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The Ultimate Tech System for VAs

The Ultimate Tech System for VAs

tech system

The Ultimate Tech System for VAs

Congratulations! You have started out in business. You have decided what to call yourself and now your thoughts turn to how you are going to work and what you need to work with/on.

I am often asked :

  • What kind of computer should I get – a desktop or a laptop?
  • Which version of Windows?
  • What about a Mac?
  • Which version of Office 365?
  • What is Office 365?

I have done my best to answer them in this post.

Some thoughts about things you will need:

Home Office – a desk or the kitchen table to start with

Quiet Time – some time in the day where you are uninterrupted – might be after the children are in bed or when they are at school or if you don’t have children, well anytime.

A good chair – posture is so important and as a back sufferer I would suggest giving some thought to your seating arrangements. I use a Standing desk some of the time and can adjust it to sit when I need to.

Pens and notepads or notebooks– we still like to make notes even though everything can be typed and sometimes making notes in a nice notebook with a good pen is a sublime experience and taps into a different part of the brain to help with productivity.

Now the techy stuff which is what you wanted to read about!

Desktop or Laptop

This will largely depend on space and budget. A desktop computer is a large piece of equipment. Usually a nice big screen that you can use with many applications at the same time. When working at home in your home office a desktop computer is a really nice thing to have.

However, as you are starting out and may not have a huge budget you will most likely want a good laptop. If this is going to be your only computer, then you will want a decent sized screen to work on – this needs to be balanced against the weight as you carry it around. Usually the larger the screen the heavier the laptop.

Which kind of laptop will largely depend on your personal preferences.

Touch Screen or not?

As touch is now built in to Windows 10 and Office, you might want to consider one of the touch screen laptops that are around.

There are laptops that transform into tablets, like the Surface Pro for example or some of the HP and Lenovo offerings. They may come equipped with a special digital pen so that you can write notes on the screen in the programs or in a digital notebook. This will transform your working life believe me.

You will decide which you prefer. I would urge you to go into a reputable computer store or department and have a play. Do your research – think about the way you work, do you like to sit on the couch? Do you prefer working as a tablet or is a solid keyboard important? Take all these things into account.

Here are some other things to consider that apply to both Laptops and Desktops

Buy the best that your budget allows. Things to look at:

Hard Drive storage – a traditional hard drive – look for as much as you can afford

SSD – Solid State Drive – a faster option. Note that some laptops have both a Hard Drive and an SSD drive. In that case use the SSD to store programs and the Hard Drive for files. Make sure though that the SSD is big enough to cope.

RAM – Random Access Memory – as much as you can afford – this is the memory used when you are working on lots of different things. It is where your computer stores things temporarily before saving.

GHz – this is the speed of the processor – how fast it whizzes around

Intel i5, i7, Athlon, Radeon – all the names of the chips that make your computer work. The later the chip the more up to date it will be. If you are using your computer for simple word processing and not much else, then you can compromise here. If, however you are working on many things at the same time and want to get the most out of your machine at the minimum you would want an i5 processor an i7 if you have the budget.

According to my friendly IT Support company Athalon and Celeron processors are not nearly as good as Intel or Radeon.

If budget is an issue – go for a standard laptop with 1TB hard drive.  You can always upgrade to SSD in a couple of years rather than investing in a new laptop!

What is an Operating System or OS

A computer speaks a different language to humans. Computer code is binary, lots of 1s and 0s in different combinations. All that code needs to be translated into something that us humans can understand. That is where the Operating System or OS comes in. The Operating System in turn speaks to the programs that we use and tells them to open, close, minimize, maximise etc.

It is a bit like magic! I think so anyways.

There are two main kinds of Operating Systems that will concern us, Windows and Mac.

Windows

Windows has been around for quite some time and gone through many iterations. I first used Windows when it was Windows 3.1 that was in 1998! If you are interested in the history and versions you can take a look at this article on Wikipedia for the complete list.

Current Windows Versions

Here are the current versions of Microsoft Windows. These are correct at the time of writing; however, Microsoft do change their offerings relatively frequently.

Windows 10 Home

Go into any computer shop and most of their machines will come equipped with Windows 10 Home. This version will do anything that you want it to do and is safe to use for business on your desktop computer. However, if you are going to be taking your laptop out and about with you, then you really should consider Windows 10 Pro. As Windows 10 Home cannot be encrypted you really should consider Windows 10 Pro.

