Who needs an office?

Laptops, smart phones, wireless broadband, email, instant messages, secure file transfer protocol (FTP) clients and, more recently, desktop sharing technology have all made it possible to work almost anywhere: in a café; at the airport; on the plane or train; at your client’s office…

Fortunately, apart from someone seeing your screen in a public place, there are a growing number of technological solutions that help safeguard confidential information while at the same time supporting a ‘distributed workforce’.

For example, about six months ago Telstra introduced encryption software, which it now requires all staff and suppliers to use to email any sensitive information (such as data with customer fields attached). Suppliers were invited into Telstra offices in Sydney and Melbourne for training sessions to learn how to use the software, called GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG). 

Andrew Menner says compliance with the policy to encrypt sensitive emails has been excellent.

‘I am amazed at how quickly suppliers fell into line,’ he says. ‘But while it might have seemed complex at the beginning, by the end of the training everyone was having fun with it. We used a test file in the training that was lots of fun, because learning how to use the encryption software is pretty boring.’

Working in private spaces (such as a home office) and communicating securely with clients and colleagues is now easier than ever, with a range of ‘virtual meeting’ and ‘desktop sharing’ solutions on the market.

One of my major clients, the Australian Market and Social Research Society, uses software available from Citrix Online, which has four products on the market that all use the 128 bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES): GoToMeeting (for meetings with up to 25 people), GoToWebinar (for up to 1000 attendees), GoToMyPC (for remote access to your home or office computer) and GoToAssist (for companies providing remote technical support).

128 bit AES is a small, fast, hard to crack encryption standard that has, according to technology vendors, been determined as the ‘best compromise between a combination of security, performance, efficiency, ease of implementation and flexibility’.

In practical terms, it means that it is very difficult for someone to hack into a connection between you and the people you are meeting with online – in fact, one vendor claims it would take 149 thousand-billion (149 trillion) years to crack a single 128 bit AES key.

HR Shiever from Citrix Online says that 128 bit AES ensures that once you have made the ‘initial handshake’ (received an email invitation to join a virtual meeting), the stream cannot be interrupted.

‘We don’t use secure socket layer (SSL) technology because it only encrypts data between the screen and the data centre. 128 bit AES encrypts all communication in a virtual meeting.'

GoToMeeting is virtual meeting software that can be used for meetings of up to 15 people. GoToMeeting Corporate enables meetings of up to 25 people. Both versions of the product enable meeting organisers to chat (using either VOIP or a special telephone conference line) to participants, to show presentations, perform live demos and collaborate on documents in real time. As the organiser of the online meeting, it is possible to share your screen with meeting participants (which they can then control with their own mouse or keyboard), or invite them to share their screen with you. After installing the GoToMeeting software, clients and co-workers don't need the application hosted on your own desktop to view the files you want to share. Even files created with specialised applications, such as CAD drawings, are viewable.

‘All our products are permission based, which means you have to give the other person permission to take control of your screen.’

Shiever says GoToMyPC can also help ensure confidential client information remains secure, because it enables users to access files sitting on their home or office computer from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection, which is much more secure than carrying files on a laptop or USB stick, which may be lost or stolen. 

I have trialled GoToMeeting successfully several times. It is quick and easy to set up and the pricing is very competitive compared to other applications like WebEx that do not use a flat fee-based pricing model. For a monthly subscription fee of $66.40 ($797 per year), you can host unlimited online meetings with up to 15 attendees, with an integrated conference calling service, including VoIP capability, and no ‘overage’ charges (for phone calls or bandwidth). Another alternative, which like GoToMeeting uses a flat fee-based pricing structure, is Glance. Using online meeting software solutions like these also means its possible to communicate with clients over the internet securely, even if you work in a small office or home office that is not supported by an IT department that manages a firewall. 

One thought on “Who needs an office?

  1. Those are very good tools, however, in many cases those platforms are used just to allow the team to review the same document together in real-time and “be on the same page”.
    The recently launched free site http://www.showdocument.com does exactly that, quickly show documents to friends and colleagues.
    It allows web meeting and co-browsing on any document, user uploads a document and invites friends to view it with him live
    All the participants in the session see each others’ drawing, highlights, etc.

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