One crucial step in implementing teleworking is to ensure that groups of remote users engaging in the same project can easily work together. Adopting a collaboration method that requires 48 hours' notice to create a teleconference or that demands administrator intervention to create a new document tree will stifle productivity and, in all likelihood, cause users to circumvent the system.
Avoiding this undesirable outcome is not really a function of choosing the right software, since most collaboration products--Google Docs, HyperOffice, MindJet, and SharePoint, to name a few--let users easily set up conferences, shared folders, and so forth. It's more a function of how you set up and document your company's procedures, which users you grant administrative rights to, and how much control your IT department exerts over the process.
If the process is too rigid, the ready availability of free, cloud-based alternatives will encourage users to make an end run around the obstruction, which can lead to a much greater loss of control than would have resulted from allowing users to make their own changes in the original software.
Telecommuting, which allows people to work collaboratively from different locations, offers a wealth of opportunities for small businesses, including cost savings and the ability to add specialized temporary workers quickly. Telepresence tools, such as videoconferencing, make telecommuting possible.
The U.S. government endorsed teleworking long before many companies in the private sector gave it a second thought. A growing number of businesses now thrive on remote workers, providing services via the Internet that range from writing to remote computer and network management. Here's why you should consider offering a telecommuting option to members of your team, too.
1. Your workers will be more productive. When they can work from home, they may face fewer distractions than at the office--and of course, they'll have a reduced commute time. Numerous academic studies and corporate surveys have shown that many teleworkers are happier and more productive than workers at headquarters. Some workers may need supervision, but you can accomplish this by setting production goals rather than by monitoring hours per day worked.
The tools used to ring up sales have come a long way since the cash register. The first point-of-sale (POS) software for Microsoft Windows emerged in the early 1990s. POS systems have since evolved from souped-up cash registers that did nothing more than record sales into hubs for business management, operations, and analysis. The past decade has seen the rise of touchscreen interfaces, customer self-checkout stations, and payment kiosks.
Technologies on the horizon include smart RFID chips for tracking merchandise wirelessly, and thin-client checkout terminals at that feed into a beefier central device. While such shifts will push retailers to upgrade their in-store systems, the rise of mobile e-commerce will challenge telecom providers to upgrade their infrastructure.
As for the changes in the way consumers make and businesses take payments at the point of sale, near-field communications (NFC) is the most highly touted upcoming development. NFC will enable a shopper to wave a smartphone over a scanner instead of swiping a credit or debit card's magnetic stripe through a card reader. Contactless technology would enable stores to analyze consumer behavior and easily access data during a transaction that would help them entice customers with customized reward programs and coupons.
Tablets are creeping into the workplace, whether workers bring them from home or IT departments roll them out en masse. This development isn't altogether new, however; tablet PCs appeared two decades ago in such industries as healthcare and high finance. By and large, though, the earlier tablets ran Windows, and users mostly relied on custom pens and keyboards rather than fingertips to control them.
Yet the rise of consumer tablets--the iPad and its Android rivals--is changing how workers at small businesses tackle their jobs and interact with customers, clients, vendors, and each other.
Tablet sales worldwide will skyrocket from nearly 18 million last year to 108 million in 2012, according to projections by Gartner.
Access to the Internet is vital for doing business, but without safeguards in place, malware and data leaks can be a mouse click away from disaster. Network firewalls and antivirus software are common in workplaces, but more small companies are increasingly turning to Web filtering tools for additional protection.
Setting limits on what Web content employees can access can be essential for businesses involved in health care, high finance, or government work bound by regulatory requirements. Even mom-and-pop retailers must meet strict standards concerning credit card data.
More than 41 percent of small businesses use some kind of Web filtering, and two-thirds of large companies do, according to IDC research.
Cell phone radiation might cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization, which until Tuesday has said that there were no known health risks associated with cell phone use. The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer has now tied mobile phone radiation to an increased risk for glioma brain tumors.
The judgment doesn't stem from new research. Instead, a panel of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, spent a week poring over existing studies.
They added radiofrequency electromagnetic fields to a long list of "possibly carcinogenic" agents; other such agents are coconut oil, DDT, gasoline exhaust, lead, talcum powder, titanium dioxide, and some types of HIV and HPV viruses.
Gone are the days when running a small business meant outfitting each worker with a desktop PC, then loading up each one with individually licensed software. Thanks to services that live on the Internet, there's a swifter way to empower workers with productivity and communication tools.
Google and Microsoft are the major players in so-called "cloud" suites designed for a mobile, always-online workforce. The flexibility, portability, and low maintenance of their services appeal to a growing number of small businesses. In a best-case scenario, either Google Apps for Business or Microsoft Office 365 can improve productivity and reduce such costs as software licenses and paid IT help. Both packages include e-mail, calendars, live chat, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, collaborative editing, and much more.