If you already have Windows 10 Home it is quite easy to upgrade to Pro.

Edition

Features

Windows 10 Home

– PCs, tablets and 2-in-1s
– Cortana Assistant
– Microsoft Edge web browser
– Continuum tablet mode for touch-capable devices
– Windows Hello face-recognition, iris and fingerprint login
– universal Windows apps like Photos, Maps, Mail, Calendar, Music and Video
– Ability to capture and share game play for XBOX One owners
– Able to run non Microsoft third party apps

Note – to make use of Windows Hello you will need a laptop with a front facing camera and to use the fingerprint option as a secure way to log in you will need a finger print reader.

Windows 10 Pro

This version is really a must when running a business and being fully mobile. With the new rules on Data Protection coming in (GDPR) you will need to prove that you have a process for keeping your data secure. Windows 10 Pro comes with Bitlocker which allows you to secure your machine so that if it is lost or stolen your data is protected.

Windows 10 Pro

Made for
PCs, tablets and 2-in-1s
– Cortana Assistant
– Microsoft Edge web browser
– Continuum tablet mode for touch-capable devices
– Windows Hello face-recognition, iris and fingerprint login
– universal Windows apps like Photos, Maps, Mail, Calendar, Music and Video
– Ability to capture and share game play for XBOX One owners
– Domain Join Services
– BitLocker Drive Encryption
– Remote Access Services
– Group Policy editor
– Windows Update for Business
Able to run non-Microsoft third party apps

Windows 10 S

Microsoft describes this version as Streamlined for Security. You can only use apps you can download from the Windows Store and everything is fully integrated. Here is the FAQ page on the Microsoft Site.

According to Microsoft this version has been inspired by schools and the ability to configure the same experience across a fleet of laptops.

Mac OS

Now we come to the thorny issue of “Can I run my VA business on a Mac?” I get asked this a lot. I have both Windows and Mac machines and can honestly say that you can run your VA business on a Mac if that is your preference. There are of course differences between the way the two Operating Systems work. Microsoft have made their suite of Office software compatible with Mac in fact a whole version especially for Mac.

Apple release updates for their Operating System as well so you will find this being updated from time to time and occasional whole new releases. The current one is High Sierra.

To make you Mac secure for GDPR you will need to encrypt it by turning on File Vault.

The prices of Apple laptops and Windows laptops vary, and the Mac ones are generally more expensive. You will want to take this into account.

Versions of Microsoft Office

Now it starts to get interesting. As with all things computer there are usually different versions or flavours to suit your needs or pocket.

Will it run on both Windows and Mac?

Yes. Microsoft have had versions for the Mac for several years now. They have changed over time and the latest version is now almost identical although you may find a few things you expect missing on the Mac version.

Does it look different?

The latest version of Microsoft Office looks almost identical on Mac and Windows. The familiar Ribbon is there however you will find a few differences.

Microsoft Office 365 – what is it?

Before I talk about the different versions and what they offer, I want to answer the question above, what is Microsoft Office 365? This is something that confuses people who are not in the “business”.

Microsoft Office 365 is a subscription – you can pay monthly or annually and the package you subscribe to will provide programmes and features.

You will get monthly updates to Office 2016 delivered in the background so that your package is always up to date and never static.

Can I still get a stand-alone copy of Microsoft Office 2016?

Yes, you can still get a standalone copy of Office 2016 however, it comes without monthly updates which means you don’t get to benefit from Microsoft’s continual improvement and iteration of the programs.

Microsoft Office 365 Versions

This is one of the most frequent topics of discussion I see amongst VAs. Which version of Microsoft Office should they use to run their business? Here is a summary of what they offer.

Correct at the time of writing as Microsoft do change their offerings.

Office 365 Business

This is what you get – If you are not looking for a hosted Exchange where Microsoft looks after your email, this might be a good fit for you. It will depend on what kind of work you do and your business needs.

