bCentral Home
Your Online Business Center

We don't have an office

This engineering firm values flexible work - software services make it happen

Flexible working is more than a fashionable buzzword - it's the way more and more people work these days. In fact, 1.5m people in the UK don't work in a traditional office, according to the Office of National Statistics. That's one worker in twenty. Even more employees spend some of their time working in client offices or elsewhere.

The law requires companies to actively consider requests for flexible work patterns, but there are good business reasons for doing it. Think about how much work you can get done at home when you're free from interruptions. It allows businesses to fish in a bigger pool of talent, for example hiring people who can only work part time or who need to be at home for a few days a week.

Email access from home

Quote�It gives people choice in where they live, what hours they work�End Quote
Sue Schreiber

Hosted Microsoft Exchange Server takes away much of the technical challenge of supporting people working from home. Take a typical home worker. All they need is a PC and an internet connection, and they have access to the same email system and the shared diaries and contacts of their colleagues in the office.

Add hosted Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services and they have access to a secure, private intranet website that can be used to share documents and collaborate together on projects.

In reality, most companies now exist somewhere on a spectrum of 'virtuality' that runs from the kinds of offices our grandparents would recognise, through to companies with no office space or central facilities at all.

A virtual company

One example of a true virtual company is Bellwether, an engineering consultancy working in the rail industry. The company was started in 1998 and has never had a central office. Their employees live (and work) as far apart as deepest Sussex, London, Northamptonshire and even Australia. "Everyone works from home, on the move or from client sites," says Sue Schreiber, the company's marketing manager.

"It feels much freer," adds Sue, "I work part-time and the company was geared around giving flexibility. It gives people choice in where they live, what hours they work."

They use Hosted Exchange and their provider is Cobweb. It represented a big improvement from the basic 'POP3-based' email system provided by their internet service provider. This had limited security, limited backup and didn't allow sharing of information like diaries and contacts. The company looked at setting up a server but rejected the idea: "It's not our job to be IT specialists," says Schreiber.

It's not our job to be IT specialists

Quote�Not having a central office saves the company about �50,000 a year�End Quote

Now everyone in the business can access their email using laptops, either at home or using wireless network connections at public hotspots in cafes and train stations. Some staff use PocketPCs and other devices. They can see one another's diaries and efficiently book meetings without lots of phone calls.

Hosted Exchange allows them to recruit the best employees, regardless of where they live. Not having a central office saves the company about �50,000 a year, including the cost of buying and maintaining an email server of their own. Schreiber sees no reason to have an office to go to at all. In fact, the only thing she really misses is a photocopier.

What next?

How to buy
See our list of suppliers of Microsoft Hosted Exchange and SharePoint Services.

What's a software service?
Has this article confused you? Start with our plain-English guide to software services.

In-house vs hosted - the pros and cons
If you prefer, you can use your own server, rather than outsourcing like Bellwether.

Sign into Microsoft Small Business+ for free web-based training, online chat help and software support.

sign in

How to buy

If you've decided that hosted services are right for you, or just want information about a specific solution, contact one of these suppliers for more information:

- BT

- Cobweb

- Webfusion

Security information

Find a local Microsoft Small Business Specialist to help with your IT needs

Microsoft Small Business SpecialistMore info >

What do 'flexible working' practices mean to you?

What do 'flexible working' practices mean to you?

Free business newsletters - subscribe now

Our free newsletters are packed full of business advice and ideas - plus all the latest news

Security information

Get the latest bulletins and updates direct from Microsoft