Running a business is hard; running a small or medium sized business (SMB), harder; running a small or medium sized business in the U.K. …well, you know what I’m talking about, you’re one of them.
Thankfully, with Office 365 and the rise of the Gig Economy, life just got a whole lot easier for SMBs – and you don’t just have to be based in central London to reap the rewards. The way companies right across the UK and Europe are doing business is changing and if you have the right technology on your side, you have the power to take advantage of these changes and tap into a whole world of game-changing resources.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to Office 365 and the Gig Economy.
What is Office 365?
Office 365 takes traditional in-house server applications and brings them to the Cloud using a subscription model that allows you to host these and other productivity services over the Internet. Instead of you buying Exchange, SharePoint or Skype for Business and loading it onto your server, (only to then have to buy the next version four years later) Office 365’s software as a service (SaaS) model allows all your applications to stay evergreen by hosting them on Microsoft’s server.
Business plans for Office 365 include services such as hosted email for business (Exchange Online), online storage (SharePoint/OneDrive) and communication and conference (Skype for Business), as well as many others.
If going cloud exclusive with your apps doesn’t feel right for your business, Office 365 plans also include desktop versions of all Office applications. Businesses can, therefore, install these applications across multiple computers and devices. If you have an active Office 365 subscription that includes the desktop version of Office, you will still have the most up-to-date version of the applications.
A cloud-based collaboration platform, Microsoft Office 365 gives users the ability to add a whole host of other productive applications to their subscription based on their business’ needs. We’ll be looking at some of these additional applications in more detail when we discuss how Office 365 helps you navigate the Gig Economy.
For those of you that are completely new to Microsoft Office, Office desktop applications are programmes like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, as well as Outlook, which includes email, contacts and calendar functionality. Office 365 allows you to access these traditionally desktop based applications over the internet, all you need is a subscription and a web browser and you’re good to go.
The beauty of Office 365 is that it’s scalable, flexible and mobile. Depending on what application you decide to use, Office 365 allows you to develop complicated workflows and complete intricate tasks in a simple, intuitive way. This means, when you need to find a workaround to a problem or a new way to engage with your staff and inspire them to work more efficiently, you don’t need to know any code or be a developer in order to make Office 365 work for you; you just need to be an explorer and have a vision in mind. And the fact that it’s a cloud-based collaborative platform means you can work on projects, documents, accounts – everything really, on the go. Use your laptop, your iPad, your Samsung Android mobile phone – whatever you want. Where you go it goes, and if you want multiple people to work on a document or project together, in real-time, you can do that too! But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll come back to these wonders a little later (or if you really can’t hold your breath then just go straight to the section titled, Love & Marriage, horse & carriage).
The Gig Economy
The Gig Economy refers to the 43 percent increase in freelance workers in the U.K. since 2008. As the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (ipse) point out in their February 2017 report, freelancers contribute around £119 billion to the U.K. economy, are the fastest growing occupational groups since 2008 and are present in all major industry groups, including information and communication, professional, scientific and technical industries, arts, entertainment and recreation.
Why are freelancers crucial to my business?
All businesses, big and small, benefit from using freelancers. From backfilling a parental leave cover to leading a specific, niche project – freelancers are there to give support and people power when work is getting busy or you’re down on resources. Additionally, freelancers provide specialised skills for short-term, non “business as usual” projects. It is this latter point that I am particularly interested in discussing with you, though both add a great deal of value to your business.
A selection of perfection
As any business owner or leader knows, it takes many different people, with many different skills, many, many hours to keep a business running. When you’re the CEO of a large corporation, you have the money and scope to invest in as many people as required in order to keep the show on the road. When you’re a small or medium sized business, however, resources – especially human resources – are a necessity you often cannot afford. But do not fear, the freelancers are here.
Freelancers provide two useful functions to an SMB: they allow a business to turn an employee from a fixed costs into a variable cost, and they allow you to tap into a resource pool of highly specialised, knowledgeable workers.
Setting up a payment portal and need an expert point-of-sale (POS) project manager? You got it. Need a business analyst with specific experience in shipping and trade? No problem. Need a writer to help you draft your company’s prospectus to the London Stock Exchange? Sorry, I’m taken – but you can always get a freelancer!
The point is, freelancers are there to make your life easier. You hire them for the duration of the project, let them go once it’s completed, and most importantly, you don’t have to waste your time figuring out systems or learning skills you don’t have and won’t need in perpetuity.
But how, I hear you saying excitedly, am I to integrate this person into my business quickly and securely, especially if they are based in Dublin and I am stuck here in Putney?
Simple. Office 365.