Business-class email hosting not included

  • Desktop versions of Office 2016 applications: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, plus Access and Publisher for PC only
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
  • One license covers 5 phones, 5 tablets, and 5 PCs or Macs per user
  • File storage and sharing with 1 TB of OneDrive storage
  • Maximum number of users: 300
  • FastTrack deployment support with purchase of 50+ seats at no extra cost
  • 24/7 phone and web support

Office 365 Business Premium

This is what you get

  • Email hosting with 50 GB mailbox and custom email domain address
  • Desktop versions of Office 2016 applications: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, plus Access and Publisher for PC only
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
  • One license covers 5 phones, 5 tablets, and 5 PCs or Macs per user
  • File storage and sharing with 1 TB of OneDrive storage
  • Inform and engage with a company-wide intranet and team sites with SharePoint
  • Host online and video conferencing meetings for up to 250 people
  • Get a hub for teamwork with Microsoft Teams
  • Get discovered and nurture customer relationships with Microsoft Connections, Microsoft Listings, and Outlook Customer Manager
  • Manage your business better with Microsoft Invoicing, Microsoft Bookings, MileIQ, and Business center
  • Collaborate across departments and locations with Yammer
  • Manage tasks and teamwork with Microsoft Planner
  • Manage schedules and daily staff work tasks with Microsoft StaffHub
  • Maximum number of users: 300
  • FastTrack deployment support with purchase of 50+ seats at no extra cost
  • 24/7 phone and web support

Office 365 Business Essentials

This would be a good option for a client to add you to their business. You will already have your own copy of Office 2016 which gives you the packages. This package does not include Microsoft Office 2016 for your computer. So, if a client wants you to work as part of their organisation with an email address at their organisation and all the sharing capabilities, this would be a great fit as it is a less expensive option for them.

  • Email hosting with 50 GB mailbox and custom email domain address
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (desktop versions of applications not included)
  • File storage and sharing with 1 TB of OneDrive storage
  • Inform and engage with a company-wide intranet and team sites with SharePoint
  • Host online and video conferencing meetings for up to 250 people
  • Get a hub for teamwork with Microsoft Teams
  • Collaborate across departments and locations with Yammer
  • Manage tasks and teamwork with Microsoft Planner
  • Maximum number of users: 300
  • FastTrack deployment support with purchase of 50+ seats at no extra cost
  • 24/7 phone and web support

What is the difference between OneDrive and OneDrive for Business?

OneDrive

OneDrive is Microsoft’s online storage space. It comes in several sizes and with different costs. You get a OneDrive storage account with all the versions of Outlook.com or Office 365 it just depends on what you buy. The free version gives you just 5 GB of online storage.

Here is what you can do with it:

  • Store personal files in a secure, private 5GB space online.
  • Simple versioning and document history.
  • Accessed with a personal email.

Office 365 Personal with OneDrive

This is the same as the Premium offering except for just one computer or Mac. It also gives you 1 TB of storage and the same features; the difference is in the number of machines and the number of people who can use the same licence.

Office 365 Home with Premium OneDrive

This gives you a family plan – that’s the best way to describe it. 5 different users each with 1 TB of online storage. It gives you Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. You can share, and it can be installed on up to 5 tablets and phones too. You can synchronise your OneDrive folder to your local machine so that your documents are stored both in the cloud and locally. This option does not give you a hosted Exchange for your business email. It can be used on PC or Mac.

Note: Office 365 personal and Office 365 Home are not licensed for work use and so should not be considered as you will be breaking the Microsoft Terms.

OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business is in fact a synchronisation tool. It allows you to synchronise OneDrive folders and SharePoint folders. It allows you to get to your files on any device at any time. There is also more control over whether you can share with people outside of your organisation.

Here is what you can do:

Store work-related files in a secure 1TB space online.

  • Advanced versioning and document history.
  • Tied to SharePoint and accessed with work email.
  • Easily shared with co-workers.
  • Auditing, reporting, and advanced administration tools.

Files on Demand or locally stored?

A recently added feature to OneDrive for Business is the ability to hold your files online when synchronising and to download the files only when you need them. This will save storage space on your local machine. If your budget only stretches to a laptop with limited storage and you want access to your files anyway, this is a great option. Note that this feature is not currently available for Mac.

OneDrive basic

This is just a OneDrive storage account . It has 5 GB storage and can be synchronised with your local computers. You can share files and folders and collaborate with others. With this you would use the online versions of the Office Apps.

Get to your files from anywhere

With OneDrive and OneDrive for Business there is secure synchronisation and you can have your documents on any platform, Windows, Mac, iPad, Android, Phone of any kind you name it you can find it there.

