This is part one of a series of posts on our experiences in running a virtual office.
The first bit (2002 – 2007)
Like many small businesses today we started out with a couple of PCs running Windows (initially Windows 2000) with Microsoft Office and a multifunction printer networked together using a SOHO router with a four port switch, all set up in the spare room.
Our main business tools were 1) Excel, 2) Word, 3) Outlook for email and 4) MYOB to run our accounts. Actually email was probably first on the list. One of the PCs had a shared folder that we kept all our documents on and every week or so we backed up this folder to a CD and stored the CD safely offsite.
This set-up worked well while Baubre was a sole practitioner with a small number of clients but as the business built up we needed to bring on more people to handle the volume of work. We welcomed Sue and we boxed on for a while using email and Excel but it was obvious we couldn’t grow much more with our existing system.
The solution was to implement a full function back office accounting system but these were all LAN based client/server packages designed for an old fashioned office environment and we didn’t want to run a traditional Accountancy firm with an office down town and all the overheads that go with it. In the end we decided to choose the accounting system first and then throw remote access technology at it so we could still run a virtual office where part time or full time staff could work from their homes, just coming into our home office occasionally.
Accounting systems back then were not very exciting and there wasn’t a lot of choice so in the end we went for the system used by most small and medium sized accountancy firms in Australasia at the time – MYOB Accountants Office (AO). To support it we invested in some technology…
- We registered the dowsemurray.co.nz domain name, put in a Dell Server running Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 and migrated our email to Microsoft Exchange and our documents to an “office” share on the server.
- Backups were automated to backup to DVD (we had out grown CD’s by then) each night with a friendly emailed reminder to take the weekly backup off-site.
- Our two PC’s joined the Windows Active Directory domain and we used group policies on the server to standardise the desktop. We also bought a couple of laptops and added them to the domain. By this stage all PC’s and laptops were running Windows XP.
- We added three more PC’s to the internal network without screens or keyboards. The Small Business Server has a facility where you can access a web page on the server from the Internet and then logon and connect to and take over the desktop on the internal network using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). We used this to provide remote staff access to the headless PC’s.
With the server and remote access in place we installed MYOB AO onto the file share with the AO client programme installed on each PC and remote staff coming in via the SBS Remote Web Workplace to use their “own” PC in the office. We could of course have achieved a similar result using AO installed on a Microsoft Terminal Server rather than using dedicated remote PC’s but I’ve worked with Terminal Servers for years, way back from pre NT 4.0 days when it was Citrix Winframe, and as a solution for a small office it’s overkill – unnecessary complexity and cost.
We also put in a work phone and fax line and built the dowsemurray.co.nz website and hosted it on our Small Business Server.
And it all worked! It took a bit of time to tame Accountants Office but once we had the chart of accounts standardised and reporting to match it did a good job of producing year end financial reports. The remote access was functional and fast enough and we kept growing and adding more remote staff as the client base grew.
Coming up next – virtualising the virtual office.