Whether your office is large or small, you need a strong internet connection and reliable phone service. Videoconferencing software is also a must for many businesses. And it’s important to take steps to keep your data secure when you have employees working remotely.
The best internet provider for your business will offer a combination of speed, reliability, customer service and price. Before signing on with a provider, evaluate your needs and shop around.
Start by determining how much bandwidth your business needs. Your bandwidth is based on the speed you want and the number of users you have. The ideal speed depends on the type of tasks you do--you’ll need faster speeds to upload video files than to do basic web research and email. Since you’ll pay more for greater bandwidth, you’ll want to find the sweet spot where you don’t have too much or too little.
Next, find out about the internet service options in your area. They may include:
- Internet service through a cable company. This may be the most reliable service and the best value.
- Fiber optic internet. Fiber optic internet relies on a network of underground cables, and it is not available in all areas. It is typically a more expensive option, but it may also be the fastest and most reliable.
- DSL internet. DSL internet is offered by phone companies. It is usually not as fast as cable or fiber optic service.
- Satellite internet. Satellite service is typically slower and more expensive than the other options, but it may be your only choice if your business is in a rural area.
Reliability is critical for business internet—if your service is down or you have technical problems you can miss deadlines or lose customers. Look for an internet service provider that offers robust customer service to its business customers.
A business-grade landline phone system used to be a necessity, but today there are several other options to consider.
- A VOIP, or voice over internet protocol, system, uses your existing internet service to transmit voice calls. VOIP systems can have all the bells and whistles of a sophisticated business phone system, at a lower cost. VOIPs can be hosted by your internet provider, which rents you the equipment and hosts the service in the cloud. Or you can purchase equipment and self-host a VOIP system. Self-hosting gives you more control, but you will need IP personnel capable of maintaining the system. And any VOIP system is only as good as your internet connection.
- A virtual phone system is essentially a call-forwarding system that routes phone calls from a central number to your employees’ cell or home phones. It can be a good option for a small business with a few employees in diverse locations.
- Landline phones are a tried-and-true option, but they are being phased out by many providers. A full-featured landline system can require a significant upfront investment, and it may be difficult to service it in the future. However, if your internet connection is spotty, a landline may be your best bet.
Factors to consider in choosing a phone system include the size of your staff, the number of phones you need, and whether you will use them primarily for internal purposes or for dealing with the public.
Videoconferencing has replaced conference calls and in-person meetings for many business uses today. Good videoconferencing software can let you share screens with other participants, broadcast webinars, and include multiple remote participants in a single meeting.
Some videoconferencing services are free, and these can be a fine choice for a small business with few employees and simple needs. More robust solutions are often priced for the number of hosts or attendees you need to accommodate. Per-host solutions tend to be better for webinars with few hosts and many attendees, while per-attendee solutions might be better for collaborative work environments where anyone could potentially host a call. Many services offer free trials, so you can try them out before you commit.
Look for a user interface that is relatively easy to use. Don’t pay extra for features you do not need. And make sure the solution you choose has a good customer support team to help you learn the system and troubleshoot any issues.
Keeping connections secure
Increasingly, businesses are relying on a remote workforce, whether that means full-time employees working partly from home, employees logging in while traveling, or contractors based in other parts of the world. Remote workers often use personal devices, and they may be lax about taking security precautions. This can expose your business to hackers, malware and other security risks.
Here are things you can do to improve security for your remote workforce.e
- Use a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, creates a secure connection between your office and your off-site workers. All data that’s transmitted is encrypted, making it invisible to hackers. Business VPNs are available from a variety of online providers.
- Require employees to use strong passwords.
- Make sure you choose cloud-based software with strong security protections.
In addition, educate your remote workers on best practices for online security, including how to recognize phishing scams, and give them guidelines to follow.