Ubertor CEO has tips on how to run a Virtual Office from anywhere in the world

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Gmail, Yammer allow employees to ‘commute’ to work from Tahiti

Gillian Shaw

Entrepreneur Steve Jagger recently told members of the Vancouver chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (http://www.eonetwork.org) how his companies, Ubertor.com and Reachd.com, trimmed down from spacious Yaletown digs at some $7,500 a month to virtual offices spread across Canada and overseas. Photograph by: file photo, Vancouver Sun

At a time of tightened budgets and economic uncertainty, businesses are casting around for ways to save money. Some may not have to look far.

Budgets for those fancy boardrooms, the humongous telephone system, expensive real estate, the lost hours spent in long commutes, can be shaved considerably by transforming bricks and mortar into virtual offices.

It’s not an option being looked at only by tech companies and nimble startups. Even such traditional operations as Telus are sending employees home from office cubicles and call centres to save money on real estate, improve employees’ working conditions and shrink the company’s environmental footprint.

Telus now has 750 agents working at home, with that number to climb to 1,100 by the end of this year.

Entrepreneur Steve Jagger recently told members of the Vancouver chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (http://www.eonetwork.org) how his companies, Ubertor.com and Reachd.com, trimmed down from spacious Yaletown digs at some $7,500 a month to virtual offices spread across Canada and overseas.

When employees meet in person, it could be in Whistler, on a beach in Tahiti, in a downtown coffee shop, in airports. “Wherever there is Internet service we can run the business,” Jagger said.

Many of the tools he used in creating a virtual office are free or low-cost. What tools work for you depend on your business. While EO attendee Ian Daburn isn’t about to close his hair salons, he immediately implemented some of the virtual office tools to save money and make his business more efficient.

Here are Jagger’s top 10 tools for the virtual office:

1. Gmail. Web-based, with lots of bells and whistles and best of all, free — unless you want the $50-per-year-per-user Google apps version, which offers more tools plus a support number to call. Gmail also gives you video chat so you can actually see whether those employees are sitting on a beach in Tahiti or not, plus Web-based applications like Google docs for writing, spreadsheets and presentations.

2. Yammer. Twitter with a business twist. A closed circle, Yammer lets you talk to people in your company, posting updates as you would on Twitter, only in a secured setting and not in plain view of the entire Internet world. It comes in three versions: free, $1 per user per month to the gold level at $5 per user. www.yammer.com.

3. Mail Boxes, Etc. Launching a startup in your bedroom in your parents’ house could lend a less-than-corporate image when Mom answers the door to a client delivering a cheque. Jagger turned to Mail Boxes, Etc. Saving money plus trees, the company has never had to change the address on its stationery through several moves. www.mailboxesetc.com.

4. Google Voice. If you didn’t sign up with Grand Central before it was taken over by Google, you’ll have to wait to use this phone system, which delivers via a website everything a phone system does. Currently only available for Grand Central members, you can sign up to be contacted as soon as Google Voice becomes open to all. www.google.com/voice.

5. Slim Timer. Another free product that also comes in a paid version, Slim Timer puts your time sheets online. Tasks can be broken out into specific functions, thereby letting you review just how much time various jobs are taking, and you can decide whether or not it is worth the cost of automating them or redirecting staff resources elsewhere. http://slimtimer.com/

6. Live Chat. “Live chat allows potential clients to interact with the website before they are ready to pick up the phone,” Jagger said. “People are scared to call sales. With Live Chat, they can ask their questions and when they are ready to talk to sales, they’ll call.”

7. Wikis. Move the company manual online and make it an evolving document, not something carved in stone. A wiki is an online website that can have content added and can be edited by users. There is both free and paid wiki software available. Try sites.google.com for one free offering or for a comparison of wiki software, check out http://www.wikimatrix.org/

8. Meetup.com. Everyone has a sales pitch. Consumers are demanding more and meetup.com is one way to bring people with common interests together. Ubertor.com used to pay commissioned salespeople to drive around meeting real estate agents and try to sign them up. Now people come to meet-ups organized by the company, all with an educational purpose and no sales pitch. Check out meetup.com to find meet-ups covering a range of issues and subjects in your area. It’s also a good way to network and get out of your virtual office.

9. Twitter. If you’re not listening to what your customers, potential customers and others in the community are saying about you, someone else will. Twitter is free, sign up, start listening and start interacting online.

10. Monitoring tools. Free and simple tools such as Google Alerts and Twilerts can keep you up to date on what is being said online about you and your company. More sophisticated tools are also available. Most recently Salesforce.com announced this week the addition of Twitter to its customer service platform Service Cloud. See www.google.com/alerts and www.twilert.com.

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