If the past decade should have made one thing clear to small business owners, it’s the fact that remote work is the future. Businesses that support remote workers tend to have lower overhead, higher productivity, and have an easier time recruiting top talent. They’re also able to tap into underrepresented parts of the labor pool, which helps them to be resilient against difficult hiring environments.
Those benefits alone should have been enough to convince even the most skeptical small business owner to take steps to embrace remote workers. But there’s more to it than that. For small businesses, having the ability to support remote workers could become a necessity to ensure their very survival. Right now, the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic is providing an object lesson in that very fact.
So, for small businesses looking to prepare to support remote workers and for those now being forced to do so, here’s a simple four-step plan to get it done without breaking the bank.
1. Choose and Configure a VPN Solution
At a minimum, supporting workers in remote locations means giving them access to the same computing resources they’d have If they were at work. The problem is, you can’t simply open up your office network to the internet without risking a major attack by hackers and cyber thieves. The solution: a VPN.
For most small businesses, the simplest way to set up VPN access to the office is to deploy a cloud-based OpenVPN server. On average, it’ll cost about $15 per user for the license, with a minimum of 10 users. That’s a small price to pay to enable quick, secure access to office resources with almost zero setup time and little in the way of ongoing costs.
2. Set Up Desktop Access
Since the average small business tends to rely on individual desktop computers for each employee, the next step is to set up remote access to those machines. On most computers doing so is relatively straightforward, and shouldn’t cost anything. Here are the instructions for some common types of desktops:
To simplify the rollout, though, it might be easier to choose a cross-platform remote desktop solution like NoMachine.com. Setting it up is as simple as installing the software on each machine you want to support. Plus, there’s a free version that should suffice for most small deployments so you won’t have to take out any cash loans to cover the costs of the enterprise version of the software.
3. Deploy a Collaboration Tool
One of the biggest hurdles associated with moving to a remote workforce is that it gets hard to maintain solid communication among employees. The solution to that is to make use of collaboration tools that provide a unified platform for workers to track projects, chat, and hold video conferences.
The most common one in use today is Slack.com. It’s free for small teams to try with a limited feature set, which is more than enough for many small business users. For additional features, like group video chat, extra file storage, and unlimited message history, it’s just $8 per month per user. In short – it’s a low-cost way to get all of your remote employees working together just as though they were in the same room.
4. Switch to a Cloud-Based Phone System
With access to in-office computing resources and inter-office communications taken care of, there’s just one thing more that remote employees will need. It’s access to a phone system like the one they’d have at their office desk. To provide it, the easiest route to take is to move to a cloud-based phone system. That way, every employee – whether at their office desk or working from home or elsewhere – will have access to the company phone system and all of its features.
In many cases, this can even lead to significant cost-savings over traditional on-site hardware-based phone systems. For example, basic solutions from a provider like 8X8.com can cost as little as $12 per user per month and likely would provide more features than the phone system it’s replacing.
Get to Work
Just by taking these four steps, the average small business can have remote workers connected and ready to go in a matter of days. The upfront costs are quite minimal, and the ongoing expenses only depend on how many bells and whistles the business opts for in the services they’re using. In any case, it’s a safe bet that the total monthly cost per employee will end up being lower than the overhead associated with having them come into the office.
So, there’s no reason that any small business should wait to embrace a remote work strategy, and they should take comfort from the fact that it’s possible to get access up and running in a pinch when it’s called for. And given the compelling reasons that small businesses should be embracing remote workers, that should be good news indeed.