotely as well and I’ve deployed some additional technologies to manage my small remote workforce. Here’s what I’ve found about managing remote workers:
• Remote workers love it and they’re more productive as a consequence as they can integrate their work life with their personal life. You will need to carefully screen who you do this with however, as not everyone likes to work independently. Folks who just have to have the water cooler conversation aren’t good candidates. The same applies to those who can’t work with the technology.
• Less supervision and less unscheduled interruptions. My work style is such that I dislike a lot of unscheduled or unnecessary meetings or discussions. The remote workplace I deployed virtually eliminates this and I manage the people and projects using a project management platform that’s deployed over the internet. This means that I respond to questions when I schedule it rather than the “fire drill” situation of dealing with client calls and questions from staff at the same time.
• Expanded recruitment pool. My firm prepares the sorts of tax returns that require well experienced and knowledgeable CPA’s. As the need is seasonal, it’s difficult to find the people. Moreover, there’s a shortage of these individuals generally and more so in the Lehigh Valley. Since the workplace is remote, my recruitment pool is expanded which addresses the shortage problem.
In summary, the virtual office setup for my firm has revolutionized how I work, has reduced operating costs and has made my business far more enjoyable to operate. I highly recommend it. As with most things like this, it must be led from the top to be effective, so the big challenge in deploying this for most small businesses is the lack of commitment from the top, particularly if management is wedded to the old way of doing things.