Love and marriage, horse and carriage
Apart from being an application that makes internal collaboration a breeze, Office 365 allows you to connect to the outside world seamlessly and securely, and all at the touch of a button. So, when you’ve finally hired that perfect freelancer to deliver that important project, you can have them hit the ground running day one.
Be alert, not alarmed
One of the first concerns most business owners have when they hire a freelancer, especially one that will be working off-site, is security: 'how am I going to keep my company’s data safe'?
First off, make sure you draw up a non-disclosure agreement between your business and the freelancer. Once you’ve done that, Office 365 allows you to very easily set that individual up on your network by giving them an enterprise identity, i.e. a company email address. If your freelancer is off-site, say all the way in Dublin, all they need to do is log into Office 365 using their company email and password, on any device or web browser, and they have a secure connection to all your applications.
Instead of exposing your data back and forth sending attachments to their personal email address, you can share files, documents, workflows, anything, using Office 365. And, because you’ve given your freelancer an Office 365 identity, you can control what information they have access to and even how they’re allowed to interact with said information.
When the project is done, you can close up their account and not have to worry that important information got left on someone’s hard-drive.
NB: Make sure you discuss best-practice security measures with your freelancers, so they are managing data in a secure and correct way.
Ain’t no mountain high, ain’t no valley low
There are five Office 365 applications that come together to make working in large scale projects, with multiple stakeholders, in various locations a breeze:
Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Planner, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Exchange Online
It might seem obvious, but email is the most important and used communication tool in any business. It all starts with Exchange. Not only is Exchange your key to every single other application, it is your email and calendar function.
The importance of Exchange is the security, reliability, and mobility that it gives you.
Microsoft SharePoint Online
Manage sites, content and create workspaces. SharePoint gives your business the ability to share documents securely, both within and outside your organisation.
If you have a freelancer who has joined your team and has to work in collaboration with existing employees or even other freelancers, SharePoint provides a digital space where work communities can be created and real-time interactions can take place.
You can build an intranet site that houses all important documentation relating to a project: the project scope, requirements, key stakeholders involved, and any other updates. As well as integrate Yammer into your SharePoint, providing you with an internal social network where updates can be shared not only with those directly involved in the project but the wider company as well.
SharePoint is a canvas – you can build into it as many different apps and functionalities you need in order to make your project work.
Anyone who’s ever worked on a project knows that if you don’t have the right skills and the right planning tools, things can start to get messy fast. Microsoft Planner provides a simple way to organise teamwork and project flows.
An easy to follow application, Microsoft Planner lets you organise tasks in order of priority and assign them to stakeholders that have the capacity and requisite skills to complete them. You can keep track of any updates or setbacks and set due dates for different project components.
An application that can be used to workshop ideas or see a snapshot of the progress a project has made, Microsoft Planner keeps you informed, involved and honest about where your work is going.
Skype for Business
We all know Skype, right? Well, Skype for Business works in a similar way. This Office 365 application lets you video conference as many people as needed, share your screen with people an ocean apart, and know instantly who’s online and working and who is taking their power nap.
Skype for Business is especially useful for those conversations you can’t have over email; the ones that require nuance, that are about complex ideas, the conversations that require face-to-face engagement.
With Office 365, a heart-to-heart with your freelancer in Dublin is only ever a quick Skype call away.
Build a community, encourage thought leadership and provide access to all Microsoft applications using one portal.
Microsoft Teams allows you to link your SharePoint, Planner, and Skype for Business together so that you can access everything you need that relates to your project without changing between windows (browser windows that is).
In Teams, you have the ability to build a dashboard filled with tabs that relate to specific yet interconnected documents and files. Access all the information you need in one place. Share interesting content and news, link your Facebook or LinkedIn feed – build an environment that is conducive to creativity and productivity, and that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, on any device.
The great thing about Office 365 is that even if you never require the services of a freelancer, all of the applications and functionalities that it brings only help to improve your existing employees’ efficiency and set your business up for future successes.
The end? Nowhere near
The 21st century has brought about a tremendous amount of technological change in almost lightning speed. Before the Industrial Revolution, you could almost be certain you were going to work in the same job, with the same tools, in the same way as your father, grandfather, great grandfather, and so on, did in the centuries before you.
Today’s world is entirely different. As ipse notes, in less than a decade, the make-up of the British workforce has changed dramatically. A new type of worker – the freelancer – is laying claim to her rightful place in the labour market. SMBs, as innovators and entrepreneurs, must embrace this new shift and have the technology in place to extract the many benefits it can bring to their business.
To find out more about Office 365 and how Advantage can help you ready yourself for the future talk to us today.
Words by Camilo Lascano Tribin