Take any commuter train on a weekday morning or evening, and you’ll find most of the people on it are reading the news, browsing the web, answering emails or reading up on issues for work meetings.
Smartphones have become an essential part of our working and personal lives. We are all part of a world that is always connected, and always ‘on call’.
With the advances in technology, how much flexibility does new software, new apps and new approaches to business allow for new modes of working? Could it be possible to run your business purely from your smartphone?
Your Smartphone – the solution to the curse of hotel WiFi
If you travel regularly for work, you’ll be familiar with snail-pace hotel WiFi, insecure networks, and high charges for internet access. Often using the data on your smartphone or connecting your phone to your laptop or tablet can be a more reliable and safer way of being online.
This is particularly true when you are abroad, where open networks can be a threat to the sensitive data on your laptop.
New markets, geographical areas and opportunities for growth mean staff travel more frequently away from the office as a business expands. They will use potentially insecure guest and public networks.
Patrick Clover, founder of BLACKBX, a Guest WiFi company, which has clients in the UK, Europe, in the US, South America and Asia, says managers need to think ahead to anticipate security risks while staff are on the road. What happens if a laptop goes missing – for example if you leave your bag in a hotel lobby and it is stolen?
“Lost laptops are a big risk,” he says. “If someone has access to the company laptop, they have free rein to do what they want.”
If you do have sensitive information on your phone, putting in a mobile device management system gives another level of security and control over standard administration, he says. It enables the IT department to disable phones, tablets and laptops remotely, if they are lost or stolen.
Keeping up to date with social media
If your company’s marketing strategy involves regular tweets, website updates, and blogs, then these are straightforward to manage via your mobile phone.
“You can schedule social media posts from your phone and arrange for seven or eight different messages to be scheduled to be sent out over the week relating to that particular post,” says Liam Bateman, managing and founding director of The Think Tank. “All this can be done in advance. You can think about different topics and can schedule articles you have already written to be published at regular intervals over subsequent weeks.”
Mobile phone apps such as, Hootsuite enable you to schedule, publish, and monitor social media conversations from anywhere. You can edit a scheduled post on the train or capture video at a conference, and post straight from your smartphone.
Maintaining the company culture
Another important issue is about maintaining culture and collaboration, says Nigel Davies, founder and CEO of digital workplace Claromentis.
“Software today needs to support modern working practices,” he says. “The demand for flexible and remote working is on the rise, but some SMEs can’t see how to maintain their culture and enable people to collaborate on projects if they aren’t sitting beside each other.
“Technology already has solutions to this – and they are mainstream. The main objective is to choose a software that integrates or brings all your business apps together. The digital workplace replicates the physical workplace by creating a centralised virtual space through which every employee can access apps and files and communicate rapidly. When everything is in one place, your people save time.”
Your clients are already connected
Many organisations are already running a large part of their business through phone apps. The landlord and property sector are leading the way on this.
OpenRent, founded as an online letting agent in 2012, has technology which enables the entire lettings process to occur online, without a need for paper, cash or offices.
“We allow landlords to book in viewings, calculate their property’s rental value, order referencing reports, sign contracts, renew tenancies for free, and much more, all from their smartphone,” says Sam Hurst of OpenRent.
“With OpenRent supporting the entire letting process online, and most browsing happening on mobile, it has always been essential for OpenRent to work beautifully on a smartphone,” he says.
“We have developed several features to make sure landlords can keep track while on the move, such as when on the way to viewings.
“One piece of functionality we recently added is a Payment History page, where landlords can view all expenditure across all their properties – complete with receipts – on one simple page. This is incredibly helpful for landlords running their lettings portfolios, especially when it comes to keeping track of tax-deductibles.”
Making technology personal
Nathan Baranowski, Director of OJO solutions, says it is possible to run a business mostly using your smartphone.
“From video conferencing, social media and a fully functional calendar to tools like Xero, Skitch and Citymapper, not to mention always being connected to emails, there isn’t much you can’t do through your smartphone for your business,” he says.
“Designers can design, developers can test their apps and business owners can stay in touch with suppliers, staff and customers. This kind of tech provides solutions to challenges we have faced for years, and it’s only going to progress from here.”
He does acknowledge that for an SME owner, being connected all the time “can be a blessing and a curse”. He adds: “When you run your own business and interact with customers on their journey so often, you rely on it.”
Handheld devices do have their limitations, though for very detailed tasks.
“For me, looking at spreadsheets is still a challenge,” he says. “Smartphones are great pretty on most things but sometimes some apps just aren’t quite right for mobile yet. A smartphone is perfect for when you’re on the move between meetings, but when taking notes and spending time with customers, more space and flexibility is key.”
As technology is moving so quickly, we will be finding new ways of working in the future, he believes.
“It will not be long before it is the norm to dock our phones into our desks and use big screens and keyboards,” he says. “Mobile security has never been as good as it is, and leveraging the cloud most likely makes your phone more secure than your laptop.”
Risks and limitations
However, there are limitations, especially for accountants who need a quiet place to work out detailed calculations, update complicated spreadsheets, and talk to clients about personal financial matters.
It’s not practical to hold private conversations in public places, like a train or coffee shop, and for most people, trying to build a spreadsheet on a handheld device is frustrating and time consuming.
Much of the software for accountants is not yet mobile-friendly, and is not really designed to be used out of the office. There’s also the issue of security – your clients need to know that data is kept safe and secure and can’t be stolen or hacked.
Nick Thompson, Managing Director of DCSL Software, a software development agency, says running an entire business from a device with limited functionalities and a small screen isn’t possible.
“The option to review and edit large documents, organise diaries or send long emails is there, but it’s more likely that mistakes will be made and it will take a long time. Additionally, it’s inherently difficult to look at a small screen for any length of time; it hurts your eyes, your neck and gives you a headache.”
Although the capabilities of smartphones are forever increasing, there are still limitations, he says.
“Productivity apps are emerging all the time, but at the moment they are still incomparable to the speed at which you can do things on a large screen with a keyboard.”
Marc Trup founder of Arthur Online, property management solution, says that as SMEs are relatively less complex than larger organisations, there are usually cheap yet powerful online tools for almost every part of its operations, from managing accounts to interacting with customers in real-time.
“The ability to communicate with customers 24/7 via smartphones is particularly useful for SME’s trying to build a reputation for excellent customer service, usually a determining factor of success,” he says.
However, while these added capabilities may seem cost effective on the surface, the real cost is more accurately measured in overworking, added stress and health issues like eye strain.
“Particularly vulnerable are entrepreneurs and their employees trying to establish themselves in a crowded market; as the option to do a little extra is always there, where do you draw the line if your competitors seemingly go that extra mile?” he says.
Data protection is another concern, as apps are often less secure than web based versions. What’s more, smaller businesses are generally unable to afford the latest cybersecurity systems, making them more prone to hacks.
Flexibility on the move
For now, smartphone apps can make your life easier, enabling you to schedule meetings and reminders, hold contact details for clients, check your business and personal bank accounts and manage your business while abroad.
When it comes to detailed financial analysis, security, and complicated tasks, a quiet room with a laptop is still essential. For owner-managers who are building their business, it is also important to weigh up the health issues of never taking down time, and always being available to clients. Building in breaks and time off at the weekend will help you return to work on Monday morning recharged and ready to go.
Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.