Synchronise your documents

I have mentioned synchronising a fair bit, but what does that really mean? It means having an exact replica of your online folders on your local device. You can choose whether to synchronise everything in your OneDrive or OneDrive for Business folder or just one or two folders. Synchronisation goes on in the background continuously when you have an internet connection. This is good to know as you will not lose work that way. However, if you are using one document as the basis for another one, then it is best to create a copy first and rename it so that the original does not get overwritten.

Imagine that you have a desktop computer in your office and a laptop for when you go to see clients or work in a coffee shop . You may have a laptop with a small hard drive storage area. In this case you could choose to just synchronise the folders you need to work on today and then stop synchronising them when you no longer need them.

Or you could choose Files on Demand and only download the ones you need to work on as you go.

SharePoint – what on earth is that?

When you work in an organisation, they will use a business version of Office 365. This will come with a OneDrive for Business folder for each person in the organisation and the ability to use the SharePoint platform to create shared document spaces for teams to collaborate in.

So, what is the benefit to you as a small business owner? I run two businesses, tomorrow’s VA and The IT Training Surgery. I have a VA myself and Hannah has an email address at theittrainingsurgery. This means that when she writes to clients etc, she is not using her own email account, but a business account linked to my business. We also have a OneDrive for business folder each where work in progress is stored and we have a couple of SharePoint sites for data that we both need access to such as Client information, Marketing or Blog Posts. By storing shared things in SharePoint, we avoid being in each other’s personal OneDrive space.

If you are a VA and work with other VAs as part of a larger team then you are going to find SharePoint a useful feature for sharing common files!

Groups

Another SharePoint feature is Groups. A Group has a mini team site for document storage, a conversion area, a group calendar and everything stays in the Group. A useful way of communicating with others working on the same things as you are.

SharePoint also enables more collaborative working with other apps that are built on. One such app is Teams. Create Teams and Channels, chat, video call, store documents schedule meetings and more right there in Teams. You can also invite guest users to Teams. This is an amazing feature and more about it in the future.

Sharing documents with colleagues and clients

As already mentioned with Office 365 you can share documents and files with colleagues and clients.

Internal Sharing

Easy to share with people in your organisation – another reason for this is to stop all the attachments that fly around all the time. A link can be attached to an email and the other person is then working on the master document not a copy. Saves on having 6 copies of the same document and not knowing which one is the latest.

External Sharing

The security is strong – if you are sharing with an external person, they will need to sign in with a Microsoft Account. If they don’t have a Microsoft Account, they will receive an email with a verification code. Only after verification will they be given access to the document.

Permissions

When sharing permissions are set, who gets access, what can they do and for how long as sharing can be set to expire after a certain amount of time.

Has this helped?

I have summarised the landscape as it is now and here is my personal recommendation. This is what I would do if I were just setting up as a VA.

The things I would have:

Hardware

  • Desktop computer with nice large monitor
  • The best laptop I can afford – touch screen with a digital pen – if you go for a Mac then touch screen is not yet an option
  • You might want a separate monitor to plug your laptop into when working the office along with a wireless keyboard for that purpose.
  • A good wireless mouse – sometimes a mouse is necessary
  • A good chair and desk
  • A printer – Ideally you would want one that is a printer/scanner/copier; if it can also do Duplex, then even better – this means it can do double sided printing automatically for you. Consider also a wireless printer so that you don’t have to unplug it all the time.
  • External USB drive for extra secure storage and a backup option should you want an offline backup.

Software

  • Windows 10 Pro if a Windows Operating System
  • Office 365 Business Premium – for Windows or Mac
  • Any other packages that I might need to run the business
  • PDF maker/reader – although you can create PDF documents within Microsoft Office now so there is almost no need for that – if you need to combine documents into larger PDFs that might be a consideration.
  • Accounting Software
  • Anti-virus software – get a good one, not the free ones! If it seems too good to be true, then it usually is! Some of the big names do license a free antivirus for non commercial use – it will not be as good as the paid version and as it is being used in a business – it is commercial use.
  • A good backup plan – for when the unthinkable happens.

What are you going to do next? Have I answered your questions? Do you have more questions?

Let me know in the comments or drop me an email to shelley@tomorrowsva.com

 

 

 

 

PS – I am building an online learning library to help you get the most out of Microsoft Office. Head over to the Courses page to see the courses available. I am in the process of creating the Office 365 course so do come back or sign up to the mailing list to be notified. Click HERE to register.