Run your business on the move

Thanks to mobile technology and new working practices, more and more startups are working on the move. Here's what you need to know about running a mobile office.

It often makes sense to start a new small business from home, because it keeps costs to a minimum. But these days, some businesses continue to operate without offices by choice.

Technology has made this a practical option. 10 years ago, the likelihood of finding public spaces with free wireless internet and power outlets was almost zero. Today most cities have them in libraries, cafés, airports and even on buses and trains. Casual-use co-work spaces are widely available for meetings and short-term work, too.

Could it work for you? In this guide we'll look at the pros and cons of working without an office, with tips on making the most of this new and potentially liberating way of doing business.

Three benefits of a mobile office

People run businesses without offices for a variety of reasons. Here are three of the most common reasons:

Not having an office can save you money

Office space can be expensive, especially for a new business. Rent, furniture, electricity and internet access must all be paid for. And as your business grows, your office would have to expand with it, which means relocation expenses. That money could be better spent in areas that directly impact the bottom line, such as marketing or hiring more employees.

Without a commute you'll save time

If you don't have to commute to an office you could gain an hour or more every day and save transportation costs compared with people who do. Whether you use that time for work or relaxation, it's a big benefit.

Less distractions will increase productivity

If you create the right work environment, remote working can increase your productivity. There will be fewer distractions and fewer meetings, making it easier to focus and think clearly about your work.

Where will you go?

In this new flexible work world, there are a range of different options for where you can work. Most workers need a smartphone, internet connection and a power supply for a laptop or other mobile device, and not much else.

Home

The obvious place, with both advantages and drawbacks. Power and internet are already available and there’s no commute. On the other hand, working from home can become isolating and cause work-life imbalance. It can be hard to switch off at the end of the day when your home is your office.

Cafés

Many provide free wireless internet and power outlets to customers. Be mindful around the privacy of your conversations and documents, and security of belongings. Also café owners may not be happy if you buy a single coffee and stay there all day. 

Libraries and other council buildings

Public spaces often have free or cheap wireless internet these days, and many allow visitors to plug in their laptops too.

Co-working spaces

There are many co-working spaces available, particularly in larger cities. They usually have flexible terms so you only pay for the hours or days when you use them. Payment gives you access to printers and other office equipment, communal areas, internet and power. They're good for business networking too.

Think about meeting places too. It's more professional to meet a client in a co-work workspace or café than in your makeshift office at home.

Use the right tools

You can't work productively without the right technology. But for many office-free workers that's a relatively small investment:

Laptop computer  

Unless you need a lot of processing power, a basic one will be sufficient. As long as it has an internet connection you can work collaboratively with people all over the world.

Mobile phone  

Make sure your clients can reach you easily. You can also use this for internet access if you can't get free wireless internet.

Tablet  

With a tablet you can take advantage of the larger screen to work on the go from anywhere.

Cloud or online applications  

This is what's really driving the office-free revolution. Everything you're likely to need is available online, using cloud-based software, and is often low cost or free.

Some of the more popular tools include Google Apps (such as Drive, Docs and Calendar), Evernote and Wunderlist for keeping lists and Basecamp for collaborative project management.

It’s important to store your data and backups regularly and securely. You can use Dropbox or Box for this.

Instant messaging software and video-conferencing tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts are essential if you're working in a remote team. Make sure you get quality online accounting software too, which you can access anywhere at any time.

How to cope with the downsides

Working without an office has its disadvantages, but you can overcome them if you're prepared. Here are some of the issues you may face and tips on how to cope.

Avoid loneliness

The first few weeks may feel liberating; you're free from office politics, commuting and unnecessary meetings. But humans are social creatures, so talk to your friends and acquaintances and go out for breaks when you need to. Don't limit yourself to online contact as that's not enough to keep you happy and sociable.

Stay in the loop

Office chit-chat can lead to the exchange of important business information, new ideas and new projects. Some office spaces are even designed to encourage this interaction. You'll miss out on such conversations by not being there. Try to make time to meet your colleagues and work partners socially, perhaps after work on a Friday.

Get new work

If you work on a freelance basis or as a contractor then one of the best ways to pick up new work is to be physically present. You may only need to do this once a month. Visit your clients' offices, talk to the people who commission you, and be friendly and professional. The next time new projects are assigned, you'll be remembered.

Maintain motivation

It can be hard to stay motivated if you're not in an office full of working people. If you have a work deadline next week it can be tempting to take time off today. But that just increases your workload later. Learn to plan and schedule your work sensibly. And build up your willpower; it will help you succeed.

Find the right balance

Office workers have clearly-defined working hours. They start when they arrive in the office and stop when they leave. If you don't have an office then it can be hard to know when to switch off. Be disciplined about this. You'll work better and be more productively if you find a good work-life balance.

Have a backup plan

You might think your business will run smoothly without an office, but sometimes the practicalities can trip you up:

  • What happens if your favourite café’s wireless internet isn’t working?
  • Will you still get a desk and power outlet in the library during busy student exam revision time?
  • Can you cope with noise, distractions and people talking while you're working?

Libraries, councils and coffee shop owners don't have to provide your business with free power and internet access. It's great that some of them do, but it's always wise to have a backup plan in case your 'office' needs to relocate at short notice.

Work wisely, wherever you are

Not everyone can have a mobile office, but it's an option that's increasingly taken up by startups. Employees often benefit too. Having the flexibility to work remotely can have a positive impact on work-life balance, and can improve employee satisfaction and productivity.

If you decide to run your business this way, you will need willpower, dedication and good communication skills. But the rewards will make it all worth it; more freedom, greater job satisfaction and potentially more profit